What started as a post on Snapchat has blasted off into something much bigger for a second-year RTA school of media production student. Tully McWatters, 20, fooled hundreds of people into thinking he was selected as a candidate for the Mars One project.
McWatters started by sending himself a bogus email that said he had been selected for the project. He then took a photo of the email and posted it to about 20 friends on Snapchat. He also made a convincing video, copying Mars One branding, that chronicled his “experience” with the project so far.
The timing was right as well. The mission recently announced its short list of 100 candidates, trimmed from hundreds of thousands. Mars One is a non-profit foundation that will see 24 people take a one-way trip to form the first colony on Mars.
McWatters made the story more convincing by creating a blog and writing about himself under the persona of a Trent University journalism student. He then made a final Facebook post saying he would be turning down the offer to be one the first to live on the Red Planet. He came clean about the hoax in an interview with Narcity on Feb. 25.
“Any good storytelling is good lying. I wondered if we could make a story so seamless that people think it is reality,” says McWatters. The reaction he received from the hoax surprised McWatters.
“I didn’t expect people to write such heartfelt messages. I knew a lot of people would be really mad (when they found out it was a hoax). I was hoping a lot of people would see it as a lighthearted thing I was doing,” says McWatters. “Mostly, on top of anything, I did it because I thought it was funny,” he said. McWatters’ RTA classmates Ben Ball, 19, and Orest Kus, 20, assisted him in the elaborate prank.
His final Facebook post has over 200 likes and the phony profile video, which was posted on Feb. 17, has over 5,000 views on YouTube.
McWatters says his commitment to the lie is what made the story so believable. “No one would expect I would go this far. Why would someone go through such trouble? To make a video, a fake article, just to lie to a few people on the Internet. It doesn’t make sense, but I think it’s the things that don’t make sense that are the best lies.”
McWatters says he hopes the project does more than just give him and his friends a few laughs. He plans to add the project to his portfolio and send it to video production companies in Los Angeles, where he is hoping to work this summer. He particularly wants fellow Canadian, Nathan Fielder, of Nathan For You and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, to see his work.
Fielder was the brains behind “Dumb Starbucks,” a prank that McWatters says he channeled when working on the Mars One hoax.
The project hasn’t yet caught the attention of Mars One, but McWatters hopes it does soon.
“Deep down I had this fantasy that they would see it and say they’ll consider me for this mission,” he says.
“I probably would (go to Mars). I’m the type of person that would dedicate his whole life to something completely not on this planet.”