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10/09/2019 17:15 EDT

New ‘House Hippo 2.0’ Ad From Media Smarts Aims To Teach Us About Fake News

The beloved House Hippo is here 20 years later to warn about deepfakes.

A beloved ’90s icon is making a comeback, and no we’re not talking about bike shorts, Saved By The Bell or TLC.

No, this icon builds its nest in bedroom closets, loves harassing pets and chowing down on the crumbs from peanut butter sandwiches — it’s the House Hippo. 

First debuting in 1999, the original House Hippo ad used the fictional (but very believable creature) to warn us against believing everything we saw on TV. 

In a new ad, Media Smarts, aka Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy,  resurrects the beloved figure of Canadian nostalgia to warn modern audiences about the dangers of misinformation on the internet. 

The ad is part of Media Literacy Week from Oct. 7-11, which encourages parents and teachers to start conversations with their kids around what’s real on the internet. 

The North American House Hippo

The House Hippo made its first appearance in May 1999 as part of a television PSA produced by the Concerned Children’s Advertisers.

The original 60-second ad highlighted the House Hippo in the calm, inquisitive narration of nature documentaries. The creature is shown facing off against a cat, nesting in a closet and rummaging through a chip bag. 

“The favourite foods of the House Hippo are chips, raisins and the crumbs from peanut butter on toast,” the narrator muses. 

It’s pretty convincing, and I’ll admit five-year-old me definitely thought the House Hippo was a real animal lurking in the dark corners of my parents’ house. I may or may not have left out peanut butter toast in hopes of luring one out of hiding. 

Many people like me who were kids have admitted the ad was a little too convincing. 

 Someone even did a very scientific Twitter poll on the matter.

Of course, the House Hippo is not real, and the ad ends with the PSA from Concerned Children’s Advertisers to make sure to ask questions about what we see on TV. 

If you’re between the ages of 24 and 34, PSAs from Concerned Children’s Advertisers were likely an important part of your childhood. Who can forget “Don’t Put It In Your Mouth”  and other classics? 

Or of course, my personal favourite was “What’s Your Thing?” which featured an upbeat pop-punk soundtrack and the greatest line reading of all time: “My thing is sound effects, here’s a T-Rex, VSZZZAAHHHHHHH.” 

The age of fake news

The original House Hippo ad was targeted at kids warning them to be skeptical of what they saw on TV. But we now live in a world of the internet, deepfakes and fake news. It makes sense the House Hippo needed to level up. 

A December 2016 Pew Research Center survey suggested that 23 per cent of adults in the United States have shared fake news, knowingly or unknowingly, at some point. And then there are deepfakes – AI-enabled computer-generated images of people that are convincingly real. 

WATCH: Deepfake videos, explained. Story continues below. 

New research from the cyber-security company Deeptrace shows that the number of deepfake videos online has doubled since December 2018. 

The new ad directs back to Canada’s Centre For Digital and Media Literacy, which features tips for both adults and kids to spot fake news. You can take a quiz to test your own skill in identifying fake news, and have your kids take a quiz identifying fake animal pictures. 

The site gives four ways to identify if something on the internet is real or not:

Use fact-checking tools

See if a fact-checker has already done the work for you:

  1. Type keywords from the story into this custom search engine, which shows results from several fact-checking sites: bit.ly/fact-search. 
  2. You can also check individual fact-checking sites like FactsCan.ca or Snopes.com to see if they’ve debunked the story.

Find the source

Don’t just trust a headline or picture in a social media post, instead:

  1. Click on the actual link in the post (usually below the image). 
  2. The link will take you to the original story, so you can see if it comes from a trusted source.
  3. If there’s no link, type in keywords from the story into a search engine like Google to find where it originally came from.

Verify the source

How do you know if the story is coming from a reliable website or news outlet? 

  1. Type the name of the source into Google or Wikipedia. 
  2. Read their Wikipedia page to see if: A) they’re real, and B) they have a good track record.

Check other sources

Sometimes this is the easiest way to see if something is true. 

  1. Open Google and click on the News tab.
  2. Do a search to see if other news outlets are reporting the same story.