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The Story of Jasmine Tridevil: Getting around Roadblocks to Verification

Craig Silverman (@craigsilverman) is an entrepreneurial journalist and a leading expert on media errors, accuracy and verification. He is currently a fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, and recently launched Emergent.info, a real-time rumor tracker. Craig edited the Verification Handbook from the European Journalism Center and is the founder and editor of Regret the Error, a blog about media accuracy and the discipline of verification. It is now part of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, where Craig serves as adjunct faculty. He previously served as director of content for Spundge and helped launch OpenFile, an online local news startup that delivered community-driven reporting in six Canadian cities. Craig is also the former managing editor of PBS MediaShift and has been a columnist for The Globe And Mail, Toronto Star, and Columbia Journalism Review. He is the author of two award-winning non-fiction books, Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech and Mafiaboy: A Portrait of the Hacker as a Young Man.


She went by the name Jasmine Tridevil and claimed to have had a third breast added to her chest as a way to make herself unattractive to men.

That sentence alone includes enough questionable elements to cause journalists and others to treat her claims with great skepticism. But after Tridevil gave a radio interview about her alleged surgery, her story soon went viral, with some news websites reporting her augmentation as a matter of fact.

As the story spread rapidly on social media, the red flags became even more prominent:

  • The only images of her and her new addition came from her own social media accounts and website. She wasn’t allowing other people to photograph her.
  • She refused to provide the contact information of the doctor who performed the surgery, saying he required that she sign a non-disclosure agreement.
  • Plastic surgeons in the United States are bound by an ethical code which holds that “'the principal objective of the medical profession is to render services to humanity with full respect for human dignity.” Any physician that agreed to add a third breast would likely be in violation of this code.
  • The idea of a three-breasted woman was made famous in the film “Total Recall,” giving her claim a fictional aspect.
  • She claimed to be filming a reality show, with the goal of having it picked up by MTV. If fame was her goal, could she be trusted?
  • She was using a pseudonym.

Snopes, the website dedicated to investigating hoaxes and urban legends, pointed out the problems with her story, and the fact that many news sites were parroting it without performing basic checks:

In the initial frenzy of interest in Jasmine Tridevil and her purported third breast, lots of linking and re-posting of the same information and images occurred. However, few looked very deeply at the claims made by the woman shown in the images or her agents, or whether such a modification was even feasible. Instead, multiple media outlets took her claims at face value and ran it as a straight news story with no corroboration (other than self-provided images that could easily have been faked): they contacted no one who knew or had seen Ms. Tridevil, they sought no third-party photographs of her, they didn't verify the story with the doctor who supposedly performed her unusual enhancement surgery, nor did they probe her obvious pseudonym to determine her real name and background.

The lack of independent photos and access to her physician cut off obvious and important avenues for independent verification. When a source throws up so many roadblocks, that alone is reason to question their claims.

In the end, it was Snopes that did the necessary investigation into Tridevil. Along with noting her unwillingness to provide any corroborating evidence, they performed a Whois search on the domain jasminetridevil.com and discovered it had been registered by Alisha Hessler. Searching for online information about that woman turned up evidence that she looked very much like Tridevil and had worked as a massage therapist in the same city. They also discovered that she had achieved a level of notoriety years earlier:

In December 2013 Hessler made headlines for an incident in which she claimed she was beaten while on the way home from a club, then offered her attacker the choice of standing on a street corner wearing a dunce cap and holding a sign that read "I beat women" rather than being reported to police and charged with a crime. (Hessler also said "she wanted to have the man who beat her sign a waiver allowing her to beat him for 10 minutes.") According to local police, Hessler withdrew her complaint and "stopped returning [their] calls" after she was pressed for details of the alleged attack.

Based on the lack of supporting evidence, Tridevil/Hessler’s unwillingness to provide any avenues for verification, and her history as someone who made possible false claims for publicity, Snopes soon declared her claims to be fake. That caused some in the press to begin to question Tridevil’s story.

Tridevil, meanwhile, continued to offer ample reason to question her claims. She agreed to an interview with a Tampa TV station but refused to discuss her claim in detail, or to offer proof:

She agreed to the interview on the condition we only discuss her self-produced show she hopes will be picked up by a cable network, and when we asked to see her third breast, she obliged, but with only a quick flash. When asked her why we couldn't have a longer look Tridevil responded, "I'm not ready to do that right now because it's in episode six of my show."

But the smoking gun that proved her to be a fake came a day later. That same Tampa TV station obtained a document from the local airport that had been filled out when Hessler’s luggage was stolen weeks before. Among the items listed in the bag was a “3 breast prosthesis”:


Though the above document provided the final, irrefutable proof of this hoax, there were many clues and red flags from the very start.



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