Online hoaxes: not so funny

As a marketing professional, you’re inevitably more sophisticated in your awareness of messaging than most people. I suspect therefore that – like me – not only do you spot any questionable ‘urgent news’ nonsense doing the rounds on social media more quickly than most, you probably also get more annoyed about it than others.

In the current health situation, some of the nonsense we see isn’t just irritating – it’s downright dangerous. Some of it may have been generated maliciously, some ‘just for a laugh’, but I’ve seen stuff that just isn’t funny: it could quickly become panic-inducing. There’s a lot of vinegar washes, UV light and snake oil going around at the moment.

Some of this nonsense is on Twitter, but there’s a lot more on Facebook, and I’m starting to see a worrying amount coming straight to me from WhatsApp and Messenger ‘friends’. This could be hiding something far bigger than anyone knows, because there’s no public record of WhatsApp messages.

Most people circulate this stuff in ignorance, but they really need to be pulled up, even if it risks embarrassing them and making you unpopular.

So here’s what to do the next time something pops up purporting to be a copy of a message from someone’s cousin who works high up in government saying that food is about to be requisitioned for the army, or something nonsensical like that. Call them out, and tell them not to propagate this rubbish, no matter how well intentioned they may be.

Just as bad are all the computer-virus hoaxes which go around. Many are from years ago, and suddenly they spring back into life. Your friend here is Snopes, which clearly debunks almost anything you throw at it. Just go there to see examples of what’s going around at the moment. If you get a message from someone telling you about the latest virus which is going to cripple your iPhone, just take a keyword from the message (e.g. ‘martinelli’) and search for it on Snopes, then send them the link and ask them to send their friends that page as a follow-up.

Finally, this page from the World Health Organisation can put some of the most stupid myths to bed.