Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp allow people to communicate quickly and easily with their friends, no matter where they are. The ability to also make public posts means that people can reach audiences that were never available before, allowing small local events and news stories to go viral and be seen by millions all around the world.
That ability though, has also given rise to the internet hoax. Because sharing information is as easy as clicking a button, many will now re-post stories without even checking if they are true. This gives people the opportunity to pull of pranks and hoaxes in a way that wasn’t possible before the advent of social media. This article looks at some of the biggest hoaxes that have ever been carried out on social media sites and services.
12. Fake Sports Journalist
Every winter and summer sees European sports journalists hit the headlines with transfer stories for the leading soccer clubs in the United Kingdom and abroad. People want to know which players their favorite teams will be bringing in or letting go, and so many respected journalists and pundits can see their audiences on Twitter and Facebook grow exponentially. This summer, a 16-year-old student managed to convince over 20,000 people on Twitter that he was a genuine reporter for The Times and The Daily Telegraph, with his completely made up transfer scoops being re-tweeted by prominent footballers and fan publications. Eventually, the teenager was proved to be fake when both papers announced that he was not employed by them, but only after he had fooled thousands into believing his transfer stories.
11. Fake Vacation
In September of this year, Zilla Van Den Born was dropped off at an airport by her family, and then proceeded to travel around Asia for five weeks. As she did so, she documented her trip on Facebook, providing status updates and pictures. But the Dutch University student had in fact, never left the country. After arriving at the airport, she had taken a bus back home and carried out the hoax as part of a study for an assignment, which included photo-shopping images to make them look like she was in exotic locations, and Skyping her family at early hours in the morning so it looked like she was in a different time zone. None of her family and friends ever suspected anything was amiss throughout the entire five week period.
10. Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax
Manti Te’o is currently a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, but was involved in an elaborate hoax between 2011 and 2012, when he met a girl known as Lennary Kekua through Twitter, and began an online relationship with her. That is until she suddenly died, leaving Manti heartbroken. The football star then went public with his loss, revealing his relationship and the fact that he had carried on playing in order to honor her memory. All was not as it seemed though, and an investigation by Deadspin proved that Lennary Kekua had never existed and Ronaiah Tuissosopop used a photo from a high school classmate to create the online persona, tricking both Manti and countless sports outlets.
9. Fake Hurricane Sandy Photos
While not the work of any one individual, the 2012 storm, Hurricane Sandy caused potentially millions of people into believing that fake photos were actually genuine pictures of the storm. The visually impressive images were shared throughout social media sites, in particular on Facebook and Twitter, and ended up being viewed by huge numbers of people. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the photos were not real photos taken during Hurricane Sandy, but instead, were simply photo-shops of other storms from different locations merged with famous New York landmarks.
8. Facebook Privacy Notice
One of the most widely used hoaxes that have been carried out online involve users being fooled into thinking that free services are going to significantly change or begin to charge members. Popular examples have included the idea that MSN Messenger and Hotmail would become premium services in 2005, and more recent announcements claiming that Facebook would begin charging. This particular hoax though, was more sophisticated in that it played on the recent fears of privacy and user data, by announcing that unless you posted a privacy notice on your wall, all of your information would be freely available.
7. Amazon Link Christmas List
Playing on the idea that children today are growing up too engrossed in technology and the internet in particular, a letter to Santa Claus that was purported to be from a child was posted on Twitter. Rather than including the names of the toys and presents that the child wanted, the letter contained a URL link to the product on Amazon. Thousands of social media users and various websites all shared the image, with many bemoaning the change in the times that it heralded. However, a child had never actually written the letter. It was in fact, the work of a comedian in 2011 who posted it on The Inclusive, the image had just been stolen and posted on Twitter with a different context.
6. Diane Flight Hoax
The story of Diane and her frustrating airline journey became incredibly popular at the end of 2013, thanks to the in-depth commentary provided by a producer from The Bachelor on Twitter. During the delayed flight, Diane apparently became increasingly bad-tempered and hostile according to the four hour long account given by the producer. The tweeter also reported that he encouraged the woman to become angrier during the flight, actions that eventually led to Diane slapping the man, and her to be threatened with arrest from airport officials. All in all, the story had hit headlines on major news publications and was trending worldwide on social media. However, none of the events actually happened. The producer had made up the story and had gained a huge gain in the number of followers he had in the process.
5. London Tube Bomb
During September, messaging services such as WhatsApp and other social media sites such as Twitter, were awash with warning thir users that a terrorist attack was due to be carried out on the London Underground on a specific date. The messages cited the untrue fact that all Metropolitan police officers had recalled from holidays and leave to deal with the potential threat. Despite the fact the no extra police had been put on duty, the hoax gained traction as the UK’s terror level had only recently been raised. Eventually, a prominent figure in the British Transport Police had to come out and issue a statement, saying that there was no specific threat and to disregard the messages being shared online.
4. Kiss Cam Break Up
Sports stadiums in the United States are famous for their big screens, that allow members of the audience to get their face seen by the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home. Some ignore the cameras, others take their moment in the spotlight to do something funny and others take the opportunity to have a kiss with their partner. This one didn’t go exactly to plan at a Grizzlies game, which showed a woman becoming irate with her boyfriend when the man refused to end his phone call to kiss her. The end result was that he got a drink poured all over him and the clip became an instant viral hit after being uploaded to YouTube. The whole thing had been a hoax though, with stadium employees faking the action for the fans in attendance.
3. Shell Social Media Nightmare
Many protesters and organizations have taken exception to Shell’s operations in the Arctic, where they are digging for oil. This culminated in 2012, to some activists creating a website that looked remarkably similar to Shell’s own website that details their work in the Arctic area, with the site allowing users to create captions for photos. The site, although announced as fake, caused controversy for the company, but things got worse when Greenpeace and other organizations created a fake Shell Twitter account. The account caused further controversy and publicity by attempting to get users to take down the captioned images from the fake website, with thousands of people believing this was really a Shell Twitter account, causing much embarrassment for the company.
2. Facebook Drug Task Force
Plenty of satirical news sites like The Onion have had their stories go viral when they are shared on social media platforms. Facebook in particular, is well known for having its users duped by the fake news stories and sharing them with their friends to express their outrage. One of the biggest hoaxes came earlier this year, when National Report posted a story detailing how Facebook was creating its own police task force to deal with users buying and selling drugs on the site, with powers to arrest users. Despite the fact that the story came from National Report, it still caused outrage amongst many users on Facebook and generated plenty of discussion on other sites such as Twitter.
In October 2012, 4chan, a group that has become famous on the internet for their ability to carry out high-profile pranks and hoaxes, managed to hack into several prominent Twitter accounts and post news that Justin Bieber had been diagnosed with cancer. This led to a variety of other fake screenshots of tweets being posted on Facebook and Twitter, leading thousands of fans into believing that the singer really was ill. Eventually, the Hashtag #BaldforBieber began to trend on social media websites with many fans showing support for the pop star by shaving their own heads and sharing the pictures online.