Tag Archive: hoax

On the 11th of July 2012 this popular meme illustrating the day Marty McFly [from the classic movie, ‘Back to the Future’] arrived in the future started flying its way around the internet. You know, cos look out for Marty McFly or something.

Back to the Future time date

The only problem being, that it was not true. Back to the Future was released in 1985 and in the movie Marty Mcfly travels 30 years into the future [making it 2015, October 21, my sister’s birthday, to be exact] and this picture [and many others like it] was simply displaying the benefits of an adequate knowledge of Photoshop.


“But it’s on the internet” is surprisingly not a synonym for “But it’s true”.

R.I.P. Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Avril Lavigne and more…

In September 2010, thousands of people were shocked with the news that Morgan Freeman had passed away.

“RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home,”

None, more so than Morgan Freeman, who upon hearing the news quickly assured people that he was not.

Celebrity death hoaxes have become quite common in the age of Facebook and Twitter, because people like you [yes?] see something newsworthy and dramatic and want to be the first to get the news out to their friends. Usually without any kind of research whatsoever. This article refers to 16 different celebrities who were assumed dead [many by the same hoaxes – fell off cliff while filming in New Zealand, snowboarding to name two].

One of them was completely accidental as when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died, the hashtag #nowthatcherisdead became a worldwide trend, fooling many in to believing that singer Cher was dead as the tag could be read both ways – Now Thatcher Is Dead – Now That Cher Is Dead. Thousands of people in the States , including some celebrities, jumped into mourning and retweeting mode for Cher, assuming she had passed on.


Have you, or someone you know, posted this statement, to protect your information on Facebook?

“As of September 28th , 2015 at 10:50p.m. Eastern standard time, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates.”

Another hoax. Firstly, what do you have that you think is so valuable anyways that anyone would want to take it? And secondly, if you saw this and forwarded it without checking up on its validity, then maybe other people deserve your stuff. In an unrelated note, Jesus will not be sad if you don’t share that other cheesy religious guilt-enducing post.

But more seriously, when there is something that seems too good to be true, or maybe too bad to be true, or more importantly too dangerous to be shared without checking if it’s true to be true, then a quick and quite reliable and responsible action to do is to check it out first.

Any time i see something and want to share it but want to first check on its validity i usually just type the heading or key phrase and the word ‘hoax’ or ‘scam’ into the Google and it usually sorts it out straight away. Another good way when it’s a story you’re not sure of [like was today REALLY the day Marty McFly set off for?] is to go to Snopes.com [and various other sites like it] that help weed out scams and mistruths as well as other urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.


There are a number of reasons why we need to get better at this stuff. At its best it can be annoying or misleading, but at its worst it can be hurtful and potentially dangerous.

Imagine you were a relative of a celebrity and learnt about their ‘death’ on social media and it took you more than 24 hours to track them down and figure out that the story was a hoax. Imagine you are the mother or the husband. It is completely irresponsible to be someone who shares misinformation because it feels like a breaking news moment and you want to be first on it. Doing a quick check will not always save you the embarrassment and help stop rumours in their tracks, but it will at least give you a greater chance of getting it right.

A couple of weeks ago in the informal residence of Masiphumelele, a rape and a murder of a young boy took place. A local mob was formed looking to execute ‘justice’ they felt the authorities weren’t providing and a man who was thought to be guilty of the offence was killed. This is wrong and dangerous in itself, except that the news that followed a few hours later was that they got hold of the wrong person. THIS is the kind of thing that indiscriminate Facebook and Twitter sharing can be a part of creating – witch hunts, violence, shaming and loss of reputation – which as mob justice is wrong in and of itself, but how much more so when the wrong person is targeted.


# This whole post came directly out of an incident that hit social media in the last day or so involving an alleged racist incident with a woman [with a black-sounding surname] who tried to get her children into a class for swimming lessons but was told it was full – when she changed her name to a white sounding name, she was told there was room for her children.

What was interesting with this event [and i will be writing more on this, especially as i get to know and hear more of the full story] was that i quickly found out that i knew someone on both sides and so was given a different perspective than most people saw [some of which i am unable to comment on because it is personal information that was shared in confidence] and with the response to both the alleged victim and the perpetrator being slander/threats of violence and more, realised that maybe this is one incident that is not as clear cut as it seems. The response i got when i messaged Virgin:

Yes, we have been in touch with both Aimee and Swim4Life and are conducting a full investigation to gather all the facts, and will take the appropriate action. Unfortunately as with many such incidents, there is an intense trial by social media happening, targeting Aimee, Swim4Life and Virgin Active, and I urge you and those you engage with to consider the humans on all sides, and respect their dignity, while we look into and help resolve the matter. Thanks for getting in touch.

It’s a very tricky situation and unfortunately a lot of people are commenting without all the facts on hand. We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we want to be absolutely sure of the full story as it is a) the dignity of Aimee and the swim school, as well as the livelihood of a family business on the line. We cannot make rash judgements until all the facts are in. Thanks for understanding, Brett.

From a message to a guy called Andrew who wrote to them: Virgin Active does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have been in contact with both parties since we were alerted to this on Saturday 10 October, are conducting a full investigation and will take appropriate action.

Also my friend Lisa posted on Facebook about her experience with the school:

Sorry, I have no idea of the context of this, but it sounds totally weird. My kids both swim with this squad; I’m at their pool roughly three times a week, (often at different times if they have catch-up sessions for missed lessons) and frequently see swimming students of all races, and all ages (from babies to adults) in their classes, both one on one lessons and group sessions. The teachers are warm, professional and fantastic – to all their students. The admin of the swim school is, however, scatty at best; they are managing hundreds of swimmers and time slots. They’re better at teaching swimming than at admin. I can’t comment on the original post as I’m not connected to her on FB, but I’d urge her to send the complainant directly to the company to question the situation and call them on it. Cock-ups and misunderstandings are better resolved directly than via social media.

So while it looks [from the emails that were shared with us, which may not have been all the ones there were] like a racist incident which must be fully investigated and dealt with accordingly, there is also some evidence to suggest that maybe it’s not the school that is racist and maybe there is a story different to the one that we were fed. And we have to give is due diligence.

# tbV and i have different ideas when it comes to the idea of public shaming and both for very good reason i think and maybe i will see if i can get her to share some of her thoughts and i will do the same sometime soon.

Have you ever shared something on Social Media that you later found out was a hoax or mistake? Has it taught you in any way to be more vigilant before clicking like, favourite, retweet or send?

[For my related post on a few things to think through as we comment, click here]


Earlier this week a tornado  swept through Oklahama, killing a number of people and leaving a mass of devastation in its wake.

Within a couple of hours of the disaster, well-known speaker and author John Piper tweeted this verse:

“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19

There was a huge uproar about it. john the piperHow could this public figure and follower of Jesus be so insensitive, especially in the face of all those families who had lost love ones. People started retweeting, blogging, statusing and having conversations about what an evil act John Piper had committed.

Only problem [which I found out a couple of hours after hearing the initial story and having my own emotional response] is that there were two tweets that were released simultaneously and the second one was the following verse in Job which reads like this:

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

‘Job 1:20 not only comes in the direct aftermath of a storm, but also holds out hope and comfort to Christians directly affected by tragedy today, reminding us that trust in God and worship of God are always right, even when we are kneeling in tears in the rubble left by a tornado. Job wept and he worshipped. God’s sovereignty over his suffering provided the basis of his grounds of worshipping God in the suffering.’ [from the blog post ‘Those Deleted Tweets’ by Tony Reinke]

Huge problems can arise when we share information that is true [John Piper did tweet Job 1.19] but is not the Truth [it was not the full story – something was taken out of context to produce a message vastly different than that which was intended]. And it caused [or maybe more accurately ‘influenced’] a lot of judgement and condemnation from a whole bunch of people [thousands] who were given falsified information.

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mark twainThis is not a new phenomenon.

‘In 1897 a journalist was sent to inquire after Twain’s health, thinking he was near to death; in fact it was his cousin who was very ill. Though (contrary to popular belief) no obituary was published, Twain recounted the event in the New York Journal of 2 June 1897, including his famous words “The report of my death was an exaggeration” (which is usually misquoted, e.g. as “The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, or “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”)’ [from Wikipedia]

This has happened a lot in recent years.

Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy both fell victim to internet death report hoaxes, as did Adele, Hugh Hefner and Oprah.  Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise [both deemed to have fallen off the same Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand while climbing, in 2006 and 2008 respectively] met with the same treatment, while ‘RIP Justin Bieber’ was trending on Twitter last year

Two other high profile cases of getting it horribly wrong were these:

Margaret Thatcher: Text-message reports of Baroness Thatcher’s death caused a stir at a Canadian political event, and officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office were preparing to issue a statement of condolence, until it was determined that the deceased Thatcher in question was actually Transport Minister John Baird’s cat [She died earlier this year, on 8 April 2013.]

As early as 1992, and I remember hearing these when they came out, widespread rumors circulated that falsely claimed singer Bobby McFerrin committed suicide. The rumors intentionally made fun of the distinctly positive nature of his popular song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by claiming McFerrin ironically took his own life.

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Forward this message and Bill Gates will give you $5000, Steve Jobs will give you the latest Apple computer and [insert store name here] will give you a FREE voucher for [insert amount of money here].

Do you know anyone personally who ever got the money, the computer or the brand clothing? You don’t because they do not exist.

In September last year I wrote a fictitious reply to the Nigerian widow who had given me $2,000,000,000,000,000 of the money her dead president/king/minister of this government department had left to her [as the only means by which she could get it into the country – for some reason it had to pass through the bank account of someone who had never heard of her before?] which you can read here. All very funny until I heard from one of my very close friends [who is not an idiot] who had followed up a similar request and sent some details because of the whole “what if it is true?” lure. And so these things are really catching people.

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‘That person you’re sharing a quote from on the internet, alongside the picture of them, may not have even said what you’re saying they said.’ [Abraham Lincoln, 1855]

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googleThe list goes on. From the simple consequences of giving out personal details and inviting a deluge of spam, to causing grief or major concern to family and friends when a death rumour goes viral, to the very possibility of character and ministry assassination that can occur, this is not to be taken lightly. We need to be more responsible with how we handle information or the appearance of information.

And it is for the most part quite simple. Whenever I see something offered for FREE on Facebook or when I heard news of something so huge it seems unbelievable or if there is cause for the slightest bit of doubt with any new piece of information I receive and am thinking of passing on, I go to Uncle Google and type in the words of the thing [eg. Bill Gates free laptop] and the word ‘Hoax’ or ‘Scam’ and it is usually quite easy and quick to see whether it is or not. It is that easy. I doubt you will catch it every time but for the most part this simple practice will have your back and will save you embarrassment and the possibility of fueling an unnecessary fire.

In this world of rapid information and the viral forwarding of it [through retweets and status updates, likes and shares] it requires us to be a lot more aware and alert. Otherwise we quickly become part of the problem.

And in case you’re not completely convinced yet, here is some extra reading to give you a more clear idea of what I am speaking about:

[1] Titled ‘Top 15 Hoaxes of All Time’ this article lists a number of the popular Facebook and beyond stories that caught a lot of people.
[2] This more Facebook related one details ‘Top 10 scams and hoaxes on Facebook you should recognise in 3 seconds.’

How about it? Have you ever been caught out by one of these false stories floating around the web? Have you passed something on that you later found out was fake?

i have called Google ‘Uncle Google’ for a long time now – i’m not sure why i do that cos it’s very silly but it’s become my thing [which is probly why i do that]. i guess one reason is that when someone asks me something i don’t know i will either tell them to ask Uncle Google or i say that i will and it feels like bringing another person into the conversation.

joel osteen or martin short?

i read on Facebook this morning that well-known christian speaker and writer Joel Osteen has resigned and quit the faith. i’ve not been a huge fan of his writing as even his book titles suggest that he belongs to a group of christian writers/speakers who have a very strong focus on you – it’s all about you and becoming the best you you can be and being comfortable and happy and loving life, and so a brand of feel-good christianity that i’m not sure Jesus would be very comfortable with.

so when i read on Facebook that he had resigned and even quit his faith, my initial reaction was a bit of relief and “phew for Christianity” but then quite quickly i had another far more sobering thought… something along the lines of “Is that a Christ following reaction to have?”

as i read the article the announcement was linked to and how a church member said something along the lines of, “we gave him all our money and now he’s doing this to us. no ways, we’re not going to let him get away with that” i thought to myself, ‘wait a second, am i standing in line with all the other people ready to throw rocks at Joel?’

so question one that is asked of me is what is my attitude and posture when someone else falls [especially if it’s someone i’m not a big fan of] – is that a reason to celebrate, to quietly feel relieved or happy that someone else is not in a good place? doesn’t sound very Jesusful

then for some reason, i decided to check in on Uncle Google and get his thoughts [yes, i get that he’s not a real person and with all the knowledge he has i should be referring to him as she, right?]

and so i do the customary search i do every time i see the words when i come across the maths problem:

[thing i would really like to have – money, computer, latest phone] + [Facebook]

which is to type [thing i would like to have] and the word [hoax] into Uncle Google…

and sure enough, there are links to the Joel Osteen thing being a hoax [to be honest, not as many as there normally are with a blatant Facebook hoax so i am not even sure yet whether it is or isn’t]


#1 would be to always verify information received before acting on it – in the virtual world we have of hoaxes and misreporting and photoshop and so on, there is a lot of misleading information going around there.

#2 would be to question why am i sharing information – someone dies, someone falls from grace, celebrity scandal etc – why am i so quick to become part of the gossip chain of passing this on?

#3 would be to question if sharing the information is “me doing my bit” – this is definitely a different blog post but it is a valid question that came to me while i was giving us some stuff to think about – the whole thing with Kony2012, with articles on poverty and violence to women etc is that me feeling like i’ve done my bit so i don’t need to get involved or is that me trying to get some momentum for the action i am going to be doing?

ready to throw?

#4 would be where do i stand when someone falls? [regardless of my feelings towards that person] – am i holding a rock and waiting for the signal, or am i on my knees praying for them and their family, crying out against injustice done, am i writing them a note of encouragement or offering to cook them a meal if they are someone i know? how would Jesus have me respond to crisis of any type?

these are important questions i need to ask myself. and i hope some of you will join me…

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