NSW Department of Education

Internet hoaxes

For teachers
For parents
For students

Key message

A hoax is a deliberate lie designed to seem truthful. Learn about online resources that will help you recognise and debunk hoaxes.

Hoaxes are nothing new, but digital technology, social media and the high-speed news cycle have combined to make the spread of misinformation faster and broader. Rumours of dangerous new viral challenges surface a couple of times a year, and they are generally unfounded. Parents and teachers should be aware of the possibility that a shocking news item about children and the internet could be a hoax.

There are strategies and online resources to help you identify and respond to a potential hoax.

Identifying a hoax

Hoaxes, by their nature, are difficult to identify. They often rely on parents’ protective instincts when it comes to their children, and are designed to bypass our critical thinking. If you come across a warning on social media about a dangerous viral challenge, take a moment. Ask yourself two questions before sharing:

  • Who benefits if I share this now?
  • What do I not know about this?

If you cannot answer both of these questions to your own satisfaction, take the time to do some research. Hoaxes are generally started by people who are after viral content, and an easy way to get information spread quickly is to encourage panic.

Websites like Snopes are an excellent resource for identifying hoaxes. Like urban legends, internet hoaxes are often repeated, so it is worth checking to see if this particular story has been told before.

Responding to a hoax

Hoaxes thrive when they are spread quickly and without consideration. If you encounter a hoax through social media, the best thing to do is wait. The police or your school may issue a warning on the story, but unless that story contains corroborating evidence that you have not encountered, it is possible that they are responding to the same false story.

Immediately asking your child or students about the story will do more to spread the hoax than waiting until you have more facts. If the story has become big enough that most people are talking about it, you should discuss it with your child or students in a calm and non-judgmental manner.

Top tips

Additional resources

Curriculum and syllabus links


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