How to Stop a Facebook Hoax
How to Stop a Facebook Hoax

by Nicholas Pell

The social site relies on your sense of curiosity and sympathy to con you into clicks. Here's how to avoid spreading the hoax.

Everyone has seen a Facebook hoax. Maybe the story is horrifying, or maybe it's inspiring. Either way, it's just not true.

Falling for a Facebook hoax has more consequences than just looking a little foolish. Clicking through can have serious consequences, such as propagating false information about an Amber Alert of a missing child, or hassling your friends and contacts through clickjacking scams that rely on your interest in lascivious videos or celebrity gossip.

What's more, posting comments or reposting Facebook hoaxes can expose your personal information. So how do you avoid falling victim to a Facebook hoax -- and do your part to shut it down?

Gut Check, Then Fact Check

If you've read a story that sounds a little too sensational to be true, it's probably worth taking a minute to check out whether it's the real thing. For example, do you really think that clicking "like" could save a dying child's life? Do you really think that a celebrity's death would be reported only on Facebook and not in the news?

The gold standard for verifying urban legends of the Internet is, which has dedicated itself to refuting such myths since the time before Facebook even existed. Do a Google or Bing search for keywords from the story and add "Snopes" at the end, and you'll likely get quick confirmation or denial of whatever you just read.

Always Be Skeptical of Like Requests

Remember: If you "like" a page, you're giving it permission to show up in your news feed. And that's the real reason behind some Facebook hoaxes: People want permission to show you advertisements. If you do click on "like" because you think it will somehow help a sick child, you're not going to lose any money -- but the person who created that page and accumulated thousands of "likes" may then sell it to someone with a commercial interest. So if someone other than a trusted friend or a known organization asks you to like something, be skeptical. Don't do it.

Don't Click Strange Links

When you're scrolling through Facebook, a lot of links come up in your news feed, so you need to get good at knowing which links you can trust and which you can't. Links that come from familiar sites like YouTube, Huffington Post or the New York Times usually are trustworthy. But shortened links that don't even look like words can hide just about any destination URL. And if the description of the video sounds a little too sensational -- perhaps not like something your friend would post or say -- be wary. This is doubly true if the link purports to be to a video, which hackers know tend to be more enticing than other types of content. When in doubt, don't click. You can always click later when other people start commenting and say things indicating that the link is legit.

Beware Charities

If you've been on Facebook for a while, you've seen at least one image floating around claiming to raise money for a terminally ill child. These posts generally outline a tragic tale, then inform you that they will pay a dollar for every "like" or share. Of course, this is not the way legitimate charities raise money or spread word about their cause, so don't believe it. Real charities typically need money, not mouse clicks. So if you really want to help a certain charity, go through traditional giving channels.

Spread the Truth

Once you've decided not to participate in furthering a hoax, you can take things one step further by actively combatting the hoax. A quick Google search will often provide you with all the evidence that you need to pipe up and let your friends know that they're dealing with a hoax. Post a link for the person who shared the hoax. If you're seeing the same post repeatedly, and from different people, consider posting the refutation as your status update so more of your friends will see it and stop contributing to the spread of misinformation. One thing is for sure: As soon as you demonstrate why the information is false, your friends will do their part to shut down the hoax by deleting their own posts quickly.

Just be polite about your fact checking. After all, nobody likes looking foolish.

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