Hoax alert about missing boy and dog uses stock image

27 April 2023
What was claimed

An autistic boy named Brandon Smith is missing with his dog Hank.

Our verdict

This is a hoax post. The photo used is a free-to-use online stock image.

Hoax posts shared to local Facebook groups claim that an autistic boy named Brandon Smith has gone missing with his dog Hank. 

Full Fact has seen an example of this post in a community “what’s on” group in Eastbourne, East Sussex, but it has also appeared in groups in the US such as one in the town of Morganton, North Carolina

The full text of the post says: “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 [sic].” 

Alongside the text is a professional-looking picture of a young boy sitting on grass, holding a small white dog on a lead. 

This picture is not of a missing boy—it’s from a set of stock images posted online. According to the Pexels website, the image was taken in August 2021. There are many other photos of the same child and dog posing in different scenes available on the free-to-use image site. 

We have written about hoax posts using either identical or slightly edited text many times before, including some using the names “Charlie William” and “James R. Peltier” instead of Brandon Smith. 

Hoax posts like these, urgently asking social media users to share them, are extremely common on social media and we have written about them many times before. They often take the form of alerts about missing children, but found dogs and missing pensioners are also repeated themes. 

As we have written before, one indication that a post of this type is a hoax is that the comments have been disabled, in order to stop Facebook users warning other people against sharing them. 

The motivation behind these posts isn’t always clear, but we’ve previously seen them edited later to promote freebies, cashback or property listings. 

This behaviour means that local groups could become overwhelmed with false information. As a result, genuine missing and lost posts 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. 

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 Katya Wolf

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