Hoax alerts for missing pensioner shared thousands of times

19 April 2023
What was claimed

A man with dementia named Martin Jones is missing with his dog.

Our verdict

This is not a real missing persons alert. The man in the picture is not called Martin Jones.

Posts shared hundreds of times in community Facebook groups across Great Britain claim that a pensioner named Martin Jones has gone missing with his dog Baxter. But this is not true.

Full Fact has seen many instances of the posts in local social media groups, including in Kirkcaldy (Fife), Bewdley (Worcestershire), Exeter, Herne Bay (Kent), Llanelli (Carmarthenshire), Cleckheaton (West Yorkshire), Bidston (Wirral), Burntisland (Fife) and Folkestone (Kent). 

All of the posts use the same text, which says: “My uncle Mr Martin Jones aged 79 drove out yesterday with our dog Baxter and he hasn't returned. He doesn’t know where he’s going, he has dementia. There is a silver alert activated on him. Please help me bump this post so I can get him home safely.” 

But as we have written before, this is not a real alert. These posts are hoaxes, apparently designed to generate social media engagement. 

The posts all use the same picture, taken from the Go Fund Me page for a man named Vern English from California, who died in 2022. We have written about similar posts using Mr English’s pictures before

The original Facebook post, from which these hoaxes are derived, is likely to have originated in the US as it makes a reference to a “silver alert”—a system designed to notify the public about missing vulnerable people, for example those who are elderly or have dementia and other conditions—that only operates there.

Full Fact has previously checked many different messages posted to community Facebook buy, sell or trade groups which falsely raise an alarm for missing children, abandoned infants or injured dogs. These posts are later edited to promote freebies, cashback or property listings, with comments frequently disabled, so that users who see what is happening are unable to call them out publicly. 

This behaviour poses a risk to user engagement with local community news as groups become overwhelmed with false information, and genuine missing and lost posts potentially get ignored or—perhaps worse for those desperately searching for loved ones—dismissed as false. We have written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem. 

While some of the posts we’ve focused on in this article have kept their comments on, it is very common for comments to be turned off on these types of posts in order to prevent other social media users from alerting people to the hoax. Derbyshire Police has previously said that posts like these with comments turned off is an indication that the posts are hoaxes.

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.

Image courtesy of Huy Phan

Correction 9 August 2023

This article has been corrected to clarify who silver alerts apply to.

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