A Hoax in an online community?

Hoaxes are nothing new to human nature. Lying and cheating are part of the dark nature of mankind. When the internet exploded, the new media gave people an opportunity to take hoaxing to a new level.

From online communities with forums to myspace communities, blogs and email, hoax creators know no boundaries.

What is a hoax within an online community?

A hoax can be as nebulous as a seemingly safe link to a dangerous resource or as cruel as an ill community member who fakes their death. It can involve money and a request for donations or funds or not.

It can affect a large or small group.

No matter the kind of dishonestly, the "master" hoax is played out carefully, not in one post but in a length of time with posts, journals, emails and perhaps phone calls.

Recently a member registered as "Widow" in our medical community. Her posts started simply with little to raise suspicious red flags. As a medical community the facts are well known to the long-term members but new members may trip over details. A few details that aren't accurate is no biggie. Anyone being thrust into a major illness may not understand some of the lingo. However some of the story enlarged while other parts remained vague, even after supportive members questioned the member for diagnosis and staging of cancer. A kind member gifted her with an upgraded membership and she started a journal with eloquence and drama but vagueness of medical knowledge. Her journal

Protecting your community

Its important to be wise as an administrator of your community. Watch for members who's stories do not make sense. Or watch for members who post extravagant posts with too many details that do not add up over time. Or watch for members who post simple posts with vague comments that tend to be over the top.

Google their username. Google their email address. Google any of the keywords in their bio or posts that might help narrow your search.

Interesting enough, hoax creators tend to move from community to community with similar usernames and stories. While they may believe themselves to be brilliant, their lack of creativity is their downfall.

Her maladies increased: A heart attack during chemo therapy. An emergency surgery that made little sense. A coma.

Two members contacted me with the descrepancies and the Google searches began. We found similar stories with the same username and another username: Silver-Jouie on myspace communities taking place within the past few years. The truth and exposed story on myspace helped us in our search for the truth.
Here is one myspace hoax and a different hoax by the same woman.

Expose them and disable their account.

While it may seem appropriate to remove all their posts without an explanation, consider the breadth of the affect on your community. Is it a member who was followed by the masses? Expose them publicly and allow the members to reply. It will help community spirit if done properly.

Leaving their posts and exposed truth available for visitors allows the Google spiders to continue to work, creating a trail for other truth seekers tomorrow.

If the member lacked traction with their following, a quiet ban and the use of "global ignore" is a handy tool for putting the experience behind you.

In our case, I exposed her on her latest thread and disabled her account. I have chosen to leave the thread open for the day so that our members can respond in the hopes it will help processing the information and healing from the feeling of being duped so cleverly.Her last thread

Move your community onward

While its horrifying to catch someone who preyed upon the goodness of you and your members, its important to keep it all in perspective. Most people are kind and want to be helpful. It is the best part about human nature that keeps our planet thriving with good stuff out-weighing the bad.

Encourage your members to learn from the experience, sharpen their Google skills and be carefully wise. But also try to encourage them not to be tainted by the bad experience. We can only hope that the hoaxsters never out last our ability to trust again.

Delanas announced in the summer she was going to have twins on a specific day in February and dog-gone it she did it on the due date. Miraculous prophecy especially for twins. Over 10 pounds each. When she was questioned, she claimed the hospital made errors in weighing and they were each only 8 pounds each. Still miraculous sizes. I googled her name and found her also posing as an adolescent boy on a cross-dressing website and on a "Twins forum with her twin story.

Honeybunch faked her own breast cancer experience and death on several forums at the same time. A "friend" showed up to tell us the news but no obit was ever found. A call to a local police department by a smart forum administrator discovered her alive and "healthy". Her husband apologized and sent back the gifts she had received from generous members.

My communities have had other hoaxes in the past and I'm sure we will have them in the future. The key is managing them properly so as not to have an adverse effect on your community.

Take care to protect your community. Your members will thank you for it.