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If He’s a Birdman – I’m a Dutchman

The real mystery about Jarno Smeets is not whether he can fly like a bird – it’s what he’s trying to flog.

And that’s sad. It’s sad that human inspiration has become a tool to be artificially created and used to market commodities.

It’s sad that whenever we see a video of something like this, something inspirational or extraordinary or moving, that we have become conditioned to expect it to be fake.

It’s sad to read some of the genuine comments from people energised and uplifted by the story of Jarno Smeets; a 31-year-old Dutch man who followed his dream to fly like a bird.

Because the euphoric video where this dream appears to be fulfilled has the overpowering stench of a viral marketing campaign. In a digital age where seeing is no longer believing, it’s hard to prove or disprove the footage itself.

But what can be shown is that the back story presented by Jarno Smeets is a complete fabrication. His various social media profiles refer to him as being a former mechanical engineering student at Coventry University. He then went to work at a local company called Pailton Steering Systems, before moving to Holland to join Philips Design.

Nobody from any of these organisations has any record of Jarno Smeets.

Nanda Huizing, head of communications at Philips Design, said: “We really don’t have a clue who this person is. We have checked and double checked but there’s nobody called Jarno Smeets who has ever worked here.

“This is a matter we will be looking into to try and find out why these false claims have been made, but from what we understand, he doesn’t suggest his flying video is connected to Philips.”

Pailton Steering Systems in Coventry were similarly bemused. A spokesman said: “We’ve checked back and he’s never worked here. We’ve even put in some checks with our Dutch office and there’s nothing at all.”

When you look at the blog posts and various social media profiles you see evidence of a carefully constructed narrative and few signs of genuine lives being lived. Everything is too neat. Too cute.

Like the heartwarming story of Jarno taking his inspiration from some dusty plans he finds in his attic; long-lost designs for a flying-machine drawn-up by his grandfather. The fact that his dutiful assistant is a photogenic student who appears to be studying dreams – but not at any particular university.

There is also the fact that the majority of Jarno Smeets’ profiles were set-up on July 4, 2011 with little sign of his existence on the Internet before that date.

It’s obvious that a fair amount of time and money has gone into creating this story, something which suggests it’s connected to a corporation rather than being the hoax of an individual.

And the pernicious nature of viral marketing means that just by identifying this as fake, is helping to achieve its objective.

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