More than one million Facebook users are believed to have fallen for a hoax claiming that the popular website will close its doors on March 15th.
A bogus news story, published by the “Weekly World News”, said that Mark Zuckerberg had told reports that “managing [Facebook] has ruined my life. I need to put an end to all the madness.”
In a panic, Facebook users have spread the story far and wide across the internet. Although Facebook debunked the hoax via its Twitter account late on Sunday, users continue to pass the bogus messages onto their online friends.
The “Weekly World News” article went on to quote another company official, Avrat Humarthi, Vice President of Technical Affairs at Facebook, as saying:
“After March 15th the whole website shuts down. So if you ever want to see your pictures again, I recommend you take them off the internet. You won’t be able to get them back once Facebook goes out of business.”
Sophos believes that many people would not believe the report, which comes from a newspaper that has previously reported George Clooney is running for president and that alien spacecrafts will visit earth in 2011. However, it only takes a small proportion of people to think it might be possible to turn a joke of a news story into an internet hoax.
“I certainly wouldn’t disagree that users would be wise to have their own backup of their photographs, rather than rely on Facebook – but it’s nothing more than a scare to suggest to people that they have to do it before March 15th because Facebook is going to close down,” explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “There’s an important lesson here – don’t believe everything you read on the internet, and think twice before you pass a story on to your friends.”
Although a hoax is not as serious as malware worming its way between users and stealing information, it’s still a nuisance, clogging up communications, increasing the overall level of spam and perhaps leading people to make decisions for the wrong reasons.