Missing man hoax appeals for ‘Walter Peters’ recirculate with different photo

26 September 2023
What was claimed

The photo shows a missing man called Walter Peters who has dementia and has gone missing with his dog.

Our verdict

This is a hoax. The photo does not show a man named Walter Peters. The same text has been shared to community groups around the world with some using a photo of a different man.

Multiple posts on Facebook are sharing a hoax appeal for a missing man with dementia. The posts appear in community groups around the world.

One post, for instance, appears in a buy-and-sell Facebook group for Twydall in Kent, and has over 1,000 shares. It says: “FLOOD YOUR FEEDS ~ MISSING!! In #twydall Our Dad, Walter Peters aged 73 drove out last night with his dog Cami and he still hasn't returned. He doesn't know where he's going, he has dementia. There is a silver alert activated on him. Please help bump this post so we can get him home safely”. 

Almost identical posts appear in groups for Malvern and Stourport in Worcestershire and Lismore in Scotland.

Other versions can also be found in groups abroad, including Samoa, Dartmouth in Nova Scotia in Canada, Port Macquarie and Fairfield in Australia, as well as several places in the US, such as Leander in Texas, Greece in New York State and Delmarva on the East Coast peninsula. 

The posts all share the same photo of a man in a car alongside a dog wearing a red neckerchief. A reverse image search shows the photo was posted to Quora (a social question-and-answer website) last year. The account that posted it was not called Walter Peters. 

Full Fact has recently written about another hoax missing person appeal, also claiming to be searching for a 73-year-old man called “Walter Peters”. However, these posts shared a photo of a different man that we traced back to US articles from 2014 about a genuine missing person case. 

These types of hoax posts are common and we’ve seen them appear in other forms, such as missing children, abandoned babies and injured pets. We’ve recently published an investigation into how and why these posts are shared so widely. 

There are several clues that can help to identify hoax posts. For example, they often use similar phrasing such as “flood your feeds” and “bump this post”, as well as claiming a “silver alert” has been activated. This refers to a system designed to notify the public about missing vulnerable people, such as someone with dementia. However, it does not operate in the UK.

Moreover, hoax posts often have their comments sections disabled, which prevents people warning other users it’s a hoax (and would also make it more difficult for users to offer help if someone really had gone missing). 

These types of posts can cause local community groups to become overwhelmed with false information, which could potentially mean genuine appeals are ignored or—perhaps worse—dismissed as fake. 

It’s always worth considering whether something is real before sharing it online—you can read more about how to spot Facebook hoax posts using our guide here. We’ve written to Meta expressing these concerns and asking the company to take stronger action in response to this problem.

Image courtesy of Solen Feyissa 

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