A Plea to the Media Regarding Sick Child Hoaxes

The following is a copy of the letter that has been sent to BBC, CNN, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Wired, The Register, The Independent, Huffington Post, Sunday Morning Herald, and Herald Sun. I have, however, removed the email addresses to prevent us getting spammed.
“A plea

Firstly, I would like to say that I am writing on behalf of several popular websites that deal with debunking vicious rumours that circulate social networking sites. These sites include hoax-slayer.com, thatsnonsense.com, thebulldogestate.com, facecrooks.com, facebookprivacyandsecurity.wordpress.com and several other helpful blogs.

Over the last handful of months we have all witnessed a particularly nasty type of hoax that has circulated prolifically across social networking sites, especially Facebook.com, persistently achieving what I would refer to as a high degree of viral success.

This particular hoax I am talking about is one that involves photographs of ill/disabled children in hospital being shared virally across Facebook on the false assertion that sharing the photo will induce donations from Facebook for medical expenses for the child. A hoaxer takes the photograph, uploads it to Facebook and adds a caption that not only falsely claims sharing the photo will bring about donations, but also commonly wrongly misattributes certain diseases – typically cancer – to the child, and other mistaken details as well. The photo is then made public and is prolifically shared amongst well meaning, yet misguided Facebook users. On a side note we have also seen a recent trend where certain page owners will share these photos from their Facebook pages to [presumably] gain fans.

I would like to point out now that these photos of children are stolen and used without the permission or even knowledge of the families involved. The hoaxer finds the photos from public albums or search engines and simply copies them before uploading them to Facebook. Given the nature of these photos, it is of course deeply upsetting for the families to learn that photos of their sick relatives have been used to perpetuate such an immoral joke. Worse still for Julie Chambers, since her child Zoe – who was the subject of one such hoax – passed away some years prior. Her story can be found here.

Over the past month or so our collective websites have been working hard to encourage users to report popular instances of offending photos. Our efforts often result in many hundreds if not thousands of users reporting these photos, but to our disappointment and frustration Facebook are simply not responding in what we would consider an acceptable manner, if they respond at all. Many photos, some extremely graphic, have remained online to the public for days gaining many thousands of shares. Some of these stolen photos of ill and disabled children have been online for weeks and months, and are still there today. Many of these photos stay online for days and accrue many tens of thousands of shares before being taken down, with some still remaining online. (see reference section below)

Since tracing the sick individuals who start these hoaxes would likely prove fruitless, given the nature of social networking, we firmly believe the responsibility to prevent the viral circulation of these photos falls straight into the hands of Facebook themselves. Frankly, the response from Facebook has been slow-to-absent. These photos should be removed, all of them, much faster, more efficiently and repeat occurrences should be blocked by the implementation of a simple image detection system. We need to do this to prevent the distress and tremendous upset it causes to the individuals and families of the children in the photos and the people who unwittingly help perpetuate them.

With the lack of any appropriate way of contacting Facebook about the issue, all communication we have had with them regarding this has sadly fallen upon deaf ears it would appear. And this is why I am writing to you today. We need to find a way of dramatically increasing the awareness and exposure of this trending problem before it worsens and more families are affected. We are appealing for a media drive about this, not only to educate users to the problem (which will lessen the success these hoaxes enjoy) but also to perhaps pressure Facebook into some sort of action.

The situation as it stands is that new instances of these images are being uploaded and shared quicker than we can accumulate enough reports to get them down. Facebook need to stop new instances of these photos being created, because as it stands we’re always playing catch up.

We are sending this to you and other various news outlets and high profile bloggers for consideration for possible coverage. Feel free to contact me or any of the others involved for more information.

For your reference I include a list of emails for the people involved and links to sources.


Craig Haley, thatsnonsense.com
Steve Williamson, hoax-slayer.com
Brett Christensen, hoax-slayer.com
Tim Senft, facecrooks.com
Shevaun Fitzpatrick, hoax-slayer.com
David White, hoax-slayer.com
Tony Mazan, thebulldogestate.com
MBK, thebulldogestate.com
Miles Renatus, facebookprivacyandsecurity.wordpress.com
Bev Robb, thebulldogestate.com

Reference links:

http://www.hoax-slayer.com/zoe-chambers-story.shtml – Hoax-Slayer.com article regarding Julie Chambers issue

http://www.thebulldogestate.com/2012/01/re-posted-hoax-alert-baby-cancer-heart.html – Bulldog Estate Alert for the hoax

http://thatsnonsense.com/blog/?p=168 – ThatsNonsense.com Blog – Will Hospitals Donate Money for Sharing a Picture?

http://thatsnonsense.com/viewdef.php?article=facebook_babies_hoax – ThatsNonsense.com Appeal to Readers

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2088292/Conmen-set-Facebook-site-asking-donations-help-fund-heart-transplant-dead-toddler.html – Daily Mail article on Zoe Chambers

//www.thatsnonsense.com/temp/baby1.jpg – Screenshot – baby hoax still active after 36 hours and surpasses 20 thousand shares – has since surpassed 45 thousand shares

//www.thatsnonsense.com/temp/baby2.jpg – Screenshot – baby hoax still active after 36 hours and surpasses 10 thousand shares “

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