Anatomy of a Social Media Fake

Fake post

If you have been on social media, you may have seen this or something similar posted. This version was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine—a bright person with advanced degrees, a wonderful teacher, and, sadly, a duped person. We complain about fake stuff on social media, but even the best of us seem to fall for some of it. How does this happen? Why do we suspend disbelief? Why aren’t we more thoughtful and careful? If we study the anatomy of this fake, perhaps we can become less susceptible to similar posts. Let’s look at all the features of this post that made it popular so we can avoid getting fooled in the future.

First, the post is about a hot topic. Privacy? My personal photos? Let’s put aside for a moment that these are pictures already shared and already not private. Good fakes find an irresistible, hot-button issue to hook us.

Second, the post is poorly written. Punctuation errors, capitalization errors, run-ons and fragments, missing parentheses, and disorganized thoughts are obvious. Poor writing should be a tip that we aren’t dealing with a top-notch source.

Third, the post is not specific. There are two parts to this. One, it has no definite timestamp. The use of “tomorrow” is very clever in a couple of ways. It creates an “OMG, I have to do something now” urgency that overrides our better thinking. The fear response overpowers the calm thinking response. Additionally, it creates something that can live forever. Like the sign I saw in a bar recently—Free Beer Tomorrow!—this post never expires. Indeed, versions of this post go back to 2012. All true legal announcements have specific dates. “Effective November 1, 2019, Facebook will change its privacy rules” would at least be somewhat more likely…but I’d still be suspicious. Two, it talks about a non-specific Channel 13. Do you have a Channel 13 in your town? Do you think it is the same as the Channel 13 in my town? No matter. Most of us have a Channel 13 so it is probably talking about my Channel 13! But what’s missing? Specificity. “According to Fox31 News on Channel 13 in Denver, Facebook is changing its privacy policy” would at least be more likely. Notice also that there is no air date given. When was this story aired? May 2nd on the 5 o’clock news? June 4th at 10 p.m.? Vagueness is always a cautionary sign.

Fourth, the has bogus legalese. You want specifics? Here’s the exact statute! I guess that looks like a number a statute might have, right? But why not check it out? Do a web search. And the Rome Statute? We all know that, don’t we? I mean it came from Rome so it must be real! A web search of that reveals that the Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court which handles crimes such as genocide. (

Fifth, the post offers a simplistic and silly solution. Anytime you are told to copy, paste, or forward, stop. Don’t do it. Is it likely that pasting something on your timeline will override privacy policies in social media agreements? We know that sites have settings. You can go into the settings and change who sees your posts, what ads you want to see, what notifications you get, and so on. Perhaps something such as “Go to Settings. Click on Privacy. Uncheck ‘Allow All’” would be reasonable but “Copy, Paste, and Breathe”? Facebook has staff searching through billions of posts to see who has pasted this and then they will change the settings of those accounts? Think about that for a minute.

As my friend made clear, intelligent people can be sucked into Internet lies. But all fakes have clues that tip us off. Know what to look for. If the elements above are in a post, red lights should flash in your brain. Think critically. Don’t fall for it. According to News@4, sharing bogus posts will cause Von willebrand’s Disease so care full is needed.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.