Not everything you read on the Internet can be trusted.
There are times when you need to doubt and research the fact that you are given for yourself. This is particularly true of some of the information that is shared using social networking and email. Hoaxes are everywhere, and they are not always easy to identify, however there are some general indicators of a hoax.
There are certain signs that you’re reading an Internet hoax:
The First Sign – Upper Case Text
Large sections and or full sentences consisting of upper case letters are a good indication of a hoax. It is important to remember that official statements (which a hoax pretends to be) do not aim to cause panic, but to provide information. An official statement is more likely to display headings, bold tells and slightly larger fonts in order to draw your attention, rather than using upper case.
The Second Sign – Excessive Punctuation
The excessive use of punctuation within text is a good sign of a hoax, this is particularly true of exclamation marks and question marks. Official statements from recognised parties tend to use very little punctuation in order to provide short and simple information. The incorrect use of punctuation is a particularly clear indication of a hoax.
The Third Sign – Mistakes
Mistakes within information, such as spelling errors and grammatical errors are a clear sign of a hoax. Official statements are checked multiple times before being sent out, so there is almost no chance a real message with a mistake would be published. Many hoaxes are started by youths, scammers and foreign marketing companies, so errors are one of the most common indicators.
The Fourth Sign – Origin
Consider where the message came from. If it wasn’t posted by the official organisation page or sent by a recognised email address then it is probably a hoax. Seemingly randomly generated Hotmail accounts, Facebook pages that post a lot of similar messages etc. are common culprits of hoax messages.
The Fifth Sign – Asking You To Act
If the message is asking you to do something, then there is a good reason to be weary. Some posts will insist that you must share with all your friends, like or comment to prevent something bad from happening. Some emails will request your confidential information or payment information. You should be certain not to provide any personal information, no matter what.
What Do You Do If You Have Found An Internet Hoax?
Step One – Check. Type the key points of the message into Google, such as the name of the ‘victim’, key topic points etc. Generally the first few results will confirm that this is a hoax.
Step Two – Inform the source. The person who passed the message on to you probably don’t know it was a hoax. Inform them politely and provide them with access to the information that confirms the hoax.
Step Three – Inform relative parties. If the hoax you have found is claiming to be a message from a recognised company then you should inform them that the hoax is being circulated. For example; messages that appear to be from banks, supermarkets or government bodies should be reported to those organisations. This is very important if the message requests your personal information.
One example of a hoax that is fairly easy to spot is this message, which circulated a few years back;
“IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM DELHI POLICE…. 4 next NEXT FEW DAY DNT DRINK ANY PRODUCT FROM PEPSI, TROPICANA JUICE SLICE, 7UP, COCA COLA, ETC , AS A WORKER FROM D COMPANY HAS ADDED HIS BLOOD CONTAMINATED WIT AIDS. Watch ND TV. Plez Forward dis mesge to every 1 u care 4 plz”.
First, we have the excessive use of upper case – fairly obvious. Second, we have the miss-use of punctuation in the form of the excessive number of periods. Third, there are at least fifteen mistakes in the message, no police service would release a statement with that many mistakes. Fourth, the source is apparently Delhi Police; a service with jurisdiction only over the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India – that has no relevance to most of us. Fifth, the action – don’t drink Pepsi products and forward the message. Surely if this was a real issue they would be asking you to send your drinks back to the factory.
Have You Seen Any Hoaxes Lately?
If you have come across any Internet hoaxes lately, please feel free to share in the comments below.
[Image: Stavos, Creative Commons Licence]