The past two months have been difficult for Facebook users. On September 28, the social media company announced that an attack on its network had led to the personal information of at least 50 million accounts being exposed. This month, several Facebook users reported receiving a wave of spam messages and posts that suggest that their accounts might have been cloned.

The hoax involves a message coming to a Facebook user from someone on their friends list. It says that they have received a second friend’s request from the user, asks them to check their account, and urges them to spread the same message to others on the social media network.

The message reads:

“Hi…I actually got another friend request from you yesterday…which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too…I had to do the people individually. Good Luck!”

On the hoax, as reported by the Washington Post on October 8, a spokesperson from Facebook stated that the company “heard that some people are seeing posts or messages about accounts being cloned on Facebook”, and that these messages were similar to the chain letters or chain emails of past years. The spokesperson said that the social media platform has not seen any spike in duplicate accounts, meaning that it is quite likely that the messages are just hoaxes that have spread like chain mails previously did.

Similar spam messages have spread across Facebook in past years. Here are a couple of versions of the same message from different years:

Message from 2016:

“Accounts are being hacked. Someone will take your profile picture, your name, and then create a new Facebook account. Then they ask your friends to add. Your friends think it’s you and accept. From that moment, they can write whatever they want under your name. Please DO NOT accept a 2nd invitation from me. Copy this on your wall so your friends can see and be warned.”

Message from 2017:

“Heads-up!! Almost every account is being cloned. Your picture and your name are used to create a new Facebook account (they don’t need your password to do this this). They want your friends to add them to their Facebook account. Your friends will think that it’s you and accept your request. From that point on they can write what they want under your name. I have NO plans to open a new account. Please DO NOT accept a 2nd friend request from “me”. Copy this message on your wall.”

Messages like these can create panic and confusion among credulous users. But a quick search shows that they are hoaxes. For example, Snopes, a fact-checking website, has debunked the cloned accounts hoax. “While a warning of this nature could be legitimate, the fact that this exact same message has been spread to untold thousands of Facebook users indicates that it is at worst a scam or hoax,” the article on Snopes says.

If Facebook users still have reason to believe that someone has created a clone of their account, here are some steps they can take:

  • Report the account: If someone has created a fake account, and is trying to impersonate a Facebook user, that user can follow the Facebook community standard steps to report the fake account. The user should go to the profile impersonating them, click on the cover photo, and click on “Report it”. The on-screen instructions on fake accounts should then be followed.
  • Get in touch with Facebook: The company has a contact form for reporting fake accounts. Fill the form and get in touch with the Facebook team for further action.