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No, ‘The Simpsons’ did not predict monkeypox

A series of images from “The Simpsons” is circulating online as “proof” that the show predicted the current monkeypox outbreak back in 2002. But this viral collage is misleading. Let’s look at the facts.

A Facebook post says, “The Simpsons Season 17 episode 21!! 2002 stay woke!” and includes three still images from the show. The first image shows Homer Simpson sitting on a couch drinking beer with a monkey. The other two images show Homer with a skin rash. The News Literacy Project has added a label that says, “MISLEADING COLLAGE.”
A 2002 episode of “The Simpsons” did not predict an outbreak of monkeypox.
The images in this Facebook post are not from the same episode of the show.
None of the episodes these images are taken from mention monkeypox.
These images were taken from genuine episodes of “The Simpsons.” The image of Homer with a monkey comes from “Girly Edition,” a 1998 episode that includes the Simpson family getting a helper monkey named Mojo. The images of Homer with a rash come from “Milhouse of Sand and Fog,” a 2005 episode in which Homer gets chickenpox.

NewsLit takeaway

When images are placed side-by-side or in a collage, it can be difficult not to draw connections between them. Purveyors of misinformation often exploit this natural tendency by using this type of “false evidence” to fabricate support for a falsehood or conspiratorial claim. In this case, an image of Homer Simpson sitting next to a monkey was posted alongside other images of Homer with a skin rash to push the false assumption that they came from the same episode. But as fact-checkers from Reuters and USA Today noted, these images come from two different episodes, neither of which dealt with monkeypox.

Online claims about “The Simpsons” predicting current events have a long history. However, nearly every one of these “predictions” has a much simpler explanation than the vague conspiracy theories or supernatural phenomena they invoke. In some cases, these viral Simpson predictions are based on fan art or doctored images passed off as authentic stills. In others, such as the case above, images from multiple episodes are presented together and accompanied by false claims. While there have been a few striking coincidences in the show, this can be chalked up to the fact that “The Simpsons” has been on for more than 30 years and has more than 700 episodes. Combined with the fact that the show often includes commentary on social trends and historical patterns, it isn’t surprising that a few have found modern-day relevance.

While rumors about animated shows predicting future events may seem harmless at first, these claims, if believed, can serve as entry points to more elaborate and harmful conspiratorial beliefs, such as those that feature nefarious groups of global leaders planning world events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, food shortages or the monkeypox outbreak. (Such conspiracy theories also frequently include antisemitic undertones.) “The Simpsons” did not foretell smartwatches or autocorrect or monkeypox. These claims simply repackage coincidences (some real, some invented) and present them as predictions.

NLP’s viral rumor rundown is a regular feature in The Sift, its weekly email newsletter for educators, and in Get Smart About News, its weekly email newsletter for the general public. You can subscribe to these newsletters here. Send suggestions, questions or feedback on this rumor or on the viral rumor rundown blog to thesift@newslit.org.