The internet is a great way to stay informed about what is going on in the world around us. News, celebrity gossip, personal updates from friends, almost everything we want or need to know is available online – usually via social media.

In between all the useful information is a lot of misinformation however. Hoaxes and scams continue to circulate online – and there’s a very real risk you could be caught out.

Momo, Instagram and more

Almost every day a new story goes viral. Take the Momo Challenge for instance, where parents and concerned individuals began sharing stories about a terrifying new “game” that was targeting young children and which could turn fatal.

Even more recently have been “warnings” that Instagram Is about to change its content rules, using uploaded photographs and videos against social network users. By re-sharing the story, account holders could “opt out” of the changes.

A quick Google search reveals that neither story is true. There are no independently verified instances of kids killing themselves because of Momo. And no, Instagram isn’t going to suddenly start stealing all your data.

So why do we fall for these hoaxes and scams?

Confirmation bias

Many of these viral hoaxes succeed because we think they may be true – even without evidence. We know that Facebook / Instagram collect a lot of personal data and use it in ways we don’t understand. So it’s no great stretch of the imagination to believe that the social network really would start “misusing” your pictures.

Worse still, many of us know these hoax stories probably aren’t true. But the engaging nature of social media makes us think we should share them anyway. And 99 times out of 100, all we’re doing is wasting our time.

The hacker connection

The problem is that cybercriminals can often use viral hoaxes to their advantage. By modifying the news story slightly, hackers can inject links to downloads that promise to “fix” security – but which actually install malware on the victim’s computer.

And this is when online hoaxes become very serious. Sharing fake news could actually cause your friends to become victims of crime. To better protect yourself and your contacts you should resist the urge to resist sharing anything until you’ve checked whether it’s true or not.

You should also ensure you’re properly protected against malicious links contained in viral hoax messages. By installing a proven anti-malware system like Panda Dome you are automatically protected from visiting dodgy websites, or installing malware. So even if you do forget to check a link before clicking, you’re much less likely to become another victim.

Ready to get started? You can download a free Panda Dome trial here.

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