A secret history of Cat Facts, the greatest text message hoax ever

BY JENNINGS BROWN

The Cat Facts text prank, the greatestthing to happen to text messaging since the invention of emojis, is in the midst of a revival. This week, #FakeCatFacts startedtrending on Twitter.And in late November an anonymous privacy crusaderbegan texting Cat Facts to telephone number Twitter users had posted publicly, only discontinuing the onslaught of factsonce the main victims tweeted Meow, I <3 catfacts to edward snowden.

Now, nearly four years after Cat Facts went viral, the woman responsible for the original outbreakis ready to let the cat out of the bag.

Like manypeople who use the Internet, I discovered Cat Facts in late January of 2012, when Redditor frackyou posted a text prank that shepulled on her cousin.

Inspired, I made a Google Voice number, then sent a text to Bryan, one of my bestfriends: Thank you for subscribing toCatFacts! You will now receive fundailyfactsabout cats! > o

Bryan fell hard.Heres an artistic rendering ofa portion of that exchange:

After 56 messages sent and several endeavors made by Bryan to cancel his subscription, I ultimately let himoff. But not before sending him one last message: Thank you for subscribing to Horse Facts! You will now receive fundaily facts about horses! Neeeiiigh!

I shared the entire conversationwith our group of friends in a mass email, and they never lethim live it down. Bryan had now been forgiven me. I am glad I can now look back on #catfact day and laugh, he wrote in an email last year. It was quite traumatic at the time.

Of course, myCat Fact story was one of many that haveshaped peoples lives.

The Woman Behind Cat Facts

Redditor frackyou is Allis Markham, a celebrated ethical taxidermist based in Los Angeles. Four years ago, Markham left her task as Disneys director of social media strategy to seek taxidermy full time.

Thats when Ileft bleeding-edge technology and went on to a different type of bleeding edge. Markham said.

Thanks to everyone who came to the tiger cub scalping last night at Prey #Taxidermy !

A photo posted by Allis Markham (@ allis) on Sep 14, 2014 at 9:46 am PDT

Since then, she has worked at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, opened her own store and studio( Prey Taxidermy ), and won two first-place awards in the 2015 World Taxidermy Championship.She hasbeen covered by the New York Times , the Washington Post , Bloomberg , Elle , Refinery 29 , Smithsonian , Mashable , the Hairpin and several other publications.Much has been written about hertalent, about how shes challenging stereotypes and providing a much-needed voice of feminism in taxidermy, about how hanging out with her is like having a slumber party at a morgue, and about how she wasthe muse for the main character in husbandDavid Isersons Firecracker , which Rolling Stone deemed one of the40 best YA fictions.

Back to the grind .

A photo posted by Allis Markham (@ allis) on Sep 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm PDT

But none of those profiles or interviews ever touched on her greatest contribution to Internet culturea Reddit post attained inJanuary 2012that started an Internet sensation.

I insured my cousin Robertposted on Facebook Im if anyone wants to call or text me or whatever go ahead heres my number. Hes not in my phone and Im not on his, so I knew he wouldnt know my phone number, Markham told Vocativ. I just started texting him cat facts.I was quickly Googling stuff and half attaining up bullshit. Im a taxidermist and Im an armchair biologist, but I dont know how many bones are currently under tail of a cat.

Cousin Robert freaked out like a kitty on catnip. Icould not have planned it better, Markham said. He fell for it hooking, line, and sinker. I think he was a sophomore in high school at the time, and he was flipping his shit. He also started calling the phone number and he was like Fuck you. Then he maintained reacting the the texts.

Markham took screenshots of the conversation and posted them on Reddit. Thanks to thousands of upvotes and aBuzzFeed pickup, Cat Facts explosion. I hadnt been on Reddit terribly long and I was tickled to death to see it taking off. I set it on Roberts page and I was like, Youre famous! I got a lot of messages. Everybody guessed I was a guy. Everybody, everybody believed I was a guy.

The Many Lives Of Cat Facts

Reporters also got her gender incorrect. When TechCrunch featureda newCat Facts app based on the Epic Reddit Prank, the articlereferred to Redditor frackyou as a he: Cat Facts creator Kyle Venn says hes not the original Reddit user frackyou, and didnt reach out to him before generating this because that user was no longer active, and also, because it seems by the comments on the original post that frackyou actually got the idea from another Redditor who liked that his idea was being used.

Not only did the article get frackyous gender wrong, but the app creatormisrepresented her Reddit activity. Markham continued to post on the site and is still active. What that article does get right is that Markham didnt originally come up with the idea of Cat Facts. She was inspired by anotherReddit post she had watched a few weeks earlier.

In that post, the Redditor described a text prankin which he sent a stranger daily facts about cats. The Redditor, who goes by the handle imrobert, told Vocativ that he got the victims number by asking a friend to send him a random contact in his phone. He then sent that stranger cat facts every day for about a monthuntil thecat fact receiver stopped answering. The Redditor said he, too, got the cat fact text prank notion from another post he saw on Reddit. He can no longer find the original post, so the true origins of Cat Facts could forever remain a mystery.

Neither he nor Markham are upset that someone else is perhaps profiting off the prankwith an app. Honestly, good for him. Im glad people are having fun with it, Markham said. Atsome phase , nobody actually owns a meme. A meme is a meme because people take it, they change it and they do things with itand thats great.

Markhams merely regret is that she might have contributed to the deathof CatFacts.org. Iimagine that it was run by little old cat ladies. Right after went viral theyput a disclaimer on theirvfront page, Markham said.

CatFacts.org no longer exists, but Markham a screengrab of the home page from January 26, 2012, immediately after her post ran viral.

The Legacy Of Cat Facts

Markham has a theory of the reasons why Cat Facts took off: Her generation was inspired by prank-call televisionJerky Boys, Crank Yankers, Bart Simpson and Moe Szyslak. We all grew up prank calling. Prank texting is the modern prank call, Markham said. Plus everyone loves cats on the Internet.

Perhaps thats the reason that Cat Facts lives on virtually four years later, most recently as #FakeCatFacts and on Edward Snowdens feed.

The Snowden connectionthat is crazy to me, said Markham. I love it I hope it stimulates him happy.

Markham said she is looking forward to the annual household Christmas tradition of reading out the original dialogue between her and her cousin. But, while the prank still brings her joy, and whilesheloves animals so much that she has promoted dozens of puppies and expends their own lives preserving dead wildlife, she admits she isnot acat person.

If youd ever busted a scent gland on mountain lion, youd abhor cats for the rest of your life, too, Markham said.Illjust go ahead and say this: I only dont like cats. You can print it. I dont care. I dont really like cats.

Photo via Moyan Brenn/ Flickr( CC BY 2.0 )

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