ALERT: Facebook Urged To Police Sick Baby Scams

A second open letter to Facebook urged the social network to take action on a scam involving the use of photos of sick babies to collect money for nonexistent charities.

A second open letter to Facebook urged the social network to take action on a scam using photos of sick babies to collect money for nonexistent charities.
The open letter, a follow-up to an initial open letter sent February 4, said Facebook has not taken steps to remove the photographs or to alert users about the scam.
The letter was penned by Privacy and Security Guide‘s Miles Renatus and co-signed by the editors of Hoax-Slayer, That’s Nonsense, The Bulldog Estate and Facecrooks, plus a host of security experts including Sophos Senior Technology Consultant Graham Curley.
Highlights from the open letter follow:

In the absence of any media drive by Facebook to inform all of its users of the facts, millions of people are resharing these photographs, most of which contain a message stating that Facebook will donate money for shares — which is false. Some of these photographs are years old, and are taken from sources such as newspapers or medical journals to which the copyright belongs.

Some users are sharing them to gain popularity. Most share them genuinely, believing the misleading donation messages, and some even comment on the photos to ask how they can personally donate money. These Facebook users could be at risk of being conned by those who might take advantage of their good nature.

Emil Protalinski at ZDNet contacted Facebook for a statement after the open letter was published. A spokesperson quoted an impressive array of tools and software designed for “protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and malicious content.” It was also recommended that the Facebook report tool be used. The spokesperson then went on to state that Facebook was “looking at some technical solutions that will make their removal quicker and more comprehensive (i.e. catching more instances of the same or similar images).” This was February 9.

This document was created by The Bulldog Estate website and is updated daily. At its creation, it contained 129 live links to baby scam photos. By March 7, the list had grown to 238 links. By March 10, the list had 296 links. And as of March 11, the list has 317 links. We estimate that for every link removed, an average of 22 are uploaded in its place. This clearly shows that any efforts to report and remove these photographs are ineffective.

The website also published this comprehensive article titled Sharing and Liking Photos of Children with Sicknesses Does Not Bring Donations from Facebook. It informs that there are presently 12 baby cancer and heart transplant hoaxes being shared on Facebook. Most photos are being reshared between 1,000 and 100,000 times, with some reaching as high as 300,000 to 600,000 times.

This means these 12 images may appear on Facebook many millions of times. Desperately upsetting for the families of the children in the photographs, as well as families of children who are also sick or disabled.

We, the undersigned, formally request that:

  • Facebook amend its photo reporting tool to include an option titled “contains material involving children,” possibly with sub-options to more easily inform Facebook as to the nature and issue with the content, such as; “this photo is not the property of the uploader,” “this is a scam exploiting children,” “this photo shows abuse of a child,” and, “this photo contains misleading information.”
  • Facebook utilize the tools at its disposal, such as PhotoDNA, to seek out and remove all images represented in the aforementioned document, and any such similar material.
  • Facebook take action to rebuke the false claims that Facebook will donate money for shares on these images, and that Facebook does not condone the sharing of such images, which are exploiting the children in question under a misconception.

Readers: Have you seen any of these sick child scam photos in your Facebook news feeds? David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
Publish date: March 14, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT