Facebook posts claiming that a venomous snake has been found at various locations across the UK and Ireland are false.
The posts have appeared in multiple community buy/sell groups and use identical wording throughout, except for the location which changes to match that of the group where it appears.
One post, on a group for residents of Porthcawl in Wales, states: “SILVER ALERT. A Deadly Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake found in #Porthcawl Please be watchful of your surroundings, toilets, openings in pipes, doors potted plants etc. Stay safe everyone. SPREAD THE WORD AND SAVE A LIFE!! [sic]”
We’ve seen similar posts in groups for residents of Ashford in Kent and Ballina in the Republic of Ireland.
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Picture used is at least two years old
The post is accompanied by a photograph of a snake curled up on the side of the road. However, a reverse image search reveals the image is at least two years old and appears to have been taken in a town in Texas. We have not been able to verify if the snake pictured is in fact an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
We have previously seen examples of hoax Facebook posts falsely claiming that venomous snakes have been found in toilets in UK towns. We’ve often seen posts like this being changed after reaching a large audience, so that they advertise surveys or housing websites instead.
This behaviour means that local groups could become overwhelmed with false information. As a result, genuine safety alerts could get ignored or dismissed as false. We have written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem.
It’s always worth checking whether content is real before you share it. We have written a guide on how to verify viral images which you can read here.
Derbyshire Police has issued warnings about similar posts, saying: “We've posted previously about the importance of fact checking before sharing, following a surge in hoax missing persons, animals etc.
“Caution should particularly be exercised on posts on community pages where comments have been disabled.”
Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes are not native to the UK
There are only three species of snake native to the UK—the adder, grass snake and smooth snake. Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes are the largest venomous snakes in North America.
Although there have been cases of escaped or dumped pet snakes being found around the UK, the RSPCA has previously told Full Fact that without food and proper care, such snakes would be likely to only survive for a short time.
A spokesperson for the organisation said: “If anyone finds a snake they believe is non-native the RSPCA’s advice is to keep a safe distance, monitor the snake and call the charity’s helpline on 0300 1234 999, or a local reptile charity will also be able to help.”
Image courtesy of Brennan Meinke