Are social media hoaxes a continued version of the “chain mail” concept? As a 10-year-old, I received daily emails threatening bad luck for 50 years unless I forward the messages to 10 friends – and little-old-me believed every word. As I’ve matured, I have learned to distinguish the true from the false. But when statements circulating social media threaten people’s personal safety, they’re easy to believe. The recent viral hoax, which claimed that users’ photos would be made public, pulled at people’s emotions, causing it to quickly go viral.
The brain science behind viral internet hoaxes:
✅ our brains like coherent stories
✅ which fit with our existing view of reality
✅ so we respond emotionally rather than checking facts.
To tackle, one must tell equally coherent stories. @WIREDhttps://t.co/31PS3HvweE
— Sarah Lyall (@sarahglyall) September 2, 2019
Internet hoaxes may be created for the pure satisfaction of seeing many people fall for something false. However, their purpose is to remind users to be mindful on social media. Internet hoaxes encourage people to pay attention to details and scroll through their feeds intelligently. Most importantly, they generate conversation.
Even people who fell for the Instagram hoax, like Rick Perry, were quick to poke fun at their mistake and start conversations.
For immediate release. pic.twitter.com/KajKOSFfpB
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) August 21, 2019
In some cases, internet hoaxes can be helpful because they remind users to step back and analyze the media they are consuming – an activity that’s often overlooked. Rather than jumping to conclusions, it’s in the user’s best interest to fact check and research the source of a social media post first.
Nevertheless, internet hoaxes can also be harmful. According to EFF, “people are legitimately concerned about the power of giant companies like Facebook, and it’s kind of believable that it’d be able to make these kinds of rules” (Trendacosta, 2019). These hoaxes emphasize the need to be mindful of both the content users consume and the content they personally upload. Although Instagram does not intend to make users’ photos public, participating in social media gives them easy access to people’s public information, so it’s important to be aware of what we, as users, contribute.