Following any natural disaster, social media is often flooded with posts regarding statistics about the damage, news clips featuring the damage and advertisements for ways to help the victims. While the spread of such information can be very beneficial for raising awareness to provide aid to those affected by disasters, it also makes it easy to spread false information. In particular, fake charities have cropped up across social media, which use misinformation to garner attention.
These fake charities generally take the form of a single picture post with instructions that prompt social media users to like or share a post for a sum of money to be donated to a given cause. At first glance, it seems like these posts should be shared. It seems like such an easy way to help people; who wouldn’t like or share the post?
However, posts like these often do nothing for causes. Over the summer, a viral ‘charity’ post was debunked as fraudulent after an Instagram user shared a screenshot of their conversation with the creator of a post claiming to help people in Sudan. Unfortunately, posts like this aren’t always identified and taken down, and instead continue to be circulated by well meaning people.
Identifying posts like these is not always easy, but there are usually a few tell-tale signs. The first is that the post usually will not provide any explanation for who will be providing the funds and merely state that money will be donated to a specific cause. The post will not specify what organization is meant to benefit from these donations either, instead stating a broad cause that the money will go toward.
Some users do not think sharing these posts is harmful. Regardless of whether or not the posts actually make a difference, sharing them still raises awareness and may generate more donations to real charities. However, the issue with this mindset is that it ignores the fact that people who think they already did something to benefit charity are satisfied that they have done their part. These people will no longer provide aid if they think they already did something to help that cause. These fraudulent messages create the illusion that deserving causes are receiving far more aid than they actually are, and they may discourage people from actually helping.
As we continue to share information online on social media, it is likely that fake charities will continue to appear. Social media users may not be able to stop them from being created, but this doesn’t mean that they are powerless. To help prevent the spread of fake charity posts, make sure to fact check posts. If it has an organization listed, look up the organization to see if it is real. If you’re still uncertain about the credibility of a post, don’t share it. Instead, see if there is something credible about the subject available. If you see someone sharing information that seems fake, let them know.
If used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool to share information. In order for it to remain one, users need to be attentive to what they share and make sure to contain the spread fraudulent posts.
Caroline Kuntzman is a first-year English and political science student. She is probably reading right now.