If you’ve spent any amount of time on Facebook, you’ve likely witnessed or fallen victim to the number of hoaxes that pop up, from celebrity deaths (who haven’t died) to supposed body of a mermaid. Facebook hoaxes have become so commonplace that even large news outlets once considered trustworthy, have claimed Morgan Freeman has died at least five times.
In the latest hoax, however, the claim wasn’t that anyone died, but instead involved a celebrity participating in an act of good will. According to multiple Facebook posts, actor Richard Gere had gone undercover as an unrecognizable homeless person and was ignored and treated as homeless people are often treated (poorly), with only one person offering him food. According to the Facebook story, Gere was so compelled to help that he personally handed out hundreds of dollars to those living on the streets.
Unfortunately, most of the story is a hoax, or misleading at the least. According to Snopes, a popular online debunker, Gere did pose as a homeless person for the movie, Time Out of Mind, in which he plays a homeless man working on repairing his relationship with his daughter. The photos shared with the now viral post were taken during the filming of the movie, and while it may be true that he wasn’t recognized or treated differently, whether he passed out hundreds of dollars afterward is unconfirmed.
The Richard Gere hoax follows a long history of Facebook pranks as old as Facebook itself. Many don’t even include famous people: In addition to celebrity hoaxes, fake statuses like the Facebook privacy warning, although debunked over and over, make their way into our feeds at least once every year. Most recently, a downloadable “dislike” button which resulted in hacked Facebook accounts, reappeared shortly after the rumor of a new Facebook dislike button made its rounds.
The homeless Richard Gere post has been shared and liked millions of times, and is an indication of the speed in which fake statuses and false information can go viral. According to WeLiveSecurity.com, a website and company specializing in Internet security, there are a few ways to tell if a story is fake, through examination of the post itself before you decide to press the like or share button. Otherwise, you can always check Snopes or the Facebook page, which often serves as its own myth buster.