Gemma Sheridan is a real person. Her story, however, was a complete hoax. You may have read the incredible tale of British woman Gemma Sheridan and her will to survive against incalculable odds. Her story of improbable rescue from a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean after a Google Earth user happened to stumble upon her beachfront “SOS” sign has gathered millions of page views on multiple news outlets and via social media.
Unfortunately, the entire tale is a ruse.
According to the International Business Times on Friday, the “real Gemma Sheridan, whose Twitter tagline interestingly reads, ‘Who is she? Where did you find her?’” is a friend of the editor from the media site News Hound, which fabricated this story about Gemma “as a joke.”
Gemma’s narrative, as carried originally by news-hound.org, sounds legit, but in actuality the site is a quasi-news outlet known for the occasional satirical story.
In 2007, Gemma Sheridan and 2 friends set out on a voyage that was to take them from their home town of Liverpool, across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal and then onwards to the beautiful island of Hawaii.
The first stage of the voyage went without incident. However, after passing through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific, things started to take a turn for the worse.
“The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless crew…” Oh wait. Wrong fake shipwreck.
The story goes on to recount how she survived for seven years – killing goats with clam shells, taking four weeks to learn how to build a fire, scouring for food, etc. Written as a first person recounting, this is how Gemma described her rescue:
Woke up 1 morning to the sound of a plane flying over me which was unusually low, I could not believe it, I thought it was a dream. I ran to the beach screaming and waving my arms like a lunatic, the plane flew over 2 or 3 more times and then dropped a small package.
Inside was a radio, fresh water, food and a small medical kit. I switched on the radio and heard the first human voice for years. We talked for what seemed like an eternity, then I asked the voice on the other end, “How did you find me?” to which they replied, “Some kid from Minnesota found your SOS sign on Google Earth.” I didn’t even know what Google Earth was, but I'm eternally in their debt now.
And of course, we’re told to “share this amazing story with your friends.”
Well share we did. Tens of thousands of times over through various sites that ran the story. The most “liked” comment in fact is this one, from a Denny Strickland, who wrote on March 18:
They should build an algorithm to check for SOS signs on islands and other deserted areas.
Yes, and perhaps some sort of arithmetical computation can be derived to help internet perusers distinguish fact from fiction.
What about the SOS picture that the site carried? That was actually a Google Earth image from Kyrgyzstan taken in 2010.
Writes hoax-debunking website WafflesAtNoon: “The website which produced this story provided no sources, and there are no corroborating reports to be found anywhere online. News-Hound.org was only registered in January 2014 – although it has articles posted that pre-date its registration.”
News Hound is littered with outlandish stories, including the Internet whopper of a lie that a man sued his wife for bearing him ugly kids. That one even snared a handful of my fellow Examiners in its mendacious net, causing me to fire up the keyboard with a debunking dose of reality: