Jimmy Kimmel Teaches a Lesson in Media Gullibility

Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s latest antics have the media abuzz after he already unknowingly had the media abuzz, teaching a valuable lesson in the effects of the online world, media gullibility, and the importance of verifying news sources.

It all started when a typical home-made video was posted to YouTube about a month ago, featuring a young girl attempting her own variation of the latest dance craze twerking, and ending with her falling backwards into a table, her leg caught on fire. It was entitled the “worst twerk fail ever.” Whether it was fueled by the ongoing mentions of the word twerking in the media, or the controversial Miley Cyrus performance at the Video Music Awards recently, somehow, the video eventually went viral, reaching upwards of nine-million views. Not only that, but it was featured and discussed on many TV news programs, from Fox News, to CNN.

This isn’t unusual. It seems every news outlet finds space and time to cover the latest funny cat video, or humorous video of a teen coming down from anesthetic after getting his wisdom teeth pulled, a stellar graduation speech, or a guy pranking his wife. It’s today’s culture. What makes this situation worth talking about is that, earlier this week, Kimmel confirmed on his show that the video was actually all a hoax, concocted by he and his team, and featuring a stuntwoman. They stealthily posted the video, just as any regular Joe would do, then, as Kimmel puts it, sat back and waited for the magic to happen. They did not make an effort to send the video out to any media outlets, Tweet it, or even link it in any way to the program’s page. It seemed to originate from a regular gal named Caitlin. (As it turns out, the stuntwoman’s name isn’t even Caitlin.)

What’s particularly funny about this situation is that it not only points to how today’s culture works, but puts into question how much media today relies on unreliable online sources. Sure, this video was just about twerking. But imagine a Tweet, a Facebook update, or a “news” item from an unofficial source reporting on something far more serious, and media outlets picking it up like wildfire, taking it to be true, when it’s actually a hoax. Of course I’m sure far more fact-checking and source verification goes into stories of a more serious nature. Mention of a “twerk fail” video is merely a humourous time-filler to lighten up a TV broadcast or add some fun to a news Website. There’s no need to verify that the video isn’t a farce. But should there be? If it’s considered news content, where do we draw the line?

Regardless of your opinion on the matter, the fact Kimmel was able to fool so many for so long, and so easily, is as equally scary as it is funny.

It’s also, by the way, a great lesson in public relations. Not only was Kimmel able to get plenty of online attention placed on his brand and show thanks to this prank, he was also able to get lots of inadvertent coverage on competing networks that were unknowingly featuring a video his show produced. Genius.

Here’s the original YouTube video

Here’s the explanation Kimmel offered on his show this past Monday night, along with the “unedited” version: