10 Recent Viral Stories With Unexpected Twists
They appear on our Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds, give us a laugh or a momentary burst of anger, and then vanish forever. But not all viral stories stop developing when the hashtag stops trending. Some continue to tick in the background, slowly growing stranger until they deliver a crazy twist when the world is no longer looking.
10The Muslim Family Was Barred From Disneyland For A Good Reason
Just a few days before Christmas, a story broke which seemed to show just how low the US had sunk. A British Muslim family embarking on a trip to Disneyland was barred from their flight at the last moment by US officials. Their holiday plans were ruined, and the airline refused to refund their $13,340 in flight fees.
Comment pieces blamed the “Trump effect,” saying that the incident was due to rising Islamophobia in America. A member of the UK’s opposition Labor party even asked Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene.
After the initial uproar, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a brief statement about why they barred the family. Far from being arbitrary, there were two good reasons.
The first was that one of the family members had previously been refused entry to Israel, a country with a good track record of monitoring extremists. The second reason was that the family’s teenage boy had directly linked to terrorist websites from his Facebook account. By barring the family, the DHS simply did its job.
9#TheDress Caused A Family Rift And Financial Troubles
Cecilia Bleasdale bought “The Dress” to wear to her daughter Grace’s wedding. It wasn’t just any old dress, though. To some people, it appeared white and gold. To others, blue and black.
Then Bleasdale took a photo of the dress. It went viral, becoming such a monstrously popular topic that BuzzFeed had to assign extra staff to stop their servers from crashing. Twitter called it one of the most influential events of 2015.
It also had a significant influence on the lives of Bleasdale’s family. Within a few months of the photo going viral, the family had nearly broken apart and lost a large sum of money.
The money issue happened because BuzzFeed and similar sites used the photo without giving Bleasdale a penny in royalty payments, despite these sites pulling in record-breaking traffic from the image.
To get her money, Bleasdale had to sue numerous outfits, including respectable places like The Guardian. In a grim twist, she didn’t make enough in back royalty payments to cover her solicitors’ fees (although a case against BuzzFeed is still pending).
On top of all that, the saga of #theDress caused Bleasdale to fall out with her daughter Grace. Although the rift has since healed, it seems a high price to pay for a few seconds of Internet fame.
8The Kangaroo ‘Mourning’ His Mate Had Probably Just Killed Her
Amid the blizzard of gloom that characterized news in mid-January 2016, a heartwarming viral image managed to melt all our hearts. A male kangaroo cradled his mate’s head in his arms as she lay dying while their sad joey looked on. The media lapped it up, talking about the “marsupial family’s grief” and generally anthropomorphizing the heck out of the kangaroos.
All of which only goes to show how deceiving images can be. According to Dr. Derek Spielman, senior lecturer in veterinary pathology at the University of Sydney, the male kangaroo wasn’t “mourning” his dying mate. He was trying to have sex with her.
Horny male kangaroos like to hold their mates in a way that we would classify as “protective,” but it is actually highly stressful for the female. So stressful, in fact, that there’s a good chance that her mate’s hug is the thing that killed her.
Spielman isn’t 100 percent certain on this last point, but it seems the likeliest interpretation. Which means this “heartwarming” picture of grief was really a photo of a deranged sex killer finishing off his victim.
7Techno Viking Got Involved In The Craziest Lawsuit
You almost certainly recognize the name “Techno Viking.” One of the earliest stars of the Internet, the Viking was a shirtless, warriorlike dude caught on camera dancing and defending a woman’s honor at Berlin’s annual Fuckparade. He became the meme to end all memes. He also got involved in a tortuous lawsuit that dragged on for years.
It turns out that Matthias Fritsch, the guy who filmed Techno Viking, hadn’t gotten his permission. If there’s one thing a billion memes have taught us, it’s that you do not mess with the Techno Viking.
Techno Viking sued Fritsch. At one point, Fritsch was literally bankrupted by the hefty legal bills flying his way. The case dragged through the German courts for over three years.
Happily for Fritsch—and anyone who has ever shot a video on their phone—the courts eventually decided that he could keep his videos up as long as he didn’t receive a penny in return. Incredibly, the gates of Valhalla didn’t suddenly open to disgorge one million invincible warriors to wreak rightful vengeance on Germany.
However, the case did come with an interesting twist. Techno Viking’s anonymity is now legally protected. Apparently, the real guy behind the memes was so unhappy that he’s gone out of his way to legally remain anonymous.
6The Weasel Riding The Woodpecker Was Trying To Kill It
One of the most surreal images of 2015 was a photograph of a weasel hitching a ride on a woodpecker. Not only did it seem like something from a Disney buddy comedy that you might find on a forgotten VHS in your grandmother’s attic, it was perfect for photoshopping. Twitter had the time of its life making mash-ups while cooing over the adorable wildlife couple.
At the moment that picture was taken, however, the woodpecker probably didn’t think there was anything adorable about it. The weasel wasn’t its friend. It wasn’t even just hitching a ride. It was trying its level best to kill the woodpecker.
Weasels are nasty creatures, willing to attack things much larger than they are. When photographer Martin Le-May was interviewed after his image went viral, he revealed that the woodpecker had taken off when the weasel tried to tear it to shreds.
On either side of that adorable picture, there were blurrier photos of a bird fighting for dear life. Luckily, the takeoff seemed to do the trick. Le-May reported that the two crash-landed, and the woodpecker managed to escape.
5The Anti–Planned Parenthood Activists Were Indicted For Selling Organs
You may remember the media storm last year when a group of activists secretly filmed Planned Parenthood members apparently admitting that they had sold the organs of dead fetuses. The sting was organized by David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress and caused a lot of controversy—not least when analysis found the videos had been altered.
Recently, the story took a truly weird turn. In January 2016, Daleiden was indicted by a Houston grand jury, alongside his video accomplice Sandra Merritt. The charge is the “purchase and sale of human organs,” the exact thing that Daleiden accused Planned Parenthood of doing.
Daleiden and Merritt were also charged with “tampering with a government record,” but it’s the organ-selling charge that’s truly ironic. As part of his campaign, Daleiden allegedly tried to get Planned Parenthood representatives to sign fake agreements to sell fetal organs. This is likely what caused his indictment.
While law enforcement officers frequently commit low-level crimes to catch criminals (like pretending to pay for sex to arrest a hooker), civilians doing this get the book thrown at them. Presumably, that’s what happened to Daleiden in this case.
In a final twist of the knife, the grand jury was convened to investigate Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal tissue. The grand jury declined to press charges against the group, saying the evidence suggested that Daleiden and Merritt were the real criminals.
4The Levitating Cars Were Involved In A Terrible Accident
In late November 2015, a terrifying video appeared of supernatural happenings in China. Two vans parked at an intersection in the city of Xingtai were caught on camera being picked up by an invisible force and hurled on their sides.
The video quickly made the rounds of Internet conspiracy theory sites. Was it witchcraft? Ghosts? Some telekinetic kid who was mad that her prom got ruined?
As you may have guessed, the answer was something closer to Earth. A thick cable had been stretched across the road and was caught on cars going opposite directions.
But let’s back up for a second. In all the coverage of the supernatural angle, something was missed: All the cars in the video had just been involved in a horrific accident.
Although no one died, the drivers of the two vans were hurled through the air. As anyone who has ever rolled their car will attest, suddenly finding the road over your head and your wheels spinning in the air is an insanely unpleasant experience.
Nor could the drivers comfort themselves on having just survived an encounter with a poltergeist. Instead, they were nearly killed by simple negligence.
3The ‘Whale Vomit’ Guy Lost Everything He Cared About
If you cast your mind back, you might just remember the whale vomit guy. Englishman Ken Wilman was with his dog, Madge, when he discovered a lump of whale vomit on a beach in Morecambe in 2013.
In this case, the vomit came from a sperm whale. Known as ambergris, it’s a key ingredient in perfume and extremely rare to boot. From this one lump, it was estimated that Wilman could make £100,000.
Sadly, it took Wilman until 2015 to get the stuff expertly tested. We say “sadly” because the wait probably prolonged his misery. Rather than becoming unexpectedly rich, Wilman lost everything.
First, his only companion—his beloved dog, Madge—died. In a radio interview with the BBC, which you can listen to here, Wilman claimed that she’d been deliberately poisoned. He implied that a friend or neighbor was responsible after becoming consumed with jealousy over his windfall.
Secondly, Wilman’s “windfall” turned out to be no such thing. The rock wasn’t ambergris or even whale vomit. It was a worthless lump of oil that had congealed into a big iceberg of disappointment. Interviewed by his local paper in 2015, Wilman said that if he could have a do-over, he would make sure that he never found that stupid rock.
2The Double Twist Of The Muslim Paris Guard
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November 2015 that claimed around 130 lives, people were desperate to latch onto a positive story. Then one appeared, courtesy of the attack on the Stade de France.
The bomber there was the only attacker who just killed himself, thanks to a security guard who refused to let him into the stadium. Soon after, it emerged on social media that the guard was a Muslim named Zouheir, whom the mainstream media were ignoring because they were racist.
At least, that was the narrative for a day or so. As Snopes later noted and we covered a few days later, the Zouheir story was mostly false. There was certainly a brave guard, but he wasn’t called Zouheir and probably wasn’t a Muslim. The hoax story died a quiet death.
Then, only a week or two after we published our article, another twist occurred. The guard who had stopped the bomber and saved dozens of lives in the stadium was publicly named as Salim Toorabally.
As you can probably tell from his name (and contrary to what we reported), Salim is indeed a devout Muslim. The social media crowd may have gotten the name wrong, along with the media’s motivations for not reporting it, but the basic story about a brave Muslim guard turned out to be true after all.
1Sean Penn Probably Didn’t Lead Mexico To Recapture El Chapo
In January 2016, a story broke that had all the trappings of a Hollywood blockbuster. After his daring escape from a prison earlier in the year, Sinaloa cartel leader El Chapo was finally tracked down and recaptured by Mexican authorities. Their victory came courtesy of an unlikely source: the actor-turned-activist Sean Penn.
Penn had recently interviewed El Chapo for a profile in Rolling Stone (one which was largely considered terrible and little more than hagiography). Supposedly, El Chapo had agreed to speak with Penn in the hopes that his life story would be made into a Hollywood movie.
According to the Mexican government, Penn’s dumb decision to visit a wanted fugitive led them directly to El Chapo. Mexico had a PR win, and Penn came out of things looking like an idiot.
Great as this tale is, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As Vox later noted, the timeline doesn’t support it. Penn interviewed El Chapo in November 2015. Mexico caught up with him in January 2016. Between those two dates, the government got into a shoot-out with El Chapo at a ranch in Sinaloa, from which he escaped to go into hiding.
Much as we might want to believe that a Hollywood liberal was accidentally responsible for the capture of a notorious drug kingpin with movie ambitions, the sad fact is that this version of events almost certainly didn’t happen.