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How to Respond to Hoax Messages

by Brett M. Christensen

What do you do if you see a social media post or email that you know is a hoax? 

If you receive a lot of hoax messages, it can be tempting to fire off an irate reply condemning the sender for his or her foolishness. Serial hoax-posters might actually deserve such a reply. These cyberpests consistently refuse to check before sharing even when recipients repeatedly point out that the material they are sending is untrue.

However, a lot of people who pass on hoax messages do so in good faith and perhaps simply need a bit of guidance on the issue from a more Internet savvy individual.

But, how you go about providing this guidance can have a significant impact on its effectiveness. Here are some suggestions:

Reply in Private

When hoax messages come your way, your initial reaction may be to just reply directly to the social media post or do a ‘Reply All’.

While it might seem like this is a good method to let everyone know about the hoax at once, it might not be the best approach. By doing so, you run the risk of publicly humiliating the original senders. If people are made to feel foolish in front of their friends, they will often try to justify their postings and are a lot less likely to take notice of your debunking efforts.

But, if you reply privately to people and let them know that the message they sent was a hoax, they will often set the record straight themselves. That way, the poster retains control and is less likely to feel foolish or set upon.

Be Subtle!

Nobody likes to be ridiculed. If a reply is overly aggressive and makes people feel stupid they are likely to focus on defending themselves from a perceived attack and your chance to set the record straight may be lost.

So, it is well worth spending a few minutes formulating a polite and subtle reply. The outcome is likely to be a lot more positive.

Backup Your Argument

Even if you are subtle, the sender is unlikely to feel good about being taken in by a hoax. Human nature being what it is, he or she may try to avoid feeling foolish by defending the claims in the message and disputing your argument. Therefore, always try to include one or more good external references in your message that back up your conclusions.

Take the Chance To Educate

Your reply also gives you a chance to help the sender learn how to avoid being caught by hoaxes in the future. Explain how and where you check the truth of messages before you forward them.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,