What is a hoax?

We explain what hoaxes are and why they are a serious problem for Internet users. Also, how to detect a hoax?

  1. What is a hoax?

On the Internet it is known as hoax, bulo or fake news to a false news , that is, an attempt to make people believe that something false is real , based on half truths , photographs tricked or coming from another origin, or misrepresentations.

It is distinguished from fraud in that it does not yield material gain of any kind to its creators, but rather seeks to be replicated and distributed by all possible channels . And it can also be distinguished from the rumor, which is credible information from unverifiable sources.

The term hoax comes from English and means “farce”, and it became popular in the online culture when attempts were made to deceive users through fraudulent emails. Currently, it is common to find them in forums, social networks or massive environments information exchange .

The studies of the Association of Internet Users of Spain, a non-profit association that watches over the rights of Internet users, warns that 70% of those who use the Internet are not able to distinguish between a hoax and real information.

This denotes a paradoxical problem that arose within the framework of information massification technologies : being in contact with more information does not translate into being more informed, unless there is a way to discern between the true, the possible and the obviously false , that is, a source of legitimacy of the information.

  1. How to detect a hoax?

Most hoaxes adhere to the following guidelines or structures:

  • They are anonymous . They lack reliable sources of information, do not have authorship, do not quote any text and are not endorsed by anyone.
  • They have no context . They have no date of publication and other recognizable marks (of place, etc.), and they are written in a timeless, universal way, that guarantees their credibility and their survival in the network as long as possible.
  • They are written in neutral . They do not usually have linguistic or dialectical marks, since they bet on a wide audience as possible.
  • They are sensationalists . Bulos do not transmit everyday information, but promise to reveal some secret truth (so secret that it is free on the Internet), a magic trick, a millionaire data or some other confidence that generates morbidity, fear or indignation in the reader, and often coerces share the information for “that is known” or as the only way of protection of the person who receives it (for example: “Send this message to 10 friends or you will have years of bad luck” or “Send this mail to all your contacts and you will participate in a millionaire draw).
  1. Hoax in social networks

Social networks and messaging services are a frequent way of receiving bulos , which never come from anyone but aspire to be replicated by everyone. The characteristics of the previous point are repeated in them and the best way to combat them is simple: not replicating them.

Do not spread unreliable information to contacts who, after all, trust the link they have with us (and therefore they are more receptive to the information).

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