A lot of us seem all too willing to take what we read on Facebook as fact, especially when presented with just a bit of photographic "proof" or with something that looks vaguely like a news headline.
It's not all our fault. If the same hoax pops up on our Facebook News Feed enough times, we become inclined to believe it's actually true, according to Cabell Gathman of The Daily Dot. And social media certainly makes it easy to get fake news in front of a lot of eyeballs, whose attached humans aren't always willing to question a story's legitimacy before passing it on.
What we really need to do is hone our lie detectors. So let's take a look at the year's totally fake stories, realize what we missed and try to do better at weeding out the hoaxes in 2015.
Hoax #1: This status update keeps your Facebook photos safe!
After Facebook changed its terms and conditions earlier this month, a bunch of people started copying and pasting the same status update on their profiles. The post, written in fake legalese, supposedly reclaimed the rights to any images, videos or words the user uploaded to Facebook.
But no matter how many times hoaxes like this one run amok, status updates can't help you. Even if Facebook users could retroactively change the terms they agreed to when signing up for the site, the gibberish "legal" text so widely shared wouldn't do it. Also, Facebook doesn't own any copyright of your stuff anyway.
Hoax #2: Macaulay Culkin died!
According to Snopes, a fake Facebook memorial page for the former child star kicked off this rumor, which quickly spread across the social media site. Fortunately, Macaulay Culkin is very much alive. Since starring in "Richie Rich" and the "Home Alone" saga, Culkin has been touring with his band, Pizza Underground, which replaces Velvet Underground lyrics with "pizza." Yes, it's weird. But his newest endeavor is even weirder.
Hoax #3: Betty White died!
On Sept. 2, some horrible people at the satirical site Empire News joked about something that should not be joked about: the death of beloved nonagenarian Betty White. The article, titled "Actress Betty White Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home," received over 2 million Facebook shares. And although we hope a good number of those who shared it realized the word "dyed" in the headline was just wordplay, people on Twitter didn't seem to get it.
Hoax #4: A bunch of people were dumb enough to charge their iPhones in the microwave!
— nick (@Fallenbot) September 18, 2014
A fake Apple advertisement made its way around the Internet this fall claiming there was a novel way to charge iPhones: just microwave them. Supposedly, the newest operating system featured the ability to "interface with your device's radio-baseband allowing it to synchronize with microwave frequencies and use them to recharge your battery."
It seems unlikely that many people bought it -- one guy who tweeted this burnt-up iPhone followed up with another tweet suggesting the photo wasn't legitimate. Another user claimed to have taken the exact same image. Maybe a few innocent iPhones got scorched "for the lulz," but it seems pretty far-fetched that this hoax succeeded in persuading the masses to nuke their precious phones.
Hoax #5: Pluto is a planet again!
We might be forgiven for thinking news articles with headlines like "Wait, what? Pluto a planet again?" and "The People Have Spoken: Pluto is a planet!" (each with tens of thousands of Facebook shares) actually meant that Pluto regained its planetary status. Alas, they were merely referring to an event at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Three physicists debated keeping Pluto as a planet, and when the audience was asked which side had won, they sided with Pluto -- obviously. Unfortunately, it's the International Astronomical Union -- not the rest of us -- in charge of naming celestial objects. And so, Pluto remains a "dwarf-planet."
Hoax #6: Facebook is going to start charging users!
This hoax, almost as old as Facebook itself, apparently still makes the rounds now and then. A satirical report published on a satirical news outlet stating the social media site would begin charging users $2.99 per month to avoid an "unrecoverable financial burden" was shared over 2.3 million times on Facebook after being published in September. Facebook states it will never charge users -- the site makes money by selling ads.
Hoax #7: Banksy got arrested!
During his or her New York City rampage, rumors started circulating that the famously secretive street artist had been arrested. While we're all curious to know Banksy's real identity, the rumor was just another case of people not realizing The National Report is about as factual as The Onion. The real Banksy remains free to plaster graffiti on underappreciated corners of urban landscapes the world over. So far as we know.
Hoax #8: Lemon rinds destroy cancer!
That is just one of the many, many silly claims made by the surprisingly non-satirical website Natural News -- many of which end up getting hundreds of thousands of Facebook shares. The site, run by "health ranger" Mike Adams, feeds conspiracy theories and publishes articles on alternative medicines. In terms of sources, it's pretty far from reputable. We don't have time or space to go over every misconceived headline now, but Slate dissects a few of Natural News' more grievous errors here.
Hoax #9: 9/11 didn't really happen!
This is a hoax that just won't die. In 2014, it appeared in an article claiming a video shows "irrefutable proof" that zero planes actually hit the World Trade Center. The article garnered over 380,000 Facebook shares, even though its basic claims proved fairly easy to dismantle. While we hope most people posted to simply poke fun at 9/11 truthers, we can't be certain.
Hoax #10: This is Darren Wilson!
— Resist Tyranny (@ResistTyranny) September 4, 2014
In the weeks after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson, a photo emerged purportedly showing Wilson's injuries after a scuffle with Brown. It wasn't him. The photo, taken back in 2006, shows motocross rider Jim McNeil in the hospital with injuries from an accident. These are Wilson's injuries from the day he killed Brown.
Hoax #11: This good-looking convict is going to be a model!
A couple weeks after his mug shot went viral after getting posted to Facebook, "hot convict" Jeremy Meeks reportedly signed a $30,000 modeling contract with Blaze Modelz. Later it was determined that the reports weren't based in any sort of fact, but that was too late to stop rumor mill.