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Test: Can you spot a fake viral video?

Test: Can you spot a fake viral video?
© Gotstock | Dreamstime

Have you seen this amazing video?

That's a question we see a lot on sites like Facebook. People are always sharing funny or interesting videos on social media that they want their friends to watch.

There's just one problem. Many of the videos that go viral are actually fake.

You might be wondering why someone would spend the time and effort it takes to create one of these fraudulent clips. It's simple really. They are hoping their video goes viral, to get as many views as possible.

On Facebook, this is known as a like-farming scam, which is exactly what it sounds like. Scammers post a story or video on Facebook for the purpose of cultivating likes and shares. Based on the way Facebook works, the more likes and shares a post has, the more likely it is to show up in people's News Feeds.

This gives the scammer more viewers for posts that trick people out of information or send them to malicious downloads. The original post typically has nothing dangerous about it. Only after the post gets a certain number of likes and shares does the scammer edit it and add something malicious.

Falling for scams like these can lead to numerous bad outcomes. Identity theft, malware infecting your gadget, or ransomware encrypting your critical files, to name a few.

That's why you need to know how to spot a fake viral video. Keep reading and I'll show you some examples and give you some pointers on how to spot them.

Fake storm video goes viral

In July of this year, a magnificent video of storm clouds passing through South Dakota went viral on social media. The problem is, the video isn't real.

A Facebook page, dubbed "Newsfeed," turned a heavily doctored weather GIF into a video. It put the GIF on a loop and "streamed" it for 4 hours on Facebook Live.

The video received over 19 million views in only a few days. Here's the original GIF that was posted on Twitter by user @planetpics:

Now we don't know why Newsfeed ran this for 4 hours as a live video. It could be just a harmless post showing off its creativity. However, anytime something like this goes viral, there's always the possibility it's a like-farming scam.

If you see posts on Facebook that are most likely fake, it's a good idea to report it. That could help stop it from spreading more widely.

Here are the steps to report a post:

  1. Click the downward pointing arrow in the top-right corner of the post.
  2. Click Report post or Report photo.
  3. Select the option that best describes the issue and follow the on-screen instructions.

Hiker video of "Bigfoot"

People have been searching for "Bigfoot" for decades. There are even television shows documenting researchers on missions to find the elusive creature.

It's such a fascinating topic that people gather on Reddit to discuss it. There's an "All things Bigfoot" section on the site where you can find discussion links about documentaries, new sightings, evidence, and tons of other Bigfoot-related subjects.

In early 2017, a Reddit user discussing the hunt for Sasquatch posted a link to an allegedly new video of a scared hiker who hid behind a tree as Bigfoot walked by in the distance. The person recording the video is so terrified he ends up dropping the camera.

Of course, this isn't really Bigfoot being filmed. In fact, it turns out it's not even new. It was originally posted back in March of 2011. That didn't stop people from believing it's authentic and making it go viral.

Snowboarder chased by bear

This video is the perfect example of a viral video. It received nearly 10 million views on YouTube.

The clip shows a woman snowboarding. Behind her, without her knowledge, is a huge bear running after the woman. She captured the entire scary situation on video.

Once the video was posted online, it spread like crazy. People couldn't get enough, sharing it with everyone they knew. As you can probably guess by now, the video is not real.

The clip was published by the Woolshed company. Speaking of its viral videos on its website, Woolshed boasts, "We don't just produce them, we conceive, write, create and strategically seed viral video campaigns, repeatedly amassing [worldwide] news coverage and have accumulated over 320 million online views."

We don't believe the Woolshed company has malicious intent. However, any cybercriminal could share one of the company's viral videos online and create their own like-farming scam.

How to spot fake viral videos

A visual effects specialist shared some ideas with The Verge on how to spot fake videos. Here are some suggestions:

  • Do an online search - If there's video footage of a shape-shifting cuttlefish, do an internet search to see if it's really a thing. There are many natural phenomena in the world that you might not know exist.
  • Investigate the video's publisher - In the snowboarding example, the listed publisher of the video is a marketing company. Search the publisher's name online to see if there are ties to advertising companies. If there are, it's most likely a fake.
  • Pay attention to detail - Unless the video is Hollywood level quality, there's a good chance you'll spot a mistake. The video might appear to jump from being looped or wires could be hanging above the alien spaceship. Look for little clues that will give away the fact that the video is not real.
  • Check the source - Viral videos always begin somewhere. For example, take the storm video we spoke of earlier that was livestreamed for 4 hours. If you search the internet for the source, you see it began as a short GIF. Only after special effects were added and it was put on a loop was it able to be livestreamed.

When trying to avoid like-farming scams, your best bet is to be judicious about what you like and share on social media. Don't just reflexively click "like" on everything. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

More tips you can't miss:

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