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Viral Story About Guy Stranded at Airport When His Son Drew on Passport Is Probably Fake

A man was maybe possibly somewhat inconvenienced at an airport.

That’s the nut of this amazing story being widely shared on news sites throughout the world as we speak. I first came across the story in a blog post on Gawker yesterday: “Man Trapped Abroad Because His Toddler Got Creative With His Passport.” Since then it’s showed up on Fox News, The Daily Mail, USA Today, The Telegraph, Uproxx, BuzzFeed, Elite Daily, and dozens of others.

The English language patient zero for this viral story seems to be the Metro UK, in a post that’s currently been shared over 26,000 times. In 169 confident words, the post details – well, details probably isn’t the right word – relays the story of a Chinese man who is stranded in a South Korean airport because his son scribbled all over his passport.

“The only problem is that now his dad is stuck in South Korea because of his unrecognisable documentation, and authorities have warned it is likely he won’t be able to travel home with his son, and the rest of his party,” the piece informs us. What authorities it doesn’t say.

“The picture was originally posted on social networking site Weibo by the father, known only as Chen, alongside a plea for help.”

You know a story is done well when it doesn’t even have the subject’s full name included, or the time frame of the events, and its source is essentially a Chinese Facebook post by a random dude. You know, if you’ve got the what and where covered, who, when, and why are sort of superfluous. Journalism 101.

“Sounds like he might be spending the rest of his holiday on the phone to the Chinese embassy. Let’s just hope he invests in a nice colour by numbers for his son next time…”

It sure sounds like that.

Complying with good journalistic standards, the Metro has credited their photo of the passport in question to YouTube. It doesn’t link to anything, however, including the purported Weibo post, or the YouTube clip they got it from. Doing 30 seconds of poking around the original clip appears to be from the YouTube channel of TomoNews. The video, set to a jaunty bit of music and narrated by a ridiculously goofy voice, is as equally devoid of context as all of the other stories:

TomoNews, in case you aren’t familiar with them, is a new offshoot of the Taipei-based Next Media Animation, which you may know as the people behind those silly animated news videos, like the infamous one about Tiger Woods’s fight with his wife, Rob Ford’s antics, and so on. As they describe themselves in a press release:

TomoNews will animate the most talked-about WTF stories on the internet. The craziest, weirdest, most unexpected stories will get an additional twist with our animations and snarky personality. And finally, TomoNews will continue animating satire, bringing to viewers the unique brand of humor for which the Taiwanese Animators are known.

Recent headlines on their site include “The Taiwanese Animators’ take on Big Booty Kim and Big Ego Kanye’s lavish wedding last Saturday in Florence, Italy– ft. the New York Post and donkeys. Enjoy!”, dozens of stories about plastic surgery, and posts about people with rare diseases, those born with extra heads, the fattest man in the world and so on.

In short, it’s a garbage site. So why are ostensibly news-conscious American sites trusting them? Because who gives a shit as long as people click on the story.

I can’t say for certain myself one way or another if this story is true, The Telegraph mentions a reference in Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, but they don’t link to it, and, not being able to read the language, it’s been hard to track down. But that tells me that none of these other dozens of English language sites have done that either. The existence of a fishy seeming story on a site in another country is, of course, not confirmation that it’s true. They have bullshit in China too.

On top of the dubious sourcing of the information, as Kotaku has just posted, (contradicting their own network site Gawker’s post on the topic), the image itself appears to be doctored. The boldness and consistency of the lines don’t seem like the work of a meandering, doodling 4 year old, they look much like what someone trying to draw like a child using web software would do. This isn’t even the first time we’ve seen a story about a Chinese man being stuck in South Korea because his child drew on his passport, they point out.

Calling up an official source in South Korea to get confirmation on this story seems like a giant pain in the ass, and I certainly don’t want to do it myself. But I wouldn’t have written the story in the first place. Not only because I can’t be sure it’s true – I certainly don’t chase down to the bottom every thing I’ve ever blogged about – but because even if it were true, who cares? If you’re going to lie, at least lie about something that would be a story in the first place.

A guy’s kid drew on something. Maybe. Now he has to hang out in the airport a while longer than normal. Possibly.

Why would we want to read about this? And why are so many sites sharing it with us? There’s a simple reason for that: It’s because the media is lazy, and they think you’re really stupid.

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>> Luke O’Neil is a journalist and blogger in Boston. Follow him on Twitter (@lukeoneil47).

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