Facebook confusion over fake cancer babies U-turn

Jasper Allen fake postImage copyright
Facebook/Mercury Press

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A post featuring Jasper Allen, falsely claiming he had cancer, was shared and liked more than 1.4 million times

Facebook has restored an account that posted stolen photos of children falsely claiming they had cancer.

It is the second time the social network has disabled the account following complaints, only to re-enable it hours later.

A spokeswoman for the social network was unable to explain the move and said it was being investigated.

One internet expert said the move was “bonkers” and called into question Facebook’s complaints procedures.

The BBC reported on Tuesday the case of a child from Cambridgeshire whose photos had been used alongside a fake plea for help.

“This little baby has cancer and he need money for surgery,” the accompanying post stated.

It added that Facebook would donate money for every “like”, comment or share of the message.

And more than one million people responded.

The picture was posted at the start of February.

Image copyright
Facebook

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The account was disabled and then made live again on Tuesday (the profile image has been obscured as it may have been stolen)

Security experts said such tactics were often used by “like farming” scammers.

Perpetrators attempt to engage as many users as possible so that they can later target them with follow-up messages and/or sell on the profile page and its associated contacts to unscrupulous marketers.

The mother of the child – Sarah Allen from St Neots, Cambridgeshire – said she had been upset by the discovery.

“We had people messaging saying they had heard Jasper has cancer,” she told the BBC.

“He doesn’t. These were pictures from when he had chickenpox.”

Facebook has removed the post featuring Jasper Allen’s pictures, but other similar fake cancer posts featuring other children remain live.

The BBC has determined they include an image of a three-year-old girl from England, who was injured in a road accident in 2015. The image belongs to her parents.

“I need the photo to be removed,” the mother of the girl – who asked not to be named – said when the BBC informed her of its misuse.

“I am extremely upset about it.”

Other images show:

  • a teenage boy from Texas in a coma with viral meningitis. His family had run a separate crowdfunding campaign to help pay for his treatment
  • a young girl from Texas who has progeria, a genetic disorder that causes premature ageing. Her mother had blogged about her life
  • a baby girl from Pennsylvania, who needed an operation for omphalocele, a birth defect of her abdomen. Her parents had shared photos online of her surgery
  • a baby from Florida, who died after being born with a defect of the diaphragm. The image had been featured in the local press

In addition, the account features several photos of dead young children in coffins, claiming users will have “76 year of bad luck” if they scroll past without liking or sharing the posts.

Facebook’s community standards say it does not allow posts featuring images that infringe other people’s copyright.

The company does not require each rights holder to make a claim before acting.

‘Bare minimum’

Facebook first disabled the account on 10 January after Mrs Allen had sent several messages to its complaints team, only for it to be made live again the next day.

Image copyright
Facebook

Image caption

Facebook told Mrs Allen that the profile had been removed, but it restored it a day later

The social network took the account offline again on Tuesday afternoon, but it was active again about five hours later.

Cybersecurity expert Prof Alan Woodward said Facebook did not appear to have scrutinised the case closely enough despite the publicity it had generated.

“Clearly anybody should have the right to appeal their account being taken down, but if it’s returned up that quickly it doesn’t show much due process has been taken in checking it out,” said the University of Surrey lecturer.

“It’s difficult not to conclude Facebook is doing the bare minimum here.”

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