fake news

How Has No One Learned That Twitter Stories Are Almost Always Made Up?

Illustration: Konstantin Sergeyev/Intelligencer; Source Images: Twitter; Getty Images (fire)

Shane Morris has an incredible story. It involves him buying a van for a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle, finding a brick of heroin under the hood, storing said brick in his freezer, and selling the van back a year later — at a significant markup — to its previous owner, who wanted his forgotten drugs back. When he sold back the van, instead of taping the brick into its hiding spot, he replaced it with a John Grisham novel. The van guy, who turned out to be a member of MS-13, figured him out and threatened to kill Morris. But before he could, said guy was sentenced to life without parole for raping and murdering a teenager. And so, several years later, Shane Morris tweeted this saga in a multi-tweet thread that captivated Twitter to the tune of tens of thousands of retweets and hundreds of thousands of favs. Like I said, Shane Morris has an incredible story. It’s also bullshit.

In a Medium post on Friday, Morris came clean about his lies. (Though it’s hard to believe his pseudo-apology is truthful, either. He claims, despite getting offers from production companies and agents and lawyers, that he was persuaded to come clean by his weed guy, who is quoted specifically and at length in the post and speaks with the cadence of a screenwriter trying and failing to capture a character voice.) Also, he wants you to give him money on GoFundMe to turn his lies into a film. (I’m not going to link. You can Google it if you must.) “I just had to stop the lie. This moment reminds me of a film called ‘World’s Greatest Dad,’ with Robin Williams,” Morris wrote. Okay, man.

Morris explained how he’d decided to tweet the thread after tweeting a different thread about how he’d “accidentally” consumed eight grams of mushrooms. The heroin thread was his attempt to best himself. Which is all particularly questionable given Morris has a history of tweeting viral mega-threads filled with misinformation. Earlier this spring, he tweeted a thread about why Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” had been kicked off the Billboard country charts, many of the “facts” in which have since been debunked. (More on that thread from Saving Country Music if you want to really get into the details. They are egregious.)

Morris’s thread shouldn’t have fooled anybody. Not everyone was fooled, of course, but to those of you who were, I say, come on. I can hear my mother’s stern voice in my head warning me at 14 that people on the internet lie. That they can pretend to be somebody they are not. Shane Morris is the kind of person she was warning me about, though an admittedly harmless and stupid version. A liar on the internet.

He likely thought his story would play out like Aziah “Zola” Wells, whose captivating 2015 thread about a road trip — hmmm in Florida with a fellow stripper is getting turned into a movie. Parts of Zola’s story were dramatized, she later explained in an interview with Rolling Stone. Significantly fewer parts, it would appear, than Morris’s completely fabricated drug deal and near-death experience. He only, it seems, came clean in the hopes of garnering more attention and more money, desires he’s masking with his fear of a violent gang he made the decision to tweet about in the first place. And also because it seems likely the agents and lawyers and Hollywood types he said were knocking down his door would have probably, if they had not already, unraveled his story. (As of publication, his crowd-funding campaign has raised $140 of its $20,000 goal.)

If something smells wrong on Twitter, it usually is wrong. Or, at the very least, you’re going to have to do some investigative work to figure out what holds water. (See: Momo.) But that same argument is what makes viral threads that do turn out to be true stories all the more wild and enjoyable, like that thread from a woman who, along with five other women, discovered that a guy had scheduled dates with all of them in the same bar in a single night. The ladies banded together in a bar across the street, in something of a 2017 reboot of John Tucker Must Die. It was delicious and fun because it really happened. Confirming that it really happened involved getting on the phone and DM-ing with several of the women before they’d left the bar that same night. And even then, with plenty of proof, the story still seemed stranger than fiction. Too good to be true. Because, more often than not, stories like Shane Morris’s are just that. Anybody got a van I could buy for cheap? I’m feeling inspired.

When It Comes to Viral Twitter, Trust But Verify