Just Because It's Trending Doesn't Mean It's True
Hoax Alert

Fake News Site Pushing Michael J. Fox Death Hoax Marked As Unsafe By Google (Along With Lead Stories Debunk!)

  • by: Maarten Schenk
  • (Mon, 06 Aug 2018 16:45:52 Z)

Yesterday Lead Stories reported on a death hoax involving actor Michael J. Fox which was published by a site pretending to be Yahoo! News:

Fake News: Beloved Actor And Back To The Future Star Michael J. Fox Has NOT Died At The Age Of 57 | Lead Stories

Did actor Michael J. Fox die at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from complications related to Parkinson's disease? No, that's not true: the death hoax was reported by a fake news website masquerading as Yahoo! News but it is not real.

Today that site has been marked as unsafe by Google's Safe Browsing Initiative, causing it to be show up with a big warning message in Chrome and Firefox browsers. Unfortunately our own debunk of the hoax also got tagged with the same warning message when people tried to visit it.

Screenshot of https://safebrowsing.google.com/images/mobile-warning_2x.jpg

The ostensible reason given is:

Current status
This site is unsafe

The site http://www.yahoonews-us.com/2018/08/04/beloved-actor-and-back-to-the-future-star-michael-j-fox-has-died-at-the-age-of-57/ contains harmful content, including pages that:

  • Try to trick visitors into sharing personal info or downloading software

However to the best of our knowledge none of that was taking place. The warning screen we got in our browser also referenced "phishing", which is defined by Google as

Prevent & report phishing attacks

A phishing attack happens when someone tries to trick you into sharing personal information online.

How phishing works

Phishing is typically done through email, ads, or by sites that look similar to sites you already use. For example, you might get an email that looks like it's from your bank asking you to confirm your bank account number.

We could see where using the name yahoonews-us.com and the Yahoo! News logo could be interpreted as a site "that looks similar to sites you already use", even though no personal data actually got asked for or stolen as far as we could determine when debunking the hoax.

Unfortunately for Lead Stories we use the embedding script from embed.ly whenever we link to an article that is important to our story, and that script brings in the thumbnail image from the page it links to. This caused Chrome and Firefox to throw up that phishing warning on our article debunking the death hoax because it had an image in it that came from the "bad" yahoonews-us.com site. We have now removed the code that brings in the image.

About the author:

Maarten Schenk is our resident expert on fake news and hoax websites. He likes to go beyond just debunking trending fake news stories and is endlessly fascinated by the dazzling variety of psychological and technical tricks used by the people and networks who intentionally spread made-up things on the internet.  He can often be found at conferences and events about fake news, disinformation and fact checking when he is not in his office in Belgium monitoring and tracking the latest fake article to go viral.

Read more about or contact Maarten Schenk

About Lead Stories

Lead Stories uses the Trendolizer™ engine to detect the most trending stories from known fake news, satire and prank websites and tries to debunk them as fast as possible. Read more about how we work and how we select stories to check here.

Spotted a hoax that you think we should investigate? Have a tip? Want to send us a correction? Contact us!

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