Beware the social media hoax

Perpetrating a media prank via Facebook or YouTube or some other combination of social media sites isn’t a new thing. Among other things, news stories have been written about a guy who (allegedly) had dumped his girlfriend in front of a huge crowd — all of whom had come to the site because of a Facebook message — with the whole event filmed and posted to YouTube. But I don’t think anything has reached the kind of scale Ouriel Ohayaon talks about in this story.

Since I’m not fluent in French, it’s hard to comprehend just how big this Facebook President hoax got, but from the description by Ouriel at TechCrunch and by Loic Lemeur, it sounds like pretty well every major French media outlet, both print and television, picked up the story about how he had supposedly been elected Facebook President and could instantly message hundreds of millions of people on the site.

To anyone who has even a glancing relationship with Facebook, this sounds pretty comical — Loic says he was called by the guy in question and dismissed him as a kook. But it’s worth remembering that not everyone is familiar with Facebook, apart from knowing that it’s really big. So why didn’t someone check into it and realize how ridiculous it was? One likely reason: No one wants to get in the way of a good story.

Hopefully there will be a little bit more skepticism about such things in the future. All it takes is getting burned once or twice.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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