Why Do We Fall for Social Media Hoaxes?

It was a little more than one year ago that I published a blog post detailing ways to avoid falling for social media hoaxes. Back then, my intention was to help people differentiate legitimate stories from those that possessed little weight. Also, it was during this time that Facebook was supposedly going to start charging its users $2.99 a month to continue using their services. It was proven to be false, but the buzz it initially created could not be understated.
Fast forward one year later, and it would appear that we struggled to learn from our mistakes. For those who don’t frequent Facebook, a piece of “news” starting circulating regarding the privacy settings of various accounts. Essentially, if you wanted to keep the subscription of your status set to “private,” you would have to pay $5.99. “Better safe than sorry” became one of the popular quotes across Facebook, and I saw more than a few of my friends on the site paste the same message.
Suffice it to say, this turned out to be a hoax as well, and there were a few indicators of this. Stating that the news came from “Channel 13” – a local television channel, mind you – or the fact that it was copy-and-pasted should have been enough to have users go, “Hey, wait a minute.” Your Facebook account would not be tampered with, which I’m sure created a sense of relief for users. The question must be asked, though: no matter how much we learn, why do we continue to fall for social media hoaxes?
I believe part of this comes from the lack of fact-checking people take part in. They simply read what’s posted on social media, accept it as the truth, and refuse to search for other sources. Of course, in some cases, additional sources might not be easily found. This is especially true for local news stories, but this shouldn’t be the case for universal topics. Major outlets should be covering events related to not only Facebook, but Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks. Of course, credible sources must be used.
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Even if you do the fact-check, you might be inclined to believe what the vast majority of your Facebook friends are talking about. They’re discussing this particular topic, so it must be true, right? Unfortunately, even those you know on a personal basis might fall into the same trap that other social media enthusiasts have stumbled into. It’s almost like a vicious rumor being passed along high school students. All it takes is one person speaking up before a domino effect follows.
Another reason why hoax stories spread like wildfire is, in my view, the desire to be outraged. We live in the world that’s more sensitive, which is tremendous in some respects. We’re more mindful of what we say, and unique concepts are embraced by the masses. However, when we actively look for stories that offend us, the chances are that we’ll accept anything that confirms what we believe. It doesn’t matter how outrageous it truly is; we tend to zero in on confirmation bias, not accepting anything else until legitimate details are exposed.
The next time you see a social media story that doesn’t quite line up, don’t assume that it’s real. Make it a point to dig deeper, finding as many verifiable facts as possible. Hoaxes will never truly go away; such is the nature of the Internet. However, by being more vigilant, we can prevent falling for reports that, more than anything else, are designed to get people talking. Search for the facts, and ignore write-ups that would be right at home in tabloid journalism.
What is your take on this recent Facebook hoax? Did you initially believe it, or were you one of those that displayed healthy skepticism? Please leave your thoughts below!

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