• Timothy J. Barron

Duped by a Meme Hoax


The power of the internet is both a blessing and a curse. Some might think that having so much information readily accessible has made the world smarter, but from other perspectives it could be easily contended that it has not. Social media is one example, where the pervasive modus operandi is to speak first, and not use the internet as an instantly accessible vehicle to learn first. Social media routinely exposes how susceptible the average person is to being deceived and duped, such as by hoaxes, without demonstrating any amount of common sense or healthy skepticism.


One common type of hoax is through the usage of a meme, which is an image overlaid with text, and some can go viral on social media. Memes are shared widely on Facebook, Twitter, and even the business oriented LinkedIn. Examples of a meme include a photo of someone famous with a quote, or a photo of an event with annotated facts or statistics. The problem is that a significant portion of these memes are hoaxes. It only takes an attractively designed meme, and it will blindly accept it as fact and shared. In some cases the hoax is subtle, where it sounds true, but any thought of healthy skepticism is dismissed. In other cases the hoax is designed to feed on confirmation bias and fuel someone's existing beliefs and blindly shared.


Outlined below are two recent examples of meme hoaxes that I encountered on LinkedIn. Both of these meme hoaxes are typically found on Facebook and Twitter, where I had previously encountered them. Due to the business oriented nature of LinkedIn, I decided to reach out privately to the posters of these hoaxes, and politely inform them of the facts.



Duped by a Quote Meme


Memes with a photograph of a famous person and a quote are common, but a significant portion of them are hoaxes and the person never said it. Some are fabricated well enough that the quote may sound like something that the famous person might have said, but they are simply not true. From a skeptical viewpoint, memes with quotes are something that I assume to be a hoax until the quote can be sourced. There are quote meme hoaxes for a variety of historical figures and famous people, including Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Keanu Reeves, and in this case, Denzel Washington.


A meme with the quote of "With so many things coming back in style, I can't wait until morals, respect and intelligence become a trend again" appears on more than one photograph of Denzel Washington. The following version appeared in my LinkedIn feed, and was posted by someone that I'm not connected with, but the post appeared in my news feed as it was interacted with by one of my connections.

Multiple versions of this meme can be readily found online, and the problem is that Denzel Washington never said it. With a simple Google search, similar versions of the quote can readily be found on memes attributing it to Liam Neeson, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Robert De Niro.

When I encountered the quote meme hoax of Denzel Washington in my LinkedIn feed, it had already gathered over 143,000 likes and over 5,600 comments, which raises a variety of questions. What kind of power does social media have? Is the average person really that susceptible to being manipulated, deceived, and duped? Most of the comments were gushing over Denzel Washington, how they emphatically agreed with him for saying that, though he didn't.

Via a private message, I politely reached out to the poster of the quote meme hoax, and gently suggested the fact that it was a hoax. I also suggested that I would willingly stand corrected if they knew of a verifiable source. The polite reply included a link to the quote on an Instagram account, which they mistakenly perceived to be the real Denzel Washington, simply because it carried the word "official" in the name. The problem? Denzel Washington does not have any social media presence, and the account for someone that famous would be verified, which that one is not. After a couple of more polite exchanges, the poster acknowledged it was a hoax, took person accountability, and deleted the post from LinkedIn.



Duped by a Glurge Meme


Memes with a inspirational photograph and caption are common on social media. The problem is that many of them are glurge hoaxes, and while "supposed to be true and uplifting," they "are often fabricated and sentimental." From a skeptical viewpoint, I assume any to be a hoax unless it is accompanied with a verifiable source.


A meme with the quote of "This man is paralysed but his friends held him up to get married" appears on a photograph with a bride, groom, and four men. The following version appeared in my LinkedIn feed, and was posted by someone that I'm not connected with, but the post appeared in my news feed as it was interacted with by one of my connections.

It is a photograph from an actual wedding, but the caption is false and the man is not paralyzed. At least three fact check sites, including Snopes, PolitiFact, and AFP Fact Check, contain verifiable background information on the photograph, and how it is simply depicting a fraternity tradition.


When I encountered the glurge meme hoax in my LinkedIn feed, it had already gathered over 175,000 likes and over 800 comments, which raises a variety of questions. What kind of power does social media have? Is the average person really that susceptible to being manipulated, deceived, and duped? Many of the comments were emotionally gushing and "crying" over the groomsmen holding up what they were fooled into believing was their paralyzed friend.

Via a private message, I politely reached out to the poster of the quote meme hoax, and gently suggested the fact that it was a hoax. The polite response was "That issue has been duly noted. I used this picture not for it's captions but for its symbolism. You have to read what I wrote in my post, it has nothing to do with anyone being paralyzed." The poster was referring to a terse preamble which he included with the meme, which was about the quality of your friends and being your brother's keeper.


The poster already knew and recognized that it was a hoax, so what is the problem? This was somewhat disturbing from the perspective of personal integrity and accountability, particularly being on the business oriented LinkedIn site. The poster knew the caption was fake, and deliberately did not specify that, nor was there any desire to subsequently update it. The poster knowingly allowed people to believe that the caption was genuine and emotionally gush over it in dozens comments. One conclusion that could be drawn was that narcissism was in play, and the desire was counting the likes received. The post still exists on LinkedIn, and peaked out at over 200,000 likes.



The moral of the story is to never trust a meme. Before you share one, do everyone else a favor and do a simple Google search to validate it. As far as the verification of quotations, many quote websites have no sources, so they are not reliable.


#hoax #factcheck #meme