At the time of writing, anywhere between 20 and 100 people are sharing a photo of a baby every minute, under the impression that upon doing so they are helping that baby receive lifesaving medication. At peak times, the number of people doing this is much, much higher.
Over the past handful of months, at least 4 different photos of children in hospital have had their photos virally spread across Facebook in what appears to be a trending, yet completely heartless hoax. Immoral pranksters are stealing photos of children in hospital and spreading them across Facebook with a caption that implies that sharing the photo will somehow help the child – popular examples claim that either a charity, a hospital or even Facebook themselves will donate money per share of the photo. Another prolific example claimed that once the photo surpassed a certain number of shares a lifesaving operation would be free.
Of course these are just sick hoaxes. In fact these hoaxes are a long running type of prank that outdates Facebook by some time. Like many types of viral rumours that circulate Facebook, this hoax traces its roots back to the early days of email, where numerous variants circulated that claimed forwarding an email would be “tracked” and money would be donated for … a lifesaving operation. Variants often cited charities, hospitals or even AOL and Microsoft as being the “generous benefactors”, but of course technically impossible and equally as false.
Examples of some photos that have circulated Facebook – we have blurred them to protect the identities of the children and their families.
At first glance one could think that the act of donating money in this way could be a positive and charitable initiative, but conditioning lifesaving medicines or operations based on the amount of times a photo is shared on Facebook would in reality be more immoral than the people who create these hoaxes in the first place. Imagine your child lying sick in a hospital, in need of a lifesaving operation and the hospital tell you that the operation should be free – providing a photo of your child is shared across Facebook a certain number of times. It would be like the hospital or Facebook is testing out their viral capabilities using the life of a child as a guinea pig.
The moral implications are not the only reason such initiatives do not exist. Actually tracing the amount of Shares a photo receives is no easy task either. Whilst tracing the amount of Shares a particular “instance” of a photo is easy enough, if someone uploads the photo to their own account – essentially creating a new instance of the photo – then tracking that may not be possible, especially considering the privacy settings on many Facebook accounts.
Why these hoaxes exist is for the most part unclear, since many of them only seem to waste the time of Facebook users by imploring them to share a photo across Facebook, which perhaps makes the hoaxes even more despicable since there is no real motive other than “fun” for the prankster. In one instance, according to hoax-slayer.com, there was financial motive where a scammer from abroad used a photo to induce “charitable donations” that actually ended up in the scammers bank account.
To date, no hospital, charity, organisation or Facebook have ever conditioned lifesaving operations, medicine or donations based on the number of times a photo, message or email is shared. Any photo or message to the contrary is just a sick hoax, either designed to waste the recipients time or scam their out of money. If you see any of your Facebook friends sharing such a photo or message, please warn them that this is totally false and remember to point out that in most cases the photos of the children are taken without the knowledge or consent of the families involved, meaning that whilst your friends intentions are sound, they are actually helping perpetuate a sick hoax that has the potential to cause much upset and anger.
Remember, if you see these photos, please, please REPORT them using the Report link underneath the photo.