Facebook has long been a hotbed of false information, often about Facebook itself. For years, it’s been home to bogus “privacy notices” that keep finding their way back into the viral mainstream, despite repeated debunkings. Though the company hasn’t yet taken up Will Oremus’ suggestion that it employ machine learning to shut off the misinformation tap, it did offer its users handful of tools to help them push back earlier this year. Nevertheless, the bullshit keeps coming.
Last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, briefly assumed control of the news cycle when they announced that they would be committing 99 percent of their wealth to an ostensibly charitable LLC. Soon after, an accompanying viral hoax began to spread on the site. In its most common form, it reads,
THANK YOU, MARK ZUCKERBERG, for your forward-thinking generosity! And congrats on becoming a dad!
Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock. What you may not have heard is that he plans to give 10% of it away to people like YOU and ME! All you have to do is copy and paste this message into a post IMMEDIATELY. At midnight PST, Facebook will search through the day's posts and award 1000 people with $4.5 million EACH as a way of saying thank you for making Facebook such a powerful vehicle for connection and philanthropy.
Always on top of the Internet’s petty chicaneries, Snopes.com almost immediately debunked the hoax. As the site explains, “While Zuckerberg hasn’t said exactly who will benefit from his philanthropy, the message claiming that random Facebook users could grab $4.5 million by simply liking a post on the social network site did not originate with the Facebook founder.” While Snopes describes the viral post as a “scam,” it doesn’t seem appear to be taking advantage of anyone in particular. Instead, it exists primarily to make the gullible look silly.
Just as Zuckerberg’s charitable efforts resemble those of Bill Gates, this prank looks a great deal like other Facebook chain statuses that Snopes has called out, including one that suggested Gates would give away $5,000 to anyone who shared an obviously Photoshopped image of the Microsoft co-founder. Snopes notes that such tricks have their origins in email forwards that are almost as old as the Internet itself. Where those earlier pranks relied on the victims’ lack of technological savvy, this month’s variety relies on an almost willful misunderstanding of tech billionaire charity, one that borders on active resentment.
Paging through public Facebook posts suggests that a surprising number of the site’s users have treated this hoax with credulous acceptance, despite its familiar form. “I figured it wouldn't hurt anything to try!” writes one, with a kind of hopeful shrug. “I would Love some of this to help my family. Mark..not [sic] for me but them!!!! God Bless You,” another adds. Fortunately, no one’s planning to report the gullible to the FBI. Not yet, anyway.