For most of us, April 1 is that one day each year we get to pull pranks and lie unashamedly to scare and confuse our friends and family — more so than usual. But some people use social media like a permanent April Fool’s Day, duping the world into believing the incredible. So with a nod to all those who think its cool to trick people the other 364 days of the year, here are some of the most notable Facebook and Twitter hoaxes of 2012 and early 2013.
- Facebook-Related Hoaxes on Facebook: Misinformation can be spread on Facebook as well as any social media network, and one of the most popular types of hoax on the worldwide platform is about Facebook itself. When Facebook went public last summer, a misleading status update purported to protect users’ privacy information that would otherwise be made public once Facebook became publicly traded. Though claim that those privacy settings would change after the sale were false, it got a lot of traction because Facebook routinely tweaks its privacy settings. Less credible was the news that broke in Oct., 2012, that Facebook was about to become a pay site.
- Hurricane Sandy Pictures: Photoshopped hurricane-related photos have been a staple of the Internet hoax playbook for as long as the Internet has been around, and last year was no different. As Hurricane Sandy/Frankenstorm descended upon New York, Facebook and Twitter spewed forth with images of apocalyptic clouds swirling around the Statue of Liberty, of sharks swimming through the streets of Staten Island, of scuba divers navigating flooded trains stations, and so on.
- Jeff Goldblum Falls of a Cliff: The Twittersphere erupted late last year with the news that Jeff Goldblum was killed when he fell off a cliff while filming a movie in New Zealand. It wasn’t true, nor was it when an R.I.P. Morgan Freeman Facebook page popped up last year (he’s still making cinematic masterpieces like “Olympus has Fallen” and “Oblivion”). Goldblum found the best way to debunk a rumored Internet death: by walking onto the set of Stephen Colbert while Stephen Colbert was “reporting” Goldblum’s death.
- World’s Largest/Oldest Turtle: Last year, a gigantic turtle 500-plus-year-old turtle that weighed nearly a ton was hauled from the Amazon. So announced a Facebook post that spread like wildfire. Turns out it was a still image from a Japanese sci-fi movie called “Gamera the Brave.” It’s hard to say what should have been more of a giveaway, the very nature of the story or the images of the turtle that looked like a dinosaur from “The Land Before Time.
- Justin Bieber Has Cancer: The #BaldforBieber hashtag went viral late last year when the false news that Justin Bieber had cancer scared the daylights out of teenage girls around the world.
Social media is newest way to spread misinformation, so before you repost or re-Tweet anything, ask yourself if what you’ve just read sounds a little too incredible. Treat everything you read with a healthy dose of skepticism and a thorough Google search, relying on reputable sources.
- Manti Te’o Girlfriend: It wasn’t an out-and-out social media hoax, since the only person who was directly duped was the now-infamous Notre Dame football player. But it couldn’t have been done without social media: The first contact between Te’o and his non-existent, never-dead girlfriend — and a lot of subsequent contact — supposedly occurred through Twitter. More than a baffling story, this was a stark reminder that people are often not at all be who they claim they are in their social media profiles.
- North Korea’s Photoshop Army: Just last month an image spread through the Internet and social media of numerous North Korean hovercrafts storming a beach during a recent military exercise. It was quickly debunked as a Photoshop exaggeration by international news outlets.
If everything we saw on the Internet were true, we’d live in a world ruled by Montauk Monsters and camel spiders the size of dogs, and we’d call for help only after charging our iPhones by plugging them into onions. Social media is newest way to spread misinformation, so before you repost or re-Tweet anything, ask yourself if what you’ve just read sounds a little too incredible. Treat everything you read with a healthy dose of skepticism and a thorough Google search, relying on reputable sources (note: Wikipedia is not one of these).