One of Facebook’s strengths is how quickly it connects people around the globe, allowing people to communicate efficiently and seamlessly. But that can go wrong with the wrong information.
Recently, a woman named Sarah Allen's photos were taken out of context to create a viral, false Facebook post that you may have seen.
Images of Allen's two-year-old son Jasper with a bad case of chickenpox have been used on Facebook with an accompanying message claiming he has cancer, BBC News reports. The message also states that Facebook would donate money for the young boy’s surgery if users commented and liked on the post — since Feb. 1, the post garnered more than a million shares, likes and comments.
The post on Facebook reads: "This little baby has cancer and he need money for surgery. Facebook has decided to help by giving. 1 Like = 2 dollars. 1 Comment = 4 dollars. 1 Share = 8 dollars. Please don't scroll down without typing Amen." The Facebook post has been shared at least 1.2 million times, according to BBC News.
The caption accompanying the images is nothing original or exclusive to the account that shared Jared’s images. A quick search within Facebook using the wording pulls up a bunch of accounts sharing images of people who are supposedly ill and need your likes and comments for surgery.
Those who engaged with the post likely had good intentions, but there is a security risk: They could be a prey to scammers. Security blogger Graham Cluley told BBC News that this could be a “link farming” scheme where getting users to interact with a post allows the scammers direct access to them.
"There are a lot of scams that use these kind of emotional images — oftentimes it's done to make money," Cluley told BBC News. "They may later post something that claims you've won a prize and try and get you to enter your mobile phone number and then sign you up for a premium rate service, or ask for other personal information.”
According to the Mirror, Allen believes Jasper’s images were taken from articles, as she was interviewed in August for her initiative to make chickenpox vaccines free for children. Allen’s campaign was inspired from her son’s case: He was turned away by a general practitioner’s receptionist for not having a severe enough case and was later hospitalized for five days.
“We were warned people might take his pictures ... because if you Google chickenpox his pictures are there,” Allen told the BBC. “So, we were well aware that might happen, but not in this respect, to say he had cancer.”
After reaching out to Facebook — the 36-year-old mother of two says she has reported the images 30 times — Allen was told on Feb. 10 that the account, which runs under the name Pooran Singh, had been removed.
But the account popped back up on the social media platform within 24 hours. According to Allen, Jasper’s image was just one of roughly one hundred images on the account claiming those in the picture have cancer.
"Facebook need to make the reporting process better and take things like this down straight away,” Allen told the Mirror. “You can't even have a breastfeeding photograph on Facebook without it being taken down, but somehow this is fine?"