The human face of Facebook hoaxing

It’s accepted that scams happen on Facebook. Take notice, for example, of Facebook’s own recent warning about tear-jerking fraudulent stories about terminally ill children. If you say Amen to one of these, and share it, you may be helping a real child rack up their ten thousand Likes; but you may not. You may, perhaps more likely, be helping fraudsters to build up lists which can then be used to post further scams, or misrepresent the popularity of their product. Images are usually stolen from elsewhere on the web, to add to the misrepresentation. No, they don’t enable people to take over your Facebook account itself. But it is better not to respond. See the Hoax-slayer article, indexed below, for a route into more accurate information.

But there’s a new slant on this problem in a “long read” article in The Guardian last week. This profiles a US hoax investigator, Taryn Wright, who initially looked into one particular hoax in depth. What caught her attention was simply the number of problems attributed to the same family – childhood cancer, fatal car accidents, murders. There was no tie-up with reporting in any other media, despite the human interest aspect to the tragedies which would (in this country) be a natural for the tabloids or at least local press.

She found she could identify the original sources of many of the pictures used on the posts. With the help of contacts through a blog, she could follow through IP addresses to identify the source of the stories. And this is where this story diverges from what you might expect.

She didn’t find financial scams or promotional hoaxes. She found a real person with genuine social problems, who’d created the ficititious family and all its problems, over more than a decade, to gather the community of friends, contacts and support that her real life had denied her. And Taryn Wright created a real, supportive friendship from the contact; a pattern she has repeated in other cases too.

But also: among the investigative group that spontaneously gathered, many were more inclined to a vigilante-style approach than to compassionate response. Taryn Wright had to close down most of her group, working with only a handful who share her approach. And of course there has been internet abuse and some physical threats too.

It’s a story well worth reading. Form your own opinion!

Links:
• Facebook Posts Asking You to Type ‘Amen’ To Help Children or Animals Are Like-Farming Scams Not Hackers, Hoax-Slayer, 24 Nov 2015 (or search Google for “Don’t say Amen on facebook“)
• Cancer cons, phoney accidents and fake deaths: meet the internet hoax buster, Rachel Monroe, The Guardian, 18 Feb 2016

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