Explained: What is an Internet Hoax?

We live in a world of astonishing videos and pictures that it’s almost impossible for most of us to know if it’s true.

Social media has radically changed the way we experience significant events. With so many people actively trying to tell a much bigger story, it can be easy for false information to sneak in and get passed around.

In 2012 Facebook and Twitter were stormed with the hoax that a bunch of celebrities have passed away. Morgan Freeman and Adele were victims of a RIP hashtag. All it takes is a simple Facebook page or a sad tweet, and suddenly everyone believes that someone died.

What is a Hoax?

Hoax’s definition is simple. It’s a message that dupes people into thinking that something is real when it isn’t.

A hoax comes in multiple shapes and sizes, and they can be office grapevine, rumors, urban legends, pseudoscience, or April Fools’ stories that are accepted as truth.

How to Identify a Hoax

Just like a computer virus, hoaxes tend to spread instantly. With the option of sharing information becoming easier than ever before, a hoax can spread in mere seconds.

The reason for its instant dissemination is that hoax targets human emotions such as happiness and sadness. The evil intended individual can frame a story and manipulate human emotions for illicit gains.

The primary mode of ensuring a piece of news is true or false is by making sure that it is coming from an authentic source. Scammers typically use fake sources that don’t have any credibility.

On the internet, a scammer will attract you through explicit images or messages with a sense of urgency. The messages may go far as to how doomed you’ll be if you don’t download the software or click on the message.

Learn about internet privacy and why it’s important.

Hoaxes on the Internet

As average internet user will come across a hoax at least one time on a given day. They may not be critical in nature but tend to escalate quickly. In the digital world, here are the common hoaxes:

  1. Hoax Emails

Similar to articles that are clickbait in nature, hoax emails are typically intended to attract the recipient into clicking the message. They can be unsafe and always carry a risk when you click the message.

For all you know, they carry malicious content that can potentially harm your device. For example, by clicking the link in the email, you risk downloading spyware or ransomware.

hoax email

That malicious software can then be used to steal your personal information like account credentials, and payment details. Since hoax emails are intended for the recipient, they don’t target a massive audience.

  1. Hoaxes on Social Media

With hundreds of millions of people online on social media at any given time, hoaxes can spread like wildfire.

The human mind doesn’t thoroughly analyze the message and respond instantly, trusting on their emotions. Without questioning the authenticity of a post, humans instantly share the word, making it spread to millions and millions of people within minutes.

hoax on facebook

Wait a minute; a hoax can’t do any harm if you don’t share it, right? The question is, how do you distinguish a hoax from an authentic post?

There are numerous types of messages a scammer can come up with. The most famous on social media is when a message says, ‘Your computer is infected with a virus. It will delete all your files if you don’t resend this message to 10 friends.’

Just hold on for a second and think about it. Why would sending the message to 10 people rid you of the computer virus? That’s not how things work.

  1. Hoax Software

When it comes to a hoax email or hoax software, both can be manageable and fade with time. However, when it comes to hoax software, things tend to take an ugly turn.

Since a hoax software is dangerous in nature, how to internet users differentiate it between legit software and a hoax software?

You won’t come across a hoax software on an official website. Usually, internet users will come across hoax software through either Google Search, Google ads, web banners, or web pop-ups. They can be dangerous and infect your device with a spying tool that can record your online activities.

A hoax software will have messages which will give a virus warning saying your device is infected with a virus, and you need to download the software to rid your device from viruses. It will claim further to fix the problem only if you download their software.

There are some hoax software that will freeze the tab and compel you to download the software otherwise; you’re doomed, as if.

How to Protect Yourself from a Hoax

Hoaxes can spread like you’ve been invaded by your worst enemy, making it rather difficult to protect yourself from observing the truth from the lie.

However, one thing is for sure – hoaxes cannot do any harm to you if you do not act upon them.

Just before you can’t hold back from clicking a suspicious link, do consider:

  • Do a fact check if you can and wait it out to see how things progress.
  • Logically view the pop-up/message and ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true; it probably isn’t.
  • Do not give your personal information to any website that you don’t trust, especially if it isn’t HTTPS secured.
  • Use a VPN to encrypt your online activities and stay hidden from cybercriminals.
  • Do not click on suspicious pop-ups and links, especially if they are promoting you to download an anti-virus.
  • Use ad-blockers and privacy extensions like PureVPN’s Chrome and Firefox extension, which come packed with WebRTC leak protection, keeping you safe online.

Final Word

We see information and tend to believe it thinking it’s on a website and just because it’s out there. Let’s question it, let’s challenge it, and most importantly, let’s be better journalists ourselves.

It’s on us individuals to ensure that whatever we are reading is valid before we click the share button and spread misinformation.

Ather Owais is a tech and cybersecurity enthusiast. He is a strong advocate for online privacy and security, following technological trends and their impact on today's digital era.

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