Deconstructing a Viral Video: Skydiving Without a Parachute

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

The video purportedly shows a man jumping from a plane 9,000 feet above the earth with no parachute, dropping through a small opening in a roof and onto a trampoline. Thanks to the power of social media, it didn’t take long to go viral. But was it real?

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Video

Here’s how IMVAIN — a News Literacy technique for evaluating the reliability of sources of information in a news report — can be used to deconstruct this viral video.

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Independent sources are preferable to self-interested sources.

Did the video originate from an independent or "self-interested" source?

Twitter and Facebook are great tools for launching a viral video. Looking through the many tweets, we found an odd one with the title “This Really Happened at our California Park.”

   

An Internet search turned up various articles reporting the improbable jump, and several mentioned Sector 6, a trampoline park opening in New Orleans. It has a Facebook page, where one of the videos shows the skydive – and includes the same line, “This Really Happened at our California Park.” And this version of the video ends with the logos of the new park and its sister site in California. Whatever else this video is, it’s not independent. It seems to be promoting the new venue.

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Multiple sources are preferable to a report based on a single source.

On the surface, the answer might seem to be multiple because stories about the video can be found on numerous websites, including the London-based Daily Mail’s news site. 

But they all show the same video.

You won’t find any independent coverage of the event anywhere. Not The New York Times or the L.A. Times or CNN. If you were staging this dramatic event, would you forget to alert the media?

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Sources who verify or provide verifiable information are preferable to those who merely assert.

Video, News Literacy teaches us, is the most powerful form of verification. Seeing is believing, right?

The power of this video is what’s drawing all the attention, and there are no obvious signs of manipulation. But one Internet commenter noticed something odd. The spot where the video signal dramatically halts, putting the error messages “Connection Lost” and “End of stream” on screen, mimics a common error screen from the popular game Minecraft – right down to the odd capitalization. Coincidence? Not likely …

  

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Authoritative and/or Informed sources are preferable to sources who are uninformed or lack authoritative background.

Is our source authoritative, informed … or even identified?

No one is named in the video. No names, no credentials. The closest we get is the jumper identified only as “Travis.

Another interesting choice. The closest thing to this video on YouTube is a 2007  video featuring extreme sports athlete Travis Pastrama, who jumped from a plane with no parachute but used two companions with chutes to slow his descent. It was a stunt created to promote an energy drink.

Would he do something even more daring and not be fully identified? Wouldn’t his home page or Twitter account mention the event or show the video? There’s no mention on either, nor can you find any mention of the jump on skydiving news sites.

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Named sources are better than anonymous ones.

So who made the video? The final scene showing Travis being celebrated after the jump flashes an ID – “Sky Newz viral” No such news organization exists. It’s an obvious play on the name of Britain-based Sky News, a news and entertainment company. There’s also a  copyright label on the image from “Sector 6,” the trampoline park. 

Not independent. Not from multiple sources. Verification is in doubt. No authoritative source in sight. No real names. Would you share it as news?

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Questions for Classroom Discussion

  • Did you believe the video was authentic when you first saw it? Why?
  • Why do you think news organizations like London’s Daily Mail posted the video while others ignored it?
  • Did news outlets have a responsibility to verify its authenticity before posting and writing about the video? Does their decision affect your assessment of the news outlet’s overall reliability?
  • What role did social media play here? Would you have shared the video with family and friends?

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