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The Hoax You Keep Falling For

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016 by | Filed Under: Social Networking, Using The Internet

My otherwise pleasant holiday weekend was marred by the re-emergence of a familiar hoax that people can’t seem to help themselves from spreading. It used to take the form of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or some other billionaire doling out free money to people who forward e-mails, comment on Facebook statuses or copy and paste a post.

The billionaire of the moment is now Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The post appeared in several forms, but they all went something like this:


“So 4 hours from now. ..a few people are supposed to be blessed with the following gift smile emoticon Can’t wait to see who the winners are tonight. Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is going to give away 4.5 million shares of his Facebook stock tonight at midnight; 10% to people like you and me! All you have to do is copy and paste this to your page and post. Facebook is doing this to show what a powerful tool of connection it is !!! Can’t wait to see who wins !!! This is not a hoax !!! It’s on Good Morning America !!”

I was aghast at the number of otherwise reasonable people who shared this obvious hoax. Many of the posts led off with “I saw this on Good Morning America.” In every case that was untrue, since it was never on Good Morning America. I actually messaged a couple of friends and asked, “Did you really see this on Good Morning America?”  Of course, each time, they said, “No.” They were merely copying and pasting what they were told to do. In effect, misleading all of their friends by saying they had seen something that they hadn’t.

There are so many reasons that this doesn’t make sense. The first is that there’s no way to track who has copy/pasted a status.  That would require Facebook sorting through 1 billion or so user posts to see who had shared the status.  Secondly, that’s a completely illegal way to run a contest. Every legitimate contest has rules and age limits and alternate ways to enter.

Mark Zuckerberg does give a lot of money away to charitable foundations, but not to random Facebook commenters. Another clue might be that the only place you’re seeing this information is in Facebook statuses. If this were true, don’t you think it would be maybe on the news or in newspapers or somewhere else on the Internet?

I was seriously beginning to think my friends had confused Mark Zuckerberg with Willy Wonka.  He’s giving out five golden tickets and one lucky winner gets his chocolate factory.

You may say, “What’s the harm in sharing, even if it is a hoax?”  The harm comes not from this obvious hoax. I”m sure everyone who shared it gave the person who started it a grand old time as he or she sat back and laughed at them. But the habit of spreading things as truth on social media that you’ve made absolutely no attempt to verify is a bad one.

When I worked in news, we covered the  case of man who had been accused of being a child molester online by an angry ex. His picture was shared tens of thousands of times online and is still being shared years later, even through there was no truth to the story at all.

According to the police, they weren’t searching for this guy on rape charges. The Facebook account that originally posted the photo was taken down not long after it was posted. But the photo had already been shared 26,000 times and seen by millions of people.

It takes almost no time to look around and verify if there’s any truth to a story. You’re already on the Internet for goodness sake.

So STOP IT!  Pretty please?

~ Cynthia

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18 Responses to “The Hoax You Keep Falling For”

  1. DGlaze says:

    What sites do you recommend we check to verify truth or accuracy of a post? Thank you.

    • cynthia says:

      There are sites like Hoaxslayer and Snopes, but you can also just check standard news outlets. If Mark Zuckerberg were giving away millions, don’t you think it would be on the news? For items like discounts or coupons, check the site or the Facebook page for the company mentioned. Google is a very good place to start.

  2. Jill Bennett says:

    I NEVER forward any of these emails, facebook statused or anything. If I can’t find out if it is true or not (I use Snopes or Hoaxslayer) I don’t forward it. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!! If I know for sure it is a hoax I just put a link to the “it’s a hoax” site I got my info from and forward that to all my friends.

  3. jmz nesky says:

    … And the worst part is it’s being done in the political arena and THEY have what most of us have been told are reliable (media) sources even when they’re caught in a lie. Truly pathetic of the people who spread such propaganda.. Truly sad that most of us believe without taking the time to confirm it ourselves.

  4. Paul says:

    I always check, and even if it’s not a hoax, I usually don’t forward anything, but if is a hoax and I receive it in an email, I always reply to all (since these are usually sent to a lot of the sender’s friends, family, maybe even coworkers) and will supply at least one link and usually more, to the source proving it’s a hoax.

    The other problem is that this drives Internet traffic way up, and often the same hoax will be forwarded by several unwitting friends and/or relatives making it much worse. (Aside from making some people believe it even more since they have “confirmation” by the later emails or posts.) Since your ISP pays for all the internet traffic going through their servers,bruised affects the rates they charge.

  5. Paul says:

    That “bruised” in my reply should have read “this”, but autocorrect decided I didn’t really mean that. Sorry about that.

  6. Doreen F. says:

    I rarely forward E-Mail, in general, and NEVER pass along anything unless and until I verfiy it’s accuracy/authenticity with Snopes,Hoaxslayer or Vmyths. I’m anti facebook (or as I prefer to call it, Wastebook) so that’s not an issue.

  7. Jane says:

    When I get questionable emails, I go to,, or google to check them out. I used to then email the sender and let them know it was a hoax or untrue. Then I found that 2 of my friends sent them to me because they knew I would research it and get back to them to let them know if it was true. I finally stopped getting back to them, telling them that I was not a library or research source for them. That stopped one from forwarding junk mail to me.

  8. Nancy says:

    I got rid of my Facebook account long ago after reading about all the scams and hoaxes. I agree with Doreen that a better name for Facebook would be Wastebook

  9. Cynthia says:

    I do not “like”, or share these statuses. Sometimes I comment as to their falseness. I am aghast at peoples’ lack of regard for the truth and their “so what” attitude about passing around lies.

  10. Mike Shyman says:

    Too many people think that everything on Facebook or the Internet is true or real. This is very dangerous to society in general as we see with ISIS’ s use of the Internet. The question is how do we make people wise up to the reality of the Internet in the hands of scammers?

  11. Henry says:

    I have long been a fan of the “Hoax” sites, like Snopes and
    Someone pointed out that a query in Google (or other search engine) could check things out more quickly and may point to one of those Hoax sites.

    I also usually try to pass along the report to the person who has sent one to me. What amazes me are the ‘intelligent’ people who ‘repeatedly send the same hoax” even after being alerted.

    I call it ‘Bearing False Witness.”

  12. Steph says:

    When I see posts like the Zuckerberg one, I immediately check one of the reputable hoax buster sites and then post that link in the reply section. I get a lot of this stuff in emails from friends who are new to Facebook and/or Twitter or even email. I gently direct them to the link that busts the hoax. One friend said to me (face to face), “well, I am not going to send you any email then – you always get mad at me!” I wasn’t getting mad at all – she didn’t like being told that she was passing on a hoax – a lie, really. It just adds to the volume of mail we all get and I tried to tell her that passing stuff on makes her look like a newbie (which she is/was – she doesn’t send them to me any more only to others). I gave up with her. You cannot always convince folks that a hoax is a hoax. Some even say that the hoax buster sites are just liberals/conservatives (depending on their political point of view, of course) trying to keep the truth from being known. Ugh!

  13. Corinne Larimore says:

    I don’t usually pay attention to posts like this as you can simply look at
    them and know something’s not right. If I have any doubts and have the time, I Google it, but for the most part, I’ve heard you can pick up a lot of malware and bad things; even copying a picture could plant a nice little malware on your PC so I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook except I detest animal abuse. So no, I don’t pass stuff like this on for my reasons above plus who has the time??? And why post something if you’re not sure and your red flags are already starting to add up.

  14. Rex says:

    I know how that guy feels about what his ex did to him. A couple in Florida were getting a divorce. The wife’s attorney asked the husband, “Did you ever touch your kids?”
    He raised the kids with his alcoholic wife and also had property and a business. This broad question was answered: “Yes, I took care of the kids.” His attorney nor the judge ask anything about the vagueness of that question.
    Two days later he was arrested on child endangerment charges involving minors and possible sex. The wife’s attorney filed a writ stating he admitted to the crimes on the stand.
    Lucky for him it was a small town with one judge, who through out the charge and told the attorney that he was going to report his action in attempting to win a case by framing an innocent man.
    But because of his arrest he is a sex offender in the public eye.
    If that was in Alabama, even with the same judge he would be enslaved the rest of his life as a sex offender.
    The wife never went to jail or get all she wanted, not even the custody, because she was a drug addict and alcoholic.
    According to one source almost 60% of convictions of men during a divorce accusing of sex with others or kids are false. Exonerates still are guilty in the eye of the public, because no one wants to admit they were wrong to judge him guilty.

  15. […] week I wrote an article about an old hoax that’s been going around in various forms since the 1990s. I thought it was the hoax that wouldn’t die, but I’ve found one that beats it by about […]

  16. Katey says:

    I never, never, never, never share this stuff on Facebook. Facebook is for…faces! I lok for the faces of,my family & friends and their status. I look for pictures of grandkids, great-neices & nephews. If I want news I go to a news outlet – and more than one!
    Why anyone wants to spread lies is totally beyond my comprehension.
    Thanks for your TechTips – I read and enjoy them.

  17. […] response to our article The Hoax You Keep Falling For, a reader asked. “What sites do you recommend we check to verify truth or accuracy of a […]

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