Joyce Colon woke up on Monday, October 31 to discover she had gone viral.
The North Carolina native wrote an article about stealing puppies from a shelter on a website called React365. In just three days, the post garnered more than 80,000 Facebook shares, and thousands of likes on Twitter. Her friends were texting her nonstop, and several internet commenters had already proposed marriage.
The only problem? The story was fake.
React365 allows users to create realistic-looking news articles in order to “prank” their friends, but the rest of the Internet wasn't in on the joke.
Colon wrote the story as a joke that Friday, after getting off work at the Fayette, North Carolina Air Force base.
She’d seen her friends sharing fake news article they wrote on React365, and Colon thought it'd be funny to see how realistic she could make an article — so obviously, she chose to write about dogs.
“Everyone knows I’m obsessed with dogs,” Colon told Revelist. “I was like, ‘Alright, I think everyone would believe that I stole 24 dogs from the shelter, so let me write this up really quick.”
Colon thought the article would get a couple like from friends, at most. In fact, the article generated zero shares in the hour after she posted it. She resorted to asking a couple friends to share it for her, as part of the joke.
But when she woke up on Monday, Colon says, “it was just exploding.”
Fake news stories like Colon’s are actually a major problem for Facebook these days.
In late August, Facebook laid off its entire editorial team, and replaced them with engineers. The editors were tasked with carefully verifying the stories that Facebook algorithms selected for the “Trending” section. The engineers, however, were told to approve any trending topic that linked to at least three recently posted articles, or at least five recent public posts.
An audit by The Washington Post conducted this September found at least five “indisputably fake” stories and three “profoundly inaccurate” stories trending over the course of the month. This included stories touting the new iPhone’s literally magical features, and claiming that 9/11 was an inside job.
Seeing as almost 50% of American adults use Facebook as a news source, the reports have generated considerable concern.