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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

Sitdown Sunday: Meet the hoax hunter who exposes online cancer frauds

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Making a murderer


20 years after Corey Devon Arthur was found guilty of murdering his teacher, questions are swirling about his guilt. He says he’s responsible for Jonathan M Levin’s death – but not his murder. (Note: An email address/Facebook/Twitter sign-in is needed to read)

(Newsweek, approx 38 mins reading time)

Other men, he says, killed Levin. Those other men, whose names he will not tell me, would not have been there unless Arthur had introduced them to his beloved English teacher. But they are the real killers, he claims. “I had no intentions of robbing this man,” Arthur says to me. “I had no intentions of killing this man.”

2. Super Extra Bonus Party

Source: Joe_Donnelly/SoundCloud

Kildare band Super Extra Bonus Party seemed to appear out of nowhere to win the Choice Music Prize. But the reaction wasn’t quite what they expected, as this TXFM interview shows.

(TXFM, 17 mins listening time)

Why did this happen? How come the band was so divisive? Why exactly had they alienated some people? And how did it impact on them as a group? Does it say more about the Irish music scene at the time, or in general even? Also, what brought Super Extra Bonus Party together in the first place and how did they create such a singular body of work? I spoke to Cormac Brady, one of the founding members.

3. The hoax hunter

taryn wright Source: ABC

Taryn Wright has helped expose some fake tragedies online – like Facebook scams where families claimed to have suffered numerous terrible incidents or deaths from cancer. She ended up spurring on other people to join her, but it’s not always an easy ride.

(The Guardian, approx 27 mins reading time)

And the more Wright looked into it, the more the entire Dirr family saga, chronicled in a decade’s-worth of blogposts, MySpace pages, and online photo albums, did not ring true, either. There were too many kids, and too many of them were twins. There were murders and mistaken identities and dramatic ironies. It all sounded suspiciously like a soap opera.

4. Catching the Catfish

shutterstock_345818231 Source: Shutterstock/SpeedKingz

A number of celebrities have been accused of cheating on their partners with other women – but some of these women (despite a significant online presence) don’t actually exist. Welcome to the world of weird catfishing.

(Buzzfeed, approx 15 mins reading time)

These catfish characters share common themes: They are mostly up and coming singers, with albums on iTunes, Amazon, and Tidal that turn out to actually be music from other late ’90s/early ’00s pop singers, renamed with slightly altered song titles. They are often from Louisiana, and biracial. Two of the characters even used the same stolen photos of a real person.

5. Exposing the news celebrities want hidden

tmz Source: TMZ.com

TMZ gets the news before anyone else – but how? This in-depth profile is being lauded this week for getting behind the story of the site, and how it often doles out thousands of dollars to tipsters.

(The New Yorker, approx 56 mins reading time)

More than a hundred tips arrive every day. On September 29, 2015, an internal e-mail summarising tips from the previous night referred to “info regarding George Clooney’s wedding,” “a video of a pro athlete getting attacked by a goat,” and “pictures of Meek Mill being incarcerated.” (The e-mail is one of many that were leaked to The New Yorker.) The tip line also recorded a claim that a major pop star “wears a fake booty in her music videos” and employs a “person who makes the fake butts.”

6. Redeeming Marcia

PA-8675028 Source: AP/Press Association Images

Marcia Clark was the chief prosecutor in the OJ Simpson trial, which meant that she was watched by millions of people across the US. That also meant she came in for lots of criticism. But the new TV re-telling of the crime looks set to make her a feminist icon.

(NY Mag, approx 20 mins reading time)

She was mocked relentlessly in the press for her clothes and her hairstyles; tabloids published topless photos of her and reported breathlessly on her ongoing custody fight over her two sons, tsk-tsk-ing her for her alimony requests to pay for childcare she needed for her long hours working on the trial. Johnnie Cochran, a member of O.J.’s “Dream Team” defense, referred to her as “hysterical,” and Judge Lance Ito advised the jury not to be distracted by counsel’s clothes, in reference to Clark’s short skirts.


shutterstock_265948244 Source: Shutterstock/ostill

In 2009, David Kushner wrote about Matthew Weigman, a lonely boy who lived in East Boston. He was blind, and spent his time on free telephone chat lines, posing as “Lil Hacker” and taking part in pranks. Soon, the FBI were aware of his activities.

(David Kushner, approx 28 mins reading time)

He could impersonate any voice, memorise phone numbers by the sound of the buttons and decipher the inner workings of a phone system by the frequencies and clicks on a call, which he refers to as “songs”. The knowledge enabled him to hack into cellphones, order phone lines disconnected and even tap home phones. “Man, it felt pretty powerful for a little kid,” he says. “Anyone said something bad about me, and I’d press a button, and I’d get them.” But in the end, those close to Weigman feared that his gift would prove to be his downfall.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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