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Facebook deletes accounts for disturbing scam involving a 3-year-old’s photo

The social media giant had to be pressured into taking action.

Feb 21, 2017, 9:05 pm*



Phillip Tracy

Two Facebook accounts have been deleted for taking the image of a 3-year-old and falsely claiming he had cancer.

Sarah Allen believes her son’s image, which she uploaded in August, was taken from online news publications before being exploited by scammers. The photo of the young boy had first spread across the internet because of the severity of his chickenpox, and his mom’s plea for free vaccines in the U.K.

It was then taken and used to scam other users, with posts saying Facebook would donate money for the boy’s surgery if people Liked or left comments.

“We were warned people might take his pictures… because if you Google chickenpox his pictures are there,” Allen told the BBC. “So, we were well aware that might happen, but not in this respect, to say he had cancer.”

The tactic was most likely used for “Like farming,” where a scammer publishes an attention-grabbing post to gain Likes. Once the story starts to trend, they will edit its information and add something malicious, like a download link or product promotion.

More than a million people interacted with one of the messages featuring the 3-year-old boy, according to the BBC.

Allen said she filed numerous complaints to Facebook before the social media giant told her the accounts were removed on Feb. 10. A few days later, the accounts were back, featuring more posts with images of children in hospitals claiming viewers would have years of bad luck if they didn’t share the posts.

After additional complaints from multiple organizations, Facebook deleted the accounts.

This all comes during an important time for Facebook and its censorship rules. Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote a post addressing fake news after it spread during the U.S. presidential election.

The social media site will need to make some drastic changes if a clear scam involving a child was this difficult to take down.


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*First Published: Feb 21, 2017, 8:55 pm