Hoax posts appealing for information about a missing five-year-old named Sofia have been shared thousands of times on Facebook.
Full Fact has seen examples of these alerts shared in more than a dozen community groups serving locations across the UK, with some in places such as Newport, Bexleyheath and Bristol racking up hundreds of shares each.
The posts all use very similar text, which says: “Help!!! MISSING Child!! [location]
“My grand daughter Sofia only 5years old went out on her bike earlier today and she still hasn't returned.She doesn’t know where she’s going, new surroundings.
“There is a silver alert activated on her. Please help bump this post so we can get her home safely!! [sic]”
There are several indications that these appeals are not genuine. Aside from the obvious point that the same child cannot have gone missing in many different areas at once, the posts also all use the same image of a young girl holding two dachshunds on pink leads.
But this picture appears to have been taken from a BBC News article, published in 2021. The girl in the picture is identified by a different name, and the story is not about her but rather the theft of the two dogs from the family home in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.
Another indication that the appeals are fake is that the comments on the posts are turned off, which may be a method of preventing people from commenting to warn others that all is not as it may seem. It is extremely unlikely that anyone genuinely searching for information online would limit the ways in which they could be contacted, especially if they were trying to locate a missing child.
Furthermore, the posts also all refer to a “silver alert”. This is a way of notifying the public about missing people who may be elderly, have dementia or other conditions and which only operates in the US. It is not used in the UK.
Full Fact has previously checked many different posts on Facebook buy, sell or trade groups which falsely raise an alarm for other missing children, abandoned infants or injured dogs. These posts are often edited later to promote property listings, with comments frequently disabled, so that users who see what is happening are unable to call them out publicly.
This may cause local community groups to become overwhelmed with false information and potentially result in genuine missing and lost posts being ignored or—perhaps worse—dismissed as fake. We have written to Facebook’s parent company 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.