How to Halt a Facebook Hoax 2022


The Internet can be a cruel and unforgiving place. Think about it, there are trolls, phishers and con artists lurking around almost ever corner. Scams and hoaxes everywhere.

On occasion, social media propels one of these scams to viral fame. Facebook, as the grandaddy of social media, is a particularly fertile breeding ground for misinformation. According to Facebook users, we're going to have to pay for Facebook; Facebook is shutting down; we need to post a ridiculous legalese privacy notice on our timelines to protect our data; and Morgan Freeman is dead.

Nobody likes playing the fool, and it's particularly embarrassing to be the victim of a social media hoax. In other words, the next time one of these scams pop up, you don't want to be duped into endorsing it.

While we realize readers are among the most savvy social media users on the web, consider sharing the following list of tips and reminders with your friends and family. If we all work together to identify and inhibit these fallacies, we can nurture a smarter and more useful Internet for ourselves and posterity.

1. Be Part of the Solution

Now that social media has turned most of us into citizen journalists of sorts, we must assume the responsibilities of the trade. That means everyone who enjoys the benefits of sharing must also actively attempt to make the Internet a space for truth and accuracy. Misinformation is insidious, and it can be very harmful.

As Winston Churchill said:"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

In the early stages of the shooting at Sandy Hook, mistaken reports surfaced that the shooter was Ryan Lanza, the actual shooter's brother. Immediately journalists, both pro and amateur, began sharing Ryan Lanza's Facebook picture. Moments later, hate groups started springing up. Facebook is the new court of public opinion, and it had all but convicted an innocent man of a heinous crime.

This situation obviously wasn't a premeditated hoax, but it is the type of situation newly anointed citizen journalists need to handle responsibly. The first step is to take ownership of that substantial responsibility.

2. Scrutinize the Source

Unless you witnessed something firsthand, you can never be absolutely sure that it happened (and research shows even eyewitness testimony can be dodgy). From playing the game"Telephone"as children, we all know that information gets warped and loses accuracy each time a story is told and retold. For these reasons, it's always good to maintain a healthy sense of skepticism when considering stories you hear, from the remarkable to the banal.

That being said, we have been on Facebook long enough at this point to know how our friends act on social media. Everyone has a few friends who are social media rockstars. They share current and pertinent content on a daily basis. Everyone also has a few friends who are, to put it gently, more likely to share viral misinformation.

It's not enough to scrutinize who told you the information; try to trace it back to the original source. Who originally reported the information and how did that person arrive at his conclusion?

Above, my friend and colleague Alex Fitzpatrick shares an important bit of information. Being a pro journalist, he also provides the source of the information. If only it was always this easy.

3. Cross-Check the Information

Don't absentmindedly hit the re-share button. If you have any doubt that something might not be true, it's you're responsibility to get to the bottom of it.

Start with a Google search. Has the information been reported by a reputable media organization?

Odds are you're not getting paid for your work on social media. It's not your responsibility to get the story first; it's your responsibility to get it right.

SEE ALSO: Not a Hoax: Facebook Might Have to Give You Ten Bucks

Sometimes a bit of critical thinking is all it takes. When Facebook charlatan Nolan Daniels posted a fake picture of himself with the"winning"Powerball ticket, Gawker debunked him by pointing out that, if the ticket was real, the numbers would list from lowest to highest.

This instance brings up another tell-tale sign of spam — it tries to propagate itself. Usually there will be some trick, attempting to encourage people to share the content. In Daniels' scam, he offered $1 million to one lucky person who shared his photo. More than 500,000 Facebook users took the bait.

SEE ALSO: Viral 'Privacy Notice' on Facebook Is Fake

In another scam, many felt compelled to post a fake privacy notice on their timelines, hoping it would protect their Facebook data.

The hoax was successful for two reasons. First, it touched on something most people are particularly cognizant of and concerned with: privacy in the age of social media. Secondly, the spam spread because, well, we're not all expert lawyers.

To avoid falling for this type of hoax in the future, check one of the many news sites that covers social media. Those outlets will certainly have reporters assessing the veracity of any viral content.

Or you could have just asked Boromir.

4. Share Your Findings With Others

Not only should you avoid sharing misinformation; you should actively try to debunk it. If you've done your homework and found that a rumor is false, share it with your friends.

But be polite and discreet when proving people wrong. We have all made mistakes before — there's really no need to be condescending or sanctimonious.

Discourage friends from sharing spam by posting a carefully worded status explaining how you know a piece of content isn't true. Don't single anyone out, and encourage others to pass along the message.

If you notice a specific friend endorsing a potentially embarrassing sham, don't correct the person via comment. Send a private message notifying him or her of the mistake.

5. Report to Facebook

Posting lies is not necessarily against Facebook's terms of service, which read:"You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious or discriminatory."

True, it does say the word"misleading."But at the same time, Facebook has not removed the Morgan Freeman tribute page, which is certainly misleading.

In any event, if you see a hoax spreading, it can't hurt to report it. If enough people do so, Facebook may take action — particularly if the misinformation is potentially harmful.

To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook post (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action.

6. Work Together

Social Media Journalism 101 is only a starting point from which we can begin to correct and prevent misinformation. For the benefit of all, share your own pro tips in the comment section below.

Photos via iStockphoto, LeicaFoto and Facebook

BONUS: 8 Social Media Hoaxes You Fell for This Year

8 Social Media Hoaxes You Fell for This Year

1. Fake Hurricane Sandy Pictures

While everyone waited the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, social media users shared completely fake storm images, including this one, which combined a New York harbor photo with a 2004 picture, taken by photographer Mike Hollingshead.

2. The Future Isn't Here Yet

Remember that scene in Back To The Future, when Doc sets the DeLorean to an obscure future date? On June 27, 2012, a Photohopped image pitted that day as"the future,"and the rumor spread quickly on Facebook. Except that day day wasn't"the future"-- the clock is actually set for Oct. 21, 2015.

3. #BaldforBieber

In October, a hoax involving Justin Bieber encouraged fans to shave their heads to support the pop star, who -- according to the false rumor -- was recently diagnosed with cancer. A video posted to YouTube included fake, Photoshopped tweets from his account announcing the news and pictures of fans shaving their heads for support. #BaldforBieber also started to trend in the U.S.

4. Facebook Shutting Down

A rumor that Facebook planned to shut down its site on March 15 made the rounds earlier this year, claiming CEO Mark Zuckerberg “wants his old life back” and desires to “put an end to all the madness.” A Facebook spokesperson later debunked the rumor, saying “the answer is no, so please help us put an end to this silliness.”

5. Morgan Freeman Death Rumors

Social media occasionally circulates false celebrity death rumors, but the alleged news about actor Morgan Freedman's passing in August took on a life of its own. His fake Facebook tribute pageraked in nearly 1 million Likes, and the rumors picked up again in October, when people on social networks shared their condolences.

6. Bieber Naked Photos

Justin Bieber was the subject of yet another hoax this year, and this time he was the one behind it.

To grow hype around his new song “Beauty and the Beat,” Justin Bieber tweeted that someone stole his laptop. However, the singer confronted someone claiming to be the thief on Twitter, who said they would release big news and a controversial video online the next day. It turned out to be a marketing ploy.

But the news ushered in a wave of security concerns. Some cybercriminals set phishing traps and lure unsuspecting consumers to click on malicious links based around pop culture news, especially when leaked photos are involved. And this is precisely what happened.

7. Facebook Privacy Status Update

In June, a fake"Facebook Privacy Notice"took the social network by storm, urging users to re-post a message that would allegedly protect their privacy. The concept was based around the faux notion that the company's IPO would affect user privacy. Facebook members were quick to share the post, and before we knew it, the false claim had overtaken the site.

8. Fake Kidnapping

When a 16-year-old girl from New Jersey tweeted that someone was in her house and then mysteriously disappeared, Twitter users rallied around her message. Not only did #HelpFindKara trend worldwide on Twitter, nearly 34,000 people retweeted her call for help. But police discovered she actually faked her own kidnapping.

The news didn't sit well with the Internet — many said they were"disgusted"with her tweet, which caused fear in so many people. Police later found her walking alongside a highway and returned her safely to family.