Nothing brings a tear to your eye faster than a photo of a sick or deceased child. Facebook features them often and we're quick to hit "like" to show our support for children sufffering from cancer, kidney disease, birth defects and other health challenges.
The problem is that many of them are fake with sinister organisations using the posts to drive traffic to blogs raising money for fake charities.
Proud mum Sarah Gilliam was shocked to find a photo of her healthy son Jack used in a blog paying tribute to "Reilly Bowman" who died of leukemia. The photo was taken from her Facebook page and used on a site selling ribbons and t-shirts.
“I knew that these were very simple mundane images of him playing in a yard with a cape on, so to see these images turn into, ‘This was your last walk,’ was really hard to read,’’ Gilliam told TODAY.
There is now a Facebook page called Stop Sick Children Hoaxes. The page states it has been created, "with the sole purpose of stamping out and informing Facebook users about 'share' or 'like' for donation hoaxes."
It says, "Have you seen, 'liked' or worse 'shared' a photo showing a sick child with claims that likes and shares will provide donations? Even claims that Facebook itself will donate? If so you need to know why it was very wrong. If you want to do something positive for these children, come to this page and find out how to stamp out these sick hoaxes which millions have been duped by."
That's Nonsense also notes: "However it gets worse when you realise that these photos are often used to make scammers money … essentially it involves scammers creating Facebook pages and posting consistent streams of content imploring users to like and share in order to accumulate followers. When the number of followers reaches a certain number then the Facebook Page can either be sold for financial gain or any number of other scams can be employed on the followers, such as survey scams or malware attacks."
Sarah was informed of the use of Jack's photo by another watchdog group, the Warrior Eli Hoax group. They traced the fake posts and blog to a 17-year-old high school student in North Carolina who has since apologised. “You have every right, beyond every right, to be furious with me, and with what I have done. It is an ungrateful, shameful, humiliating, downright awful thing.”
But mum Sarah says the apology isn't good enough and has since contacted authorities. “I think there should be some consequence, otherwise actions like this and lifting images and fabricating stories will just go on," she told TODAY.
If you come across a Facebook post depicting a sick or dying child make sure you take the time to Google it before hitting "like" or "share". In most cases it's easy to find out if it is a hoax or not. It the ones that are real that deserve our full attention.