Hoax video with 42 million views. What have we learned?

Recall THIS story that circulated for two days rapidly all over the world: Bird Abduction: Golden eagle grabs child video.

We were uncertain right off the mark but knew there was some basis for the story, the tales of birds snatching kids in days gone by. Now, the whole story is revealed in this report from Buzzfeed. It’s an interview with the teacher of the students who made the film, why and how they did it and most importantly, what happened when they presented it to the public.

How “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” Ruled The Internet.

“The students have to shoot live-action, integrate 3-D effects, and make it so believable that it can look real,” he explains in a thick French-Canadian accent. That’s the core component of the VFX course and has been for years. “But I was always trying to think of new ways to teach it. New ideas. I think, ‘Oh, maybe I should try a prank film.'”

Though the primary aim of Tremblay’s class was to teach his students how best to use software to create 3-D visual effects, the assignment became an object lesson in what we find interesting, why we find it interesting, and how we disseminate things we find interesting. What do we believe, and why? And unlike 2009’s Balloon Boy debacle, which smacked of opportunism and exploitation, this was the rare public hoax that remains victimless and good-natured and unmotivated by malice or greed — one that could actually be a teachable moment, not just for the perpetrators, but for all of us who participated by clicking, or by telling others to. And these moments are worth examining closely because they’re the ones in which we’re all watching, and wondering, together, in real time, if only for a short time.

Four of Tremblay’s most industrious students, Normand Archambault, Félix Marquis-Poulin, Loïc Mireault, and Antoine Seigle, created a video called “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” — 17 million views within a day, just shy of 42 million views in total, 14 million minutes in viewing time in the U.S. alone, embedded on major news websites worldwide, broadcast on morning talk shows, and linked from countless message boards — which proved this in historically impressive style.

The students say how they imagined what would be interesting – babies and animals – and combined them using the legendary marauding birds stories. A mention is given to the tales of Thunderbirds. I’m not sure it really fits in here except for connected the idea of giant birds to our innate fear of becoming prey.

They worked 400 hours on the project to make it realistic.

Within 30 minutes of posting the video to YouTube to road test their work, it appeared on Reddit, then was tweeted. While it was racking up thousands of views, a 17 year old thought it looked fake, analyzed it and put up his own reveal.

Here is more from the piece that hints at why this video hit a nerve and went viral:

Whereas previous bird snatchings in a pre-internet age still linger with uncertainty as to whether they’re true or not, this one was categorically debunked — and quickly. “We’re more and more on the lookout for a con,” posits Cordell. One need only look at the skepticism in the initial online response to last week’s footage of the Russian meteor shower; and when Iran’s state news agency released photographs of the monkey it sent into space earlier this month, an online brouhaha broke out over its legitimacy. People believed it was fake based on, of all things, a mole on the animal’s forehead. (The news agency wasn’t trying to fool anyone: It simply used an archive photo of another space-bound monkey to illustrate the story.) If something seems remotely out of the realm of possibility — and we’re presented with a lot of things that seem questionable on the internet — then our first response nowadays is to be circumspect.

So, the idea that hoaxes are actually GOOD at fooling people and easy to pull off is evidence that conspiracy mongerers will continue to disbelieve the official story. It’s also evidence that NO video evidence can be trusted – for ghosts, UFO, Bigfoot, etc. People may WANT to believe but many are skeptical.

They received over 42 million views on their video; the rebuttal about 4 million. And also keep in mind that the hoax was revealed in short order. What if it had NOT been revealed?

Are hoaxes with a purpose ethical? I examined that question in this piece: The Deliberate Skeptical Hoax. That question is hotly disputed. But these hoaxes have taught us the value of questioning and being skeptical. At least, they SHOULD have taught us at least that.

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

  5 comments for “Hoax video with 42 million views. What have we learned?

  1. Bob
    February 23, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Have we seen a followup on the space monkey? The debunking was debunked?

    Also, I saw the name Cordell and thought…Ryan? Turns out it’s him. Met him in an airport once. An up and coming whiz-bang in the digital humanities, that fella is. 🙂


  2. RDW
    February 23, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    That was a pretty good fake. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who did it ended up getting good jobs with Hollywood.

  3. Chris Howard
    February 23, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    What have we learned? Absolutely nothing. 😉

    PS I’ve done a lot of soul searching, which is ironic considering that I don’t believe in souls, and decided not to go on with the hoax that I asked your opinion on.

    Thank you for the feedback.

  4. Chris Howard
    February 24, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    With regard to the eagle has landed, and hungrily snatched a baby, and just about every other UFOLogy/paranormal video of higher quality, one should always check out chroma-keying (blue/green screens)

    90% of the public doesn’t realize that most of their favorite tv shows are shot in green screen:


    The studios do this because its cheaper and less hassel to chroma key exterior footage, plus one has greater control over interior shots i.e., less independent variables. (People, weather, ambient noise etc.)

    This doesn’t even take into account software like Autodesk Maya Studio, or Adobe After Effects, Flame, Inferno, or Smoke.

  5. LREKIng
    February 24, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    Believe half of what you see, nothing of what you hear, and the opposite of anything on YouTube.

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