Shoeb Abdullah

Guest Writer
Check Before You Donate
This article is more than 1 year old

Check Before You Donate

Shoeb Abdullah

Guest Writer

The Facebook post replete with the phrases ‘please help’, ‘please have a little mercy’ repeating several times in every line would read (once decluttered): “My daughter is very sick. Please help my child. As a father, I am begging you to help me with my daughter’s medical expense. Please save my child. Give what you can, 100/200/500/1000 no matter the amount, just donate a little to treat my daughter and save my innocent child.

In the post, a father is seeking help for his sick daughter with a photo of a sick child and a bKash number. But a search on Facebook finds that from January 2021, there were nine appeals for help with the exact same words. These appeals have been posted at least 400 times from different IDs till date.

Although the wording and basic description of those nine posts are similar, the names and photos of the people and the bKash(mobile financial service provider) numbers are different. However, one bKash number was common in three of the posts, which is 01826088585.

A Facebook search of that phone number yields 15 appeals for help with different photographs. Each post has a different description and a different photo of the sick person. But the bKash number is the same.

For instance, the bKash number for helping Mohammad Ismail’s unidentified son, from Dhaka’s Savar sub-district under Ashulia police station, is 01826088585. That is also the number for sending money to help Tahmid Hassan’s daughter Ayesha from Ranishongkoil of Thakurgaon district and Aiyub Ali’s infant child Shabuj of Kacharibazar village under Kishoreganj sub-district of Nilphamari.

Since the same number was being used to seek help for so many people, there was a possibility that it belonged to a social organisation. When called 01826088585, to verify, it was answered by a woman who identified herself as Jahanur and claimed to be the mother of the sick boy. When asked for doctor’s prescriptions, she expressed her inability to produce one. Then, when asked why there were other posts with girls in the photos, she hung up.

Busted, but far from bust

Another Facebook post of 12 April from a page belonging to one Md Sujon Miah, has similar content and words, as mentioned before, with the same phone number 01826088585. The post has four photos of a child along with the parents.

But the pictures are not of a Bangladeshi child. According to Boom Bangladesh (Facebook’s one of the third-party factchecking outfits) and Rumor Scanner, they are of an Indian child named Faizan who has been diagnosed with ORAI1 mutation. Shared 27,000 times till date, the post even has a commenter enquiring how to send money from India. The post appears to be doing fine despite having been factchecked by two outfits.

‘Fundraising’ continues even after appeal has ended 

Photos of a child and medical reports were posted on a Facebook group titled ‘Ajmira vlogs family’ asking for help on 31 October. Rumor Scanner reported that the photos and medical reports had been taken from another Facebook page which had posted them on 20 September, 2021 seeking help for one Fabiha.

The last post on that Facebook page states that the child had died on 21 October but raising funds for Fabiha continues unabated. Till date, there have been 28 posts seeking help for her even after her death. Fabiha’s father, Fihanur Rahman has no idea who are behind this fundraising campaign.

Md. Maruf Hasan is in a similarly awkward position. Boom Bangladesh had looked into it. He had posted an appeal for help for his daughter Tuba, who was sick at that time. On 21 January, he put up another post informing people that Tuba had died and that he was no longer collecting funds for her treatment. However, certain individuals or groups continue to seek funds using Tuba with changed details for whoever will be receiving the funds.

seven years later, another Facebook post was put up seeking help for one Fatema with those same photos.

Maruf told Boom Bangladesh, “I can’t even begin to tell you how much it hurts seeing such things about my dead child.”

A Prothom Alo online report from 2 July 2015 was headlined “Keya goes to the hospital before visiting her in-law’s.” The report sought help for the treatment of Keya Khatun, a cancer patient. Then, on 13 September 2015, the news outlet followed up with another report headlined “Keya smiles yet, her eyes sparkle too”, which said Keya was undergoing treatment. 

But seven years later, in November 2022, another Facebook post was put up seeking help for one Fatema with those same photos. All this, despite factcheck reports by Boom Bangladesh and Rumor Scanner in January 2022.

Toying with trust

Khorshed Alam is a retired septuagenarian. Although new, he is quite active on social media and spends much of his time on Facebook and YouTube. He shares numerous posts every day ranging from politics to entertainment, including some of people looking for lost persons. Over the last few months, he has shared a number of posts appealing for help with photos and contact numbers on his Facebook. Khorshed himself has donated money to some to help as much as he could. When asked whether he verified if the cases were real, Khorshed says, “I only called the cell number. Who would post photos of their children and lie?”

A third-year social science student of Dhaka University, Jannat has a similar opinion too. She has also sent money to many, responding to appeals for help on Facebook. When asked whether she verified the appeals, she replied, “I talk to people at the contact number provided. I see the prescriptions on the post. I don’t really look any deeper than that.”

Both Khorshed and Jannat feel that as conscious citizens, it is their duty to help people. Social media is currently playing an important role in facilitating such help for people, especially during disasters and crises. But social media is riddled with scams and fraudsters also.

The question is, how to stay safe and not fall for such scams. Sumon Rahman, director and founding editor of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partner Fact Watch, said, “We have this practice of helping people in distress. So, our message to those who want to help is, please do a little verification before sending help. I don’t think everyone will do a reverse image search. But at least they can call the contact number and talk to the recipients of the money. Or, they could send the posts to factcheckers like us to verify them before sending help and we would be able to share our findings regarding such appeals for help.” He also suggested verifying and checking the identity of whoever posts or shares such appeals too.

Shoeb Abdullah

Sheob Abdullah is working with Boom Bangladesh as an online investigator. Associated also with digital rights activism.