Fake missing child post uses photo of boy witnessing family pet being put down

1 June 2023
What was claimed

A picture shows an autistic boy called Brandon Smith who has been missing for eight hours with the family dog Hank.

Our verdict

This is a hoax. The image has been taken from a Facebook post shared by a woman in the US talking about her son’s reaction to their family dog being put down.

Posts on Facebook claiming that a social media user’s autistic son is missing with their family dog, along with a photo apparently of the boy looking distressed with the pet, are hoaxes.

The posts say: “My son Brandon Smith took off this morning with our dog hank. He is autistic and has been missing for eight hours if anyone sees him please PM me please re-post on any sites.I already contacted police.”

The posts also suggest Brandon Smith is missing from two places at once. One version of the false claim has been posted in a local Facebook group for Plymouth and another in one called “Prestbury Buy & Sell Page”.

However, the image used was taken from a post by a woman in the US talking about her son (who is not called Brandon Smith) and his reaction to the news that they were putting down a family pet.

We found the original source of this image using reverse Google image search. You can read our guide on how to verify viral images here.

Her post describes how a vet discovered that their dog Buffy had advanced kidney failure and so they decided to put the dog down. She talks about how she picked her son up from school so he could be part of this process, which appears to be what the image shows.

The post has had over 290,000 shares since it was published in 2020, and the story has been covered by several online publications

One clue that the posts are fake is that the comments underneath have been disabled. Derbyshire Police has warned previously that this may indicate such posts are hoaxes, as people genuinely looking for information are unlikely to turn off comments.

We’ve fact checked very similar posts before that use almost identical language, claiming an autistic boy—usually called Brandon Smith—is missing with his dog Hank. These false posts have used pictures of a child being reunited with a lost pet and an autistic boy with his new service dog.

We often see posts like this claiming to be from people whose children or elderly relatives are missing, or that they are searching for their birth parents or the owners of a found dog. We’ve seen emotive posts like these being edited after amassing a number of shares to promote freebies, cashback or property listings. 

This behaviour means that local groups may become overwhelmed with false information. As a result, people genuinely trying to trace relatives or look for missing people could 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. 

Image courtesy of Matt Seymour

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