Hoaxes

How a Fake Press Release Convinced the Internet Banksy Had Been Arrested

Press releases are not what they seem.
(Photo: Top13.net)

(Photo: Top13.net)

Famously elusive street artist Banksy has not been arrested. His real identity has not been revealed. His name is not Paul William Horner.

But you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Earlier today, outlets like Jezebel, Complex and Death and Taxes published stories saying that Banksy had been arrested by British police. These outlets sourced their reports to a press release that purported to be from the BBC, posted on the press release hub PRLog. (The release has since been removed.)

The release stated that Banksy is a 39-year-old Bristol man named Paul William Horner, and he’d been arrested during a police sting. But the document is riddled with inconsistencies, including quotes from fake CNN and BBC stories and an incorrect identification of the London Chief of Police, who the press release claims to quote. (City of London Police Commissioner is named Adrian Leppard, not Wayne Leppard, as the release stated.) Furthermore, the email address for the press release is at the domain name IYWIB, a little-known humor site.

As it turns out, a man named Paul Horner is the editor of Super Official News, a site that appears to be part of the same family as IYWIB. Super Official News was the first site to publish a post saying Banksy had been arrested.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that a fake press release has sent reporters scrambling to figure out what’s real and what’s not. Back in November, a fake press release distributed on PR Web set off a rash of false stories about a Google acquisition of wireless company ICOA. It’s like you can’t even trust press releases anymore!

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com