Two weeks ago, another one of those heartwarming “social experiment” videos took the Web by storm. The “secretly filmed” video featured a homeless man using an unexpected gift of $100 to buy food for some of his fellow homeless people.
As most of these human interest-type viral videos do these days, it immediately raised my suspicions (the way it unfolds is almost too good to be true, and it’s pretty obvious that the people in it are acting), but I soon moved on to other things as it generated close to 30 million views – and over $130,000 on a donation page set up by the video’s creator, YouTuber Josh Paler Lin.
Solidifying my suspicions, Vocativ ran a piece claiming that “a California man has come forward to claim that the Internet prankster behind it faked a significant portion of the film.”
…a nursing student from Anaheim has come forward to say there’s no way Thomas could have been secretly filmed—because he and Lin arrived at the liquor store in the same car. “The whole thing is bullsh*t,” says Taugan Tan Kadalim, who claims that on Dec. 20 he was outside the Euclid Liquor & Market, where the video’s pivotal scene is set. “Thomas knew he was being followed.
According to Kadalim, Lin hopped out of the car, went inside the liquor store and spoke with the cashier. While the two men chatted inside, Thomas waited with his bag by Lin’s car. Eventually, the prankster returned to his car, and a few minutes later, Thomas wandered into the liquor store. Several calls to Euclid Liquor & Market to confirm Kadalim’s account went unanswered.
Adding to the controversy, Gawker pointed out that a man who’s allegedly the brother of the video’s homeless star has come forward, saying “it’s all a scam” and his brother is actually due to inherit $150,000 from their parents’ estate.
But it turns out that there one small – yet huge – detail that both these media giants missed: if you look closely at a certain portion of the video, you can somewhat see that the homeless guy is actually wearing a small microphone.
My friend who pointed this out to me noticed that at exactly 1:39 of the video, you slightly see a small lavalier mic under the collar of the homeless guy’s T-shirt as he bends down briefly. But the evidence doesn’t stop there.
“Watch the original interaction when they were on the freeway off-ramp. [Josh Paler Lin] is not holding a mic, but you can hear both of them crystal clear,” my friend said. “There is no way a camera mic could be that clear and get that kind of audio level. That tells me that Lin is wearing a [lavalier mic]. But the bum is also clear in his dialogue. Maybe the host has his lav on the outside of his clothes and is picking up the other guy’s speech well, but the bum’s dialogue is SO clear. I suspect they are being recorded on 2 audio channels.”
Either way, this adds to a predictable trend among viral video stars as they fight to bring traffic to their channels: staging a scenario and relying on people with room-temperature IQs to fall for it is much more lucrative than hoping something spontaneous happens.