Last week, a letter attributed to Brad Pitt about Angelina Jolie appeared on a Nigerian relationship advice and celebrity news blog called Couples & Co.. The post garnered more than 1,000 comments and was shared almost 800K times on Facebook, according to Linktally. In other words: it went viral.
Of course, the heartwarming letter wasn't actually written by Brad Pitt.
"My wife got sick. She was constantly nervous because of problems at work, personal life, her failures and problems with children. She has lost 30 pounds and weighed about 90 pounds in her 35 years. She got very skinny, and was constantly crying. She was not a happy woman. She had suffered from continuing headaches, heart pain and jammed nerves in her back and ribs.She did not sleep well, falling asleep only in the morning and got tired very quickly during the day. Our relationship was on the verge of break up. Her beauty was leaving her somewhere, she had bags under her eyes, she was poking her head, and stopped taking care of herself. She refused to shoot the films and rejected any role. I lost hope and thought that we'll get divorced soon…But then I decided to act on it.
After all I've got the most beautiful woman on the earth. She is the idol of more than half of men and women on earth, and I was the one allowed to fall asleep next to her and to hug her shoulders.I began to pamper her with flowers, kisses and compliments. I surprised her and pleased her every minute. I gave her lots of gifts and lived just for her. I spoke in public only about her. I incorporated all themes in her direction. I praised her in front of her own and our mutual friends.You won't believe it, but she blossomed. She became even better than before. She gained weight, was no longer nervous and she loved me even more than ever. I had no clue that she CAN love that much. And then I realized one thing: The woman is the reflection of her man. If you love her to the point of madness, she will become it." - Brad Pitt
According to Snopes.com, this letter has existed in one form or another for years. It wasn't until this summer, however, that it was attributed to Pitt and his "wife" (Pitt and Jolie are not married). This spring, Jolie announced her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy, which makes the talk about her being "sick" seem relevant.
The Facebook page for Identity Magazine, an Egyptian fashion site (the website is currently under construction, though the Facebook page is popular), posted the letter along with a photo of Pitt and Jolie on June 17, 2013. The post has 152,591 shares so far and 238,384 likes. From this Facebook page, the letter went viral in many other countries.
On July 1, 2013 it was posted by the Malaysian blogger Angeline Tang, and a few other Malaysian blogs. The letter surfaced in the U.S. (outside Facebook) in a July 16 post on a blog dedicated to supporting Navy Seals.
Snopes had been tipped off to the letter by emails from June 2013: "We don't yet know who the original author of this bit of romantic fluffery was, but this item was making the social media rounds long before Brad Pitt's name became attached to it, and a rep for the actor confirmed for us that he had nothing to do with it."
In 2013, the internet saw something of a resurgence in these viral heartwarming "chain letters," which don't just ignore but depend on dubious sourcing. A-list celebrities are usually immune to involvement due to a (relatively) robust celebrity news ecosystem and their ability to swiftly issue widely-seen corrections by tweet or publicist. Perhaps it helped that this letter started in countries where English isn't the primary language, and where the unusual syntax of the fake letter wouldn't instantly raise eyebrows. But the heartwarming, inspirational, gooey message of the letter proved irresistible to American Facebookers too.
The site with the version of the post that is currently going viral, Couples & Co., has some other dubious celebrity news info, like a December 26 post with the headline JAY-Z Files For Divorce From Beyonce (not true). This seems to be more of a parody post than a dubiously sourced gossip item:
Said Jay-Z when asked by court appointed marriage counselor Johns Hopkins how he felt about the whole situation. 'She acted like my lips were sexy all these years so honestly ain't no telling what else she lying about.'
Another recent post has the Upworthy-style "curiosity gap" headline that seems quintessentially 2013: "What Paul Walker Secretly Did In 2004 Made Me Cry. And It's Just Coming Out Now." This time, the story of Paul Walker paying for a military couple's $9,000 engagement ring is actually true.