Seven ways to spot if a Facebook post is a hoax
For the past twelve months, we’ve been conducting an investigation into hundreds of hoax posts in local Facebook community groups across the world. The posts, which are often replicated across multiple local groups, make alarming claims, for example, that a serial killer is at large or there are deadly snakes on the loose. Others falsely beg for help in locating missing dogs or children.
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Spotting the hoaxes isn’t always easy, especially as many people do use Facebook to send out entirely legitimate alerts to local communities. To help you stay safe online, here are seven things to look for if you’re trying to tell a fake post from the real deal.
- The comments are disabled. Most people genuinely trying to find a lost family member or pet are seeking information, so would likely want to allow people to comment. (This isn’t a guarantee though—people may turn off comments for other reasons, for example if a missing person has been found, and some hoax posts keep the comments open.)
- The caption has been copied and pasted. To check, highlight some of the text, and copy and paste it yourself into Facebook’s search function at the top of the page. If posts with identical or almost-identical text appear, even with different images, it’s likely a hoax.
- The image has been used elsewhere. You may want to attempt to see if the image has been taken from elsewhere—our guide to investigating the origins of online pictures has practical tips on how to do this. Even if you can’t find the image elsewhere though, the post may still be a hoax. Many hoax posts use images lifted from other Facebook pages, which may not come up in a Google reverse image search, for example.
- It’s posted by a page, not a profile. Watch out for posts uploaded by someone with a newly-created page, rather than a regular profile account, particularly if they’ve not posted anything else. (Curiously, we’ve also noticed the name on such pages often includes a middle initial.)
- The image doesn’t look like it’s from the UK. For example, pictures used to illustrate rental home offers are often clearly from the US, and we’ve also seen obviously American police cars or petrol stations in posts supposedly about events in the UK.
- The language used doesn’t sound like it’s from the UK either. For instance, any reference to a ‘silver alert’ in a UK Facebook group should trigger an alarm bell. Silver alerts are used in the US to notify the public about missing people.
- There’s a red pin or red siren emoji. As some on Facebook groups dedicated to highlighting hoax posts have pointed out, hashtags and the emojis 📍 and 🚨 are often used in hoax posts.
And finally… if you think a post may have once been a hoax, check if it’s been edited. Clicking on the edit history (using the three horizontal dots at the top right of the post) will show you if the original content has been changed.
For more about the problem, why it’s happening and what can be done about it, see our in-depth investigation into hoax posts.