How You Can Spot An Internet Hoax

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Viral posts. They spring up on your Facebook news feed like poisonous mushrooms during a hot and muggy weekend. And if you’re like many of us, your news feed was hit pretty hard recently with a post that began, “Now it’s official!  It is published in the media.” This post then went on to claim that Facebook would soon be charging its users £5.99 a month if they wanted to keep their posts private – unless they copied and pasted the statement into their own status.  Of course, the warning was just a hoax and was, in fact, very similar to posts that had gone viral earlier in 2015. Oh, and as well as in 2012 and 2009.

How to spot an internet hoax: In this case, many people fell for the raccoon story

At about the same time, a hilarious tale began circulating on Twitter and Facebook (via Imgur) about a drunk Navy petty officer who forced a raccoon to blow into his car’s breathalyzer interlock system so that he could drive it. The raccoon, understandably upset by the circumstances, attacked the marine, causing him to get into an accident. The story, which included a copy of a police report, was even picked up by the so-called legit media, including The Telegraph. However, someone actually did some research and discovered that the story was, alas, untrue.

How to spot an internet hoax

It’s always surprising how many people fall for these stories and then spread them like wildfire, especially since there are ways to distinguish the truth from internet fiction. If you don’t want to find yourself the red-faced victim of the next hoax, we recommend you read on to find out exactly how to spot an internet hoax.

1. Don’t Repost Until You Do Some Research

How to spot an internet hoax: Step 1, do your research like Tom Hanks

Yes, that story you just read may be too freaking funny not to share, but you also don’t want to end up being the joke yourself. So take the time to check out websites like Snopes and Hoax-Slayer that make it their business to ferret out the fake and the fraudulent on the internet.

2.  If a Story is Too Good to Be True, It’s Probably a Fake

How to spot an internet hoax: if it's too good to be true, it's probably a complete fake

A couple of years back, someone created a very realistic video of a giant eagle snatching a baby (above). But just think about it for a minute. If a baby had really been whisked away by a gigantic bird, it would have been front-page news everywhere. So if you only see the story on Facebook and Twitter, chances are it’s not true. Of course – as evidenced by the raccoon story mentioned above – even the legit media can fall prey to hoaxsters.

And on that same note: have you seen people sharing ‘Get free first-class flights to the Maldives/America/Australia’ posts from ‘airlines’ on Facebook? Yeah, these are massive fakes. Always look for the blue verification tick next to the airline’s name on Facebook.

3. Do a Reverse Photo Search

How to spot an internet hoax: Try a reverse image search

A favourite trick of hoaxsters is to take an old picture and create a new buzzworthy story around it. For example, there was a viral story going around that the Japanese were trimming their dogs into geometric shapes, like squares. It turns out that most of the photos used for the story were actually from one grooming shop in Taiwan. The other pictures were of fake dogs in Japan. No pictures were actually of live dogs groomed in a geometric shapes in Japan. Fortunately, there are sites like Tin Eye that allow you to do a reverse photo search so you can, hopefully, find out the original source of a picture.

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