- A TikToker went viral after he claimed to win an award from Google after searching a unique phrase.
- TikTokers and viewers said they tried searching bizarre phrases in an attempt to win their own.
- The creator behind the account confirmed with Insider the award doesn’t exist.
A TikToker created a fake trophy and claimed Google had sent it to him for being the first person to search for an obscure phrase, tricking viewers into entering increasingly bizarre search terms in an attempt to win one of their own.
On September 9, 2022, a 33-year-old from North Florida who goes by the handle @legbootlegit on TikTok and asked Insider refer to himself only as Justin due to privacy concerns, uploaded a video with the on-screen caption, “I got a package in the mail from Google!”
In the 13-second clip, which received over 3.1 million views, a hand could be seen opening a box and pulling out a small glass trophy with the Google logo and an inscription that read, “First person to Google the phrase ‘is it legal to take pigeons from the park for free.'”
The next day, Justin shared a follow-up video that was viewed 3 million times, with the on-screen caption “I got another!!” which showed a second award being placed next to the first on a shelf. The inscription on the new addition said he was the first to search the term “fun or profitable things to do with 237 pigeons.”
But the millions of people who watched the videos were being duped — the award was completely made up as part of an elaborate piece of “performance art,” the creator said.
Not everyone believed Justin, but his videos sparked a trend regardless
Combined, the videos received over 2,500 comments, many of which speculated whether the award was authentic. “Are these real?” a comment read with over 2,700 likes. “There’s no way I haven’t earned one of these,” a comment with over 3,600 likes read.
Other comments questioned what happened when Justin searched the term, how he was notified by Google about the news, and how the company knew his home address.
Justin’s responses were non-commital, often suggesting viewers were right to question his story. Still, Justin uploaded another video on January 19 which appeared to show him filming a laptop screen as he searched for a new phrase.
In the clip, which was viewed 2.6 million times, a message with the heading “Congratulations!” appeared to pop up on screen, which featured a graphic of confetti falling across the text, “You were the first to search for this phrase” and “we will send your award to the home address linked to your Google Maps profile.”
Soon after, multiple TikTok users started documenting their attempts to win an award from Google for a unique search. On January 22, a user who goes by @nathantriska uploaded a video viewed over 4.4 million times, where he typed “why did my dog give birth last night while sitting on a picture of james charles around 6:08 pm central time” into Google.
In a similar video, which received over 8.5 million views, a user who goes by @connorhessee appeared to search the term, “how to explain to your dog that your mental health is unstable and you cannot buy them the purple shirt they saw in a Walmart clearance section magazine.”
Of course, neither search term led to a notification from Google.
Justin said the hoax was part of his performance art
Justin, who described his videos as “performance art riffing on consumerism and pop culture,” told Insider via an email exchange that the award was completely fake. A spokesperson for Google confirmed to Insider the award “does not currently exist” and said 15% of the searches they see every day are new.
Justin’s account is known for creating parody products, including a physical Twitter blue check, typo filled valentines cards, and fake action figures. He said he came up with the fake award while discussing “various hairbrained ideas” with his brother.
“One of us suggested a nice award in the style of corporate achievement, but for something silly… like searching up a phrase on Google,” he told Insider.
“It does seem as though a high percentage of viewers believed the concept, especially on my latest video where I showed the popup on my computer screen,” Justin said. “Most of the comments were from people sharing their bizarre search queries which somehow failed to produce any award notification.”
Justin said he enjoys hearing from people who can’t tell if his work is satire or real, but said he especially loves it “when viewers DO catch on, and play along with the joke.” He told Insider, “they are my kind of people.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.