The online spread of a “satirical” post in 2016 blaming Harriet Tubman for a group of Ku Klux Klan members’ mass suicide was later revealed to be the result of coordination among a network of dubious blogs.
The story itself, posted by “TMZWorldNews.com,” was fabricated:
The Mass suicide took place in Charleston, South Carolina where they all took cyanide together after praying. The bodies are all of white males between the ages of 40 and 65. They feel like the blacks and the Jewish folks have stole America and since they can’t have their country back they decided to leave permanently in a mass suicide.
At the time the post was published, then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had announced a proposal to remake the $20 bill to include Tubman, a Maryland native who not only led American slaves to freedom using the Underground Railroad, but also served in various capacities for the Union during the Civil War. Lew said in a statement at the time:
Looking back on her life, Tubman once said, “I would fight for liberty so long as my strength lasted.” And she did fight, for the freedom of slaves and for the right of women to vote. Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency. The reverse of the new $20 will continue to feature the White House as well as an image of President Andrew Jackson.
As of February 2022, however, implementation of Lew’s idea could still be years away. As Insider reported in April 2021:
A government committee, known as the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee, decided in 2013 that most currency bills would undergo major redesigns to add new security features and prevent counterfeiting attempts.
The $10 bill was set to be redesigned in 2026, the $50 in 2028, the $20 in 2030, the $5 in 2032 to 2035, and the $100 in 2034 to 2038.
That timeline is optimistic, too. It assumes no new counterfeit threats or technology issues suddenly crop up and delay the process, according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
When it first published the post blaming Tubman for the mass suicide, “TMZWorldNews” contained a disclaimer reading:
We make no representation as to the completeness, accuracy or currency of any information on this Web Site.
In spite of that, the post was still shared more than 175,000 times on Facebook, boosted in part by a photograph that was edited to resemble a screenshot from an actual TV newscast:
But as Buzzfeed reported in March 2017, the blog was also part of a network of 33 websites — nine of which were using variations of the “TMZ” name despite bearing no affiliation to the actual tabloid website:
Until recently, they were among the network’s best performing sites. TMZHipHop.com, TMZUrban.com, TMZUncut.com, and TMZWorldNews.com all scored major fake news hits. But just in the past few weeks, several of the TMZ domains began redirecting to more recently registered ones such as ViralCocaine.com and ViralMugshot.com.
Though “TMZWorldNews” itself is still an active website, the Tubman story is no longer available. The blog also currently includes a note stating that it is “not to be confused with the celebrity gossip website,” as well as a more florid disclaimer about the accuracy of its material:
All of TMZ World News titles are gossip sites. The sites publish both rumors and conjecture in addition to accurately reported information. Information on the sites may contain errors or inaccuracies; the sites’ proprietors do not make any warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the sites’ content. Links to content on and quotation of material from other sites are not the responsibility of TMZ World News.
The blog appears to have moved away from what one collaborator called “fauxtire” and now features instructional content; it also includes a masthead listing several staff members and describing work experience, but not identifying any other place they might have worked.
“Our motto remains to find God in the details of each story we take up and seeing it through to the end,” says the staff page.
Update 2/3/2022, 1:49 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag