Rise and Shine

Social Media Rumors and Hoaxes

Photo of Lisa MasonSocial media rumors have been around as long as the Internet and hoaxes have spread from email to chat rooms and networking sites. With this quirk of social networking space, we can learn a lot from the mistakes of others. It’s only takes a second to click that share button but how do you know what you are reading and sharing is true? If you’re sharing a post that seems highly suspicious without at least checking Snopes.com or googleing it, you’re doing a disservice to your followers and yourself.

Businesses can learn a lot from common social media rumors and hoaxes today and the impact they have on the users of these networks. Are you spreading rumors or are you making sure you verify your facts and cite your sources before posting to your networks?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common social media rumors hitting networks today:

  1. Celebrity Deaths– We’ve all heard them; anyone on a social media network has seen the rumors of celebrity deaths. Justin Bieber has been one of the most common celebrity death hoax victims in history of the Internet. Other recent victims include Adam Sandler, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Sheen, Bill Cosby, Lindsay Lohan, Nick Jonas and Taylor Swift. You probably see a trend in famous celebrities or controversial celebrities being picked for death hoaxes. One theory behind this is the “haters” of the celebrity launch a viral campaign against them by claiming they have died and spreading the rumors throughout the Internet.
  2. Chain Mail– Chain mail is no longer reserved for our email inboxes. It spreads faster on social media than it ever did before. People just can’t help but hitting that “share” button or “retweet” button when they see something that interests them. Many chain mail rumors spread on social media promise you a reward of some sort and others claim that a child is missing or an animal is being abused. Most are proven false. These types of rumors tug at the heartstrings of the user, making them want to share to “make a difference” or to have a shot at winning something.
  3. Presidential Rumors– Nearly everyone wants to know something about the President. Presidential hoaxes have included Bill Cosby for President 2012, Presidential IQ hoaxes, That President Obama was in the “Whoomp There It Is” video, that Obama gave part of Arizona to Mexico and many more.
  4. Falsities about the Social Network– Facebook has been one of the most commonly affected by rumors about their platform. Who remembers the rumors spread about how Facebook would start charging members to use its platform? Members were told to spread the message that Facebook would no longer be free and it spread like wildfire.
  5. Social experiments– Some rumors are set in motion on purpose just to see what will happen. Take Washington Post sports reporter Mike Wise for example. Wise was suspended after he posted a false news story about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He claimed it was a social experiment to see how quickly a false rumor could spread throughout Twitter but it ended in a one-month suspension from his job and loss of respect of many followers who trusted him with their sports news. 

All of these examples can teach us something about the power of social media. It’s not a plaything or a toy to be used however you wish, especially if you are in a position of leadership on the Web. If people come to your site or social profile in search of advice or information, they are trusting that information is true (with the exception being The Onion).

While businesses will continue to experiment with social media, these experiments should not come at the expense of the user or your reputation. Your audience is not meant to be guinea pigs to help you answer your questions about social media. Build trust in your audience and they will return again and again to see what you have to say.

Social media is a powerful tool; are you using it correctly? Stay tuned to Social Media Sun where we give you tips, tricks and try to separate the actions that will almost always bring positive results from actions that hold no guarantees, or even worse – actions that guarantee negative results. Do you pause when you read something that just doesn’t sound right? If so, do you try to debunk it, and alert others to a lie?


  1. Jessica Burshtynskyy /

    Very true about the importance of not abusing social media! I wonder what Mike Wise really could have learned though since he did have a reputation as an authority, an anonymous blogger posting something about a particular player would have been a truer way to see how rumors spread. Either way, not worth the risk!

    •  I completely agree Jessica. People trusted him as a news source so his experiment was immediately flawed.

    • Totally agree with you Jessica. What Wise did was an abuse of trust. He should have known better and done something similar to what you suggested if he absolutely needed to conduct a ‘social experiment.’

  2. Fatfriaruk /

    like all media it’s take it with a pinch of salt or rue the day imo

  3. dwaynekilbourne /

    Great examples… I guess the whole deal with celebrity deaths grab my attention the most. It is amazing how fast those will spread after hearing the same fake story over and over again… SMH!

    •  Thanks for reading! What do you think it is that makes people click share/retweet/etc although they know it’s probably not true? That sounds like an interesting social experiment.

  4. Ridexc /

    What amazes me is when legitimate media outlets pick up something off Twitter and report it as gospel, without doing any fact-checking at all.  A few months ago Gordon Lightfoot was widely reported as having died after someone at the CTV network in Toronto pounced on a rumour … a phone call to his agent (who later confirmed that Lightfoot had been alive as of that morning when he talked to him) might have been prudent!

    •  Yes, they try so hard to be the first media outlet to get the news published and it often backfires when they didn’t fact check.

  5. I know I don’t read everything fully, I do however try to scan to see what it is saying and have not posted something I felt was wrong, I should have possibly checked further, but is Snopes always right?  The writers are after all human and I am sure their own opinions are interjected!  I agree too much is posted and taken for the truth both by the poster and reader.  Good article.  Thank you.

  6. always in for a good rumor 😀

    •  Good point. I wonder if it’s like the popularity of celebrity gossip. People don’t really care if it’s true or not- it’s just fun to read and share?

  7. EmmaGeraln /

    I never believe anything any-more. I assume everything is fallacious unless I have proof… that doesn’t mean i don’t share stuff, I figure people can make up their own mind. I take the view that until someone wants me to do or give something it doesn’t really matter if it’s true.

  8. RebeccaLivermore /

    It’s amazing to me that people still fall for these things without checking them out first, or at least without checking them out before forwarding them on. Thanks for a great article on another important topic. 

  9. I care for roumors not. In social media or in everyday ‘live’ world. Preffer to forward info I have checked or tested sources of infor have tested/seen/live.

  10. Attractitude /

    Thank you. Actually, I am not sure we even realize how powerful it is. any media at its early stage had that huge effect. remember the “war of the worlds” by HG Wells on the radio in the 30s created huge panics across the US and some people started to actually really believe they saw martians invading… Yes, we should be ware of how we use social media and I am glad people like you are here to help us through!

    •  That is a great point. I was just talking with my kids about that the other day after the older ones watched the movie. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  11. I learned at an early age, “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.” IMO, social media falls into the second category, but I do ‘share’ without very much concern about truth, or lies. Until I can prove it, it isn’t a truth to me.

  12. Great post, Lisa! Rumors and misinformation can spread like wildfire on the internet. I wrote a post on a vaguely similar subject relating to genealogy today. Maybe it was a psychic connection or something.

  13. Funny you should mention this.  I had JUST gone to check my web stats recently and noticed I got a lot of hits on one particular article.  After a bit of investigating, I realized I had the phrase “usher death”  … Guess who was the latest celebrity rumor to have died?

  14. Rocker1018 /

    Great post. I’m still amazed at how many large, legitimate news sites get sucked in by these hoaxes

  15. Liz Pullen /

    Death rumors are so common on Twitter that there is even a cliche Tweet that gets sent out a lot when this happens: “Twitter has killed more people than Hitler!” I see that one posted all of the time.

  16. Theresa Leschmann /

    Your article carries a much needed message, for business and personal users.My mother-in-law is the biggest spreader of hoaxes though she prefers email to other social networking outlets. 

    •  Yes, I know what you mean. I think we all have those family members. 🙂 Did you know that people are now resurrecting old email hoaxes and spreading them via Facebook and other social media?

  17. Christopher J. Holland /

    I have noticed that people seem to like rumors, or stories that are not true i.e. fiction. It seems to me that the stranger the story, the better.
    It must be something they want to believe, they need to believe.
    I have noticed that even if you do correct people about a story, they will still defend the story by saying that some of it is true.
    Maybe it’s because they don’t think being caught spreading rumors or disinformation.

    I am now joining the other side. I no longer want to spend time or energy debunking myths, I will now perpetuate them. It’s a lot easier and funner to do. I get a kick out of how the information spreads. I even want to start a few of my own. People will often praise you when you post a false-hood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Read previous post:
Photo of Lori Ruff
Advice for LinkedIn Beginners

LinkedIn's recent IPO has infused new life into the network. There has been a heavy influx of new users setting...