Preventing the spread of fake Amber alerts

Of all the Facebook hoaxes, I understand fake Amber alerts the least. There doesn’t seem to be any way to profit from them. I can only hope that most of them are borne from ignorant fear or unintentional misinformation.

While I don’t fully understand the source of fake Amber alerts on Facebook, I do understand why so many people spread them fervently: they want to help those experiencing a crisis. Social networking systems like Facebook and Twitter have become the most efficient ways to communicate with large groups of people. Unfortunately, this means that misinformation is spread just as quickly as real Amber alerts.

I’ve passed on fake Amber alerts in the past. Quite frankly, I felt like a fool when I was informed that the message was a fake. If you have kids, though, then you can’t help but try to help other people with children reconnect with them in an emergency. Some times that need to help short circuits our critical thinking skills.

The reason that I felt so foolish about my participation is that every fake Amber alert steals significance from real ones. It’s a modern version of the proverbial little boy who cried ‘wolf.’ If we can’t trust the information that we see on Fb, then eventually we stop paying attention to it. We give in to a lazy form of skepticism. We might even flounder in a dangerous irony.

We some diligence, we can reduce the number of fake Amber alerts that circulate through Facebook and other social networks. The next time that you see an Amber alert, do some basic research to help you determine whether or not it is real.

It’s very simple. Amber alerts typically contain a license plate number, so just google that number and read the first couple of hits that come up. More often than not, thousands of other people will have seen the Amber alert before you. If it’s fake, then you can learn from their experiences.

You can also check David Emery’s Urban Legends Blog at About.com. He updates his fake Amber alerts section regularly, so you can use it to determine whether you should pass on that alert on start letting others know that it is a hoax.

Think about it this way: You’re doing your part regardless of the alert’s source. If this particular Amber alert isn’t real, then you are helping lost children in the future by preventing the spread of fake posts today.

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~ by facebookhoaxes on April 21, 2010.

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