Sick Child Facebook Hoaxes (OR: Don’t Like, Don’t Share, Don’t Type Amen)

You’ve almost definitely seen this if you use Facebook: a picture of a child or baby with some alarming medical condition appears in your newsfeed, along with instructions to type “Amen” in the comments, like and share the picture so Facebook will donate money to the child in the picture, let the child know you think they’re still beautiful, or share the post because “one share = one prayer,” and of course to keep scrolling if your [sic] heartless.

I’m here to tell you: be heartless. These posts are hoaxes. You’re definitely helping someone by liking, commenting and sharing, but it’s not the child in the photo.

First, those pictures are used without permission from the child or their parents. Sometimes the children in the pictures don’t have a medical issue, they’re just random photos somebody found on the Internet. This is pure exploitation.

Furthermore, Facebook does not donate money to individuals for medical treatments based on a photo being liked and shared. They’ve done it zero times in the past, and they’re going to do it zero times in the future, forever.

Here’s what you’re really doing when you comment, like, share or interact with one of these posts: you’re helping somebody who created a Facebook page, hijacked a photo of a child without permission, then created a post designed to generate thousands of likes and comments sell the page to someone else as a ready-made, plug-and-play, already-popular page.

It has to do with how Facebook prioritizes things in a news feed. Things don’t appear in unfiltered, chronological order. Posts which have already generated tons of activity (comments, likes, shares) get an additional boost from the Facebook algorithm. In other words, things that are already popular are boosted so they can become more popular, while things that are not popular get buried.

So a Facebook page (which is different from a personal profile) that generates super-popular posts with tons of interaction (i.e., thousands of people sharing and commenting “Amen”) will get a boost for future posts. It’s called like-farming. At that point, the person or company who created the page and post can sell it to anyone who will pay for it, the buyer changes the name of the page, and then runs whatever scam or ripoff they can come up with.

How should you respond to one of these posts?

First, don’t like, share, or type “amen.” But also don’t comment “this is a hoax,” because the algorithm only counts comments. It doesn’t care about their content. Besides, your comment will only be buried by a thousand “amens” within seconds anyway.

You can report the post or the page to Facebook, but there are so many of these hoaxes that it can be like playing whack-a-mole with a drinking straw (and forty thousand moles).

Definitely let your Facebook friend who shared it know that the post is a hoax and that they’re not helping a child at all. Let them know that the photo was used without permission, and that they’re only helping some con artist exploit children for personal gain.

If you need more evidence to convince your friend, here’s an article by the mother of a child whose photo has been repeatedly hijacked for this exact purpose: Why you SHOULDN’T “type Amen and share” posts of sick children.

A brief list of things you’re not getting simply for liking a page on Facebook

fb-scams-neonSeveral times a month, I hear about a new scam making the Facebook rounds. Inevitably, they all seem to involve the same pattern: this company is giving away a free gift card (or item) to everyone on Facebook if they like this page!

I don’t always write a new article about it because I would just end up with a template; “There’s a new scam on Facebook, claiming that ____ is giving away $_____ gift cards for liking a page. Don’t do it.” I’d rather just talk about the principle than rehash the specifics every single time.

For one thing, think about the numbers: Ikea is giving away $1,000 gift cards to everyone on Facebook? There are 800 million people on Facebook. That means their budget for this one promotion would be $800 billion. Ikea’s profits in 2010 were “only” 2.7 billion. Heck, the entire GDP of Sweden was $338 billion last year.

But, just in case you’d like a few examples of things you’re not going to get for free just for clicking “like” on a page, here’s a brief list:

  • $100 Costco gift card
  • $1,000 Ikea gift card
  • gift card
  • $100 KFC gift card
  • $1,000 Walmart gift card
  • Free iPad2
  • $50 Starbucks gift card
  • $25 iTunes gift card
  • A free gift card in any amount, or a free trendy high-tech device, from any retailer in the entire Universe, including all possible parallel Universes and/or dimensions, from now until the very end of Time itself (and in all future incarnations thereof if it turns out Time is cyclical and is repeated on a Cosmic infinite loop of some kind), ever, just for “liking” page on Facebook. This includes if you find yourself in a whimsical land of magic and wonder after chasing a white rabbit down a hole, or after hiding in a wardrobe and ending up in a forest and being greeted by the Faun Tumnus.

That last one is a little more general.

The point is: these are scams. They always have been, and they always will be. Don’t “like” the pages, don’t even visit the pages. If you’ve got friends who keep falling for this stuff, tell them it’s a scam. Every single time if you have to. A little public shaming can go a long way.

Facebook Scams: They’re after your children

Facebook scams involving pop culture icons are nothing new.

How many people clicked on a link promising a video of Justin Bieber behaving badly, only to end up on a bogus survey site and spread the disease to all their friends when the malicious site forced them to “like” the video (sight unseen because there was no video) to proceed? At some point, the victim is asked to reveal their phone number, which causes about $30 worth of premium-rate services to show up on their phone bill.

There was another one that promised advance movie tickets to one of the Harry Potter sequels. Same deal: bogus survey site. Now there’s one that promises tickets to a Twilight sequel that isn’t even coming out for over a year. Betcha can’t guess what it leads to.

Think about who these con artists are targeting.

They’re not targeting me. I don’t care how Justin Bieber is behaving. I’m a cranky music nerd in my mid-30s; I already suspect Bieber of evil just by the mere fact that his music exists (although if you slow it down 800%, it’s absolutely gorgeous—is this what it sounds like to 11 year old girls?).

No, they’re targeting your kids. I know that generalizations are bad, but I also know that billions are spent each year on marketing and demographics research. Check it out:

  1. Who are the people, by gender and age, who really care about the next Twilight move?
  2. Are these people “heavy” or “rare” Facebook users?
  3. Given their age, are they more or less likely to be somewhat impulsive and easily swayed by a Facebook friend’s “like?”
  4. Do they tend to have cellular phones or not?

It’s a perfect storm; if they only snag 1% of teenage girls who use Facebook, are into Twilight and have cell phones, that’s about fifty gazillion scam victims right there. At $30 per fraudulent cell phone charge, we’re talking some serious coin.

The key is to somehow get your kids to understand what a Facebook scam looks like. What’s okay to click on? What’s not? How do you impress upon them to never, ever give out their phone number (or other personal information) to a website?

Facebook recently (and finally) released a guide to using the site safely. You can download it here: Own Your Space: A Facebook Guide to Security. I applaud the company for, at long last, finally admitting that their site is not totally safe to just blindly click on everything that shows up on your page.

The guide claims to be “For Young Adults, Parents and Educators,” but I doubt many teens are going to read anything that begins with the sentence, “If there was any doubt on the incredible power of social networking, consider the more than one billion pieces of content shared each day with over half a billion users.” I’m about to fall asleep just pasting that, and I have a degree in English Literature; long, dull treatises were a daily encounter at one point in my life .

No, this thing was written for adults, and there’s some really good information within. Download it and read it yourself, then talk to your kids. I suppose the best way to really learn the ropes is to join the site yourself, but at the very least, talk to them about security on a regular basis. And make sure they know there are no free movie tickets.

Facebook “check out your profile stalkers” scam

For what seems like the millionth time, a scam has made the rounds on Facebook purporting to reveal to users who has viewed their profiles, only to turn out to be yet another in a long line of malware attacks. Here’s the text of the wall post:

“OMG! Its unbelievable now you can get to know who views your profile. I can see my top profile visitors and I am so shocked that my ex is still creeping my profile every hour.”

If you click on it, it tells you to paste a line of code into the URL field…you know what? I’m not even going to go into it. Suffice it to say that it perpetuates the scam.

Here’s the thing: there is no way to see who has viewed your Facebook profile. There’s never going to BE a way to see who has viewed your Facebook profile. OMG! I KNOW, RIGHT?!

Here are the key takeaways from this information:

  • If you see a wall post claiming to link to an application or website that shows you who has viewed your profile, don’t even stop to wonder if it’s real. It’s not. It never has been, and it never will be.
  • You don’t NEED to see who has viewed your profile. What are you really going to do with that information? If you answer that question honestly, it’s “nothing positive.”
  • You also don’t NEED to see that, no, your ex is totally NOT “creeping” your profile “every hour,” because he actually couldn’t care less what you’re up to anymore. Just enjoy the (more than a little conceited) assumption that he’s pining for you, unable to sleep or eat, scrawling tortured poetry in a black notebook under a bare 40-watt light bulb. If that’s what it takes to get you through the day.
  • If you’re still worried about who is looking at your profile, set it to “private” already.
  • If you’re still still worried about who is looking at your profile, click the little X in the upper right corner of the screen (or wherever the X is on a Mac), shut down the computer completely and stand up. Put on some shoes. Now, walk out the front door of your house and look around. Go for a run. Or a walk. Or drive to the library. Call someone on the phone and talk. Arrange to meet and do something together. Repeat daily until you no longer care who is looking at your Facebook profile.