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Shocker: Heartwarming ‘Iraqi Refugee’ Story Is a Complete Hoax

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By Cooper Fleishman on March 29, 2012

A user calling himself NewLifeForUs posted on Reddit a photo of what appears to be him and his father.

The photo’s caption was instantly endearing: “Seven years ago, my dad smuggled us out of Iraq after my mother and younger sister was [sic] raped and murdered by Al Qaeda. Today we filled out these forms to make us official citizens of Turkey.”

Heartwarming story, right? Sure — until one vigilante Redditor went into full detective mode and hunted down the original on Facebook. Turns out the story is a complete fabrication — and the picture, while real, actually shows an Australian father and son holding up vehicle defect notices.

The original post, seen above, quickly made the front page — not a small feat, given the incredible influx of new content every minute. Most people’s reactions went something like this one: “What an incredibly tragic story. My heart goes out to you.” The post was flooded with upvotes, Redditors’ thumbs-up of approval. On the social-aggregator site, upvotes give you karma, and karma is online clout.

Then user smartalec43 posted this:

Oh. So it was likely a prank. For less than an hour (the original was posted at around 9 a.m. Thursday), cynical aggregators’ hearts grew three sizes — and then in one fell swoop, they were reminded why they called themselves cynics in the first place.

Skeptical users had kept quiet during the onslaught of praise — even as some realized the original poster’s facts didn’t exactly add up. inb4shitstorm wrote, “I never heard of Al Qaida raping and murdering citizens of Iraq. The Al Qaida didn’t even operate in Iraq until Saddam’s government was toppled. Even then had there been a real rape/murder by Al Qaieda, the US Military would have been present to take care of it.”

From monkeymarine: “I was just about to post skepticism when I saw this post. Turkish law actually wouldn’t allow for this story to be true. The weird thing is that some Turkish people appear to have been fooled. They should know that their country does not legally accept refugees from Iraq, often deports them back or puts them in detention centers, and will only accept some people for temporary asylum at the instruction of the UNHCR. Even then, those people are placed in other countries and would never be granted Turkish citizenship.”

It is not a major revelation that some people lie on the Internet. But it’s crazy to think that some people are so desperate for karma that they’d exploit the suffering of Iraqi civilians. A pathetic ploy for karma? Sure. But if this is a prank pulled off by the friends of the kid in the picture, it’s almost impressive how low they’d stoop — fabricating a story of rape and murder — to make the kid infamous on one of the most influential sites on the Internet.

Reddit’s often been susceptible to heartstring-tuggers. In a recent story, one user helped another hook up a dying friend with his favorite author. Redditors have raised thousands of dollars for various charitable causes.

The site certainly has its dark corners, however, and is often criticized for its users’ misogyny. Arguably, the site is cynical to a fault: A woman who posted credible evidence of a rape met a slew of scorn and backlash. Yet this story, posted without any evidence, was met with universal acclaim and blind congratulations.

You could see this hoax as, actually, a new spin on the oldest prank in the book. Reddit may be so predictable that anyone could make the front page with a good enough story, but few out there would use its influence to troll an unsuspecting dude and his dad.

Lots of victims, all in one fell swoop of poor taste. And it only took an hour. The Internet, everybody.


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