Dealing with Hoaxes and Fakes

Contributor: Jay Gregorio. Lesson ID: 13264

Even if you want to believe something is true -- like a helicopter delivering tacos -- it is important to evaluate everything you see online to determine if it could be a hoax.


Computer Science, Practical Life Skills

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Imagine you are hanging out with your friends, and you are all suddenly hungry for tacos!

Your friend tells you about a Facebook post she saw -- the Tacocopter! She says all you have to do is download a phone app, put in your email address, and then a drone will deliver tacos to your front door.

flying drone

Sounds great! Let's sign up!

  • Would you believe that the Tacocopter is actually nothing but a hoax?

It's a fake company offering a fake service that is too good to be true!

Plenty of people fell for the hoax back in 2012 after they saw posts on social media.

  • How many people do you think gave their email addresses and then waited outside looking up at the sky?

Their tacos were never delivered.

sad taco

The Tacocopter sensation is just one of the famous hoaxes in recent history. As you continue with this lesson, you will discover other famous hoaxes and identify ways to judge their truthfulness.

  • Okay, so if a helicopter delivering tacos is not real, what about a tree bearing spaghetti noodles?

On April 1, 1957, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) hilariously celebrated April Fools' Day with fake footage of a family in southern Switzerland harvesting fresh noodles from the family spaghetti tree.

At this time, not many people living in England had ever eaten spaghetti, so they had no idea how it was really made (with flour and water).

Watch BBC: Spaghetti-Harvest in Ticino from MySwitzerland:

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Seems silly today, but many of the estimated eight million people who originally watched this three-minute documentary called the BBC to find out how to obtain seedlings for the spaghetti tree.

This video was one of the most widespread hoaxes in the history of television!

Today, with computer-generated graphics and more advanced editing tools, it can be even more challenging to determine whether what we see is authentic or not.

While a tree growing spaghetti is harmless fun, some hoaxes that go viral today, easily garnering attention and believers online, can be dangerous.

  • What are hoaxes?
  • How can you check the authenticity of materials you see on television, the internet, or social media?

hoax or facts

What Is a Hoax?

In short, a hoax is a deliberate lie.

When a hoax is simply meant to be funny, we don't concertrate as much on the fact that it is a deception. However, tricking others into believing or accepting something false as genuine or true can also be malicious.

Hoaxes cover a wide range of subjects -- horrible news about a personality, warnings about a virus or serious health threat, discovery of something unknown, conspiracy theories, and many others.

If you receive a message online that seems like it might be a hoax, there are a few things to look for:

  • absence of a credible source or no source at all
  • absence of the author's name or origin of the information
  • request to forward the message to as many people as possible
  • presence of a threat or warning if the message is ignored

By themselves, hoaxes are not really harmful as long as you know what to do when you receive one.

The power of hoaxes comes from their ability to multiply quickly, causing many people to believe false information or delivering malware (compuer viruses) hidden within them.

The first part is easy to understand. A hoax claiming you can microwave an egg to cook it could hurt someone who tries it out only to have the egg explode. That is dangerous.

The hidden dangers in forwarding hoax messages, however, are not always so obvious. Some possibilities:

  • ability to hide or delete files on your computer or make them unusable
  • discover your credit card and other financial information
  • gather your personal and private information (i.e., usernames, passwords, etc.)
  • expose your computer to multiple sites that send you unwanted advertisements

To learn more about hoaxees, check out What actually is a hoax?, from G Data, or watch How to Spot Fake News, Scams & Hoaxes Online, from The List Show TV:

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Getting Rid of Hoaxes

Luckily, the best defense against hoaxes is common sense!

Even if your inbox filters out spam, you may still receive a forwarded message from a friend or family member who believed the hoax.

Some helpful tips you can follow to avoid hoaxes include:

  • Use the guidelines above to decide if something is a hoax or a fact.
  • Avoid signing up or subscribing to a website with your email address.
  • Always clear your browsing history, especially if you are using a public computer.
  • Discuss possible hoaxes with others whose opinions you trust.
  • Do not forward any messages from sources you cannot verify.

The internet is part of your everyday life, and it allows you to instantly access information or communicate with others.

As technology becomes more advanced, however, some people use it to take advantage of and even victimize others. Therefore, you need to think and reflect on any information you receive before you take action. That's the only way you can help stop widespread lies, hoaxes, rumors, and fake news.

Keep going in the Got It? section to check your understanding!

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