Your Facebook account probably didn’t get cloned.

Have you received alarming messages in your inbox this week? Or seen posts from a friend warning you their account has been cloned? Did the message, perhaps, go something like this?

“Hi… I actually got another friend request from you yesterday… which I ignored so you may want to check your account,” it reads. “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!”

Good news: you probably weren’t hacked. The urgent messages about potentially compromised accounts (and the reason we’re subject to believe it) play off the very real Facebook hack announced last week that’s got users on edge and wary of their privacy on Facebook.

However, Facebook officials say there is currently no increase in the number of duplicate accounts, and the whole thing appears to be a viral hoax.

Fact-checking website Snopes.com explains how it works:

This message play[s]… on warnings about the phenomenon of Facebook “pirates” engaging in the “cloning” of Facebook accounts, a real (but much over-hyped) process by which scammers target existing Facebook users accounts by setting up new accounts with identical profile pictures and names, then sending out friend requests which appear to originate from those “cloned” users. Once those friend requests are accepted, the scammers can then spread messages which appear to originate from the targeted account, luring that person’s friends into propagating malware, falling for phishing schemes, or disclosing personal information that can be used for identity theft.

This particular warning suggests the recipient’s Facebook account has been targeted for such “cloning,” as indicated by the sender’s having received “a second friend request” from that account.

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, and at best a once well-intentioned warning rendered useless by being uncritically reposted all over Facebook.

But what’s most interesting? The messages aren’t spread by bots. They’re shared by actual people.

Viral hoaxes, whether fixated on (fictional reports of) duplicate accounts, announcements of impending news feed censoring, or the somehow-immortally copyright meme are all virtually the modern iteration of chain emails or letters. The way these hoaxes play into real human fear in order to excite a sense of urgency with these messages motivates even a typically cautious individual to share them ASAP (or else) — even if you never did, in fact, receive a duplicate message from your friend’s account. It’s almost like these hoaxes exploit some fundamental flaw in human programming.

Bottom line: If you’re concerned someone’s profile has been cloned, don’t copy and paste a message. There’s an easier way to find out: just search their name on Facebook. If two duplicate accounts appear, that’s a pretty good indicator — go ahead and report it.

But otherwise? Your account (or theirs) probably didn’t get cloned.

Think before you hit copy and paste.

Did you receive of these messages, or do you know someone who did? Share this with them to let them know they shouldn’t worry.

It seems like data breaches are in the news a lot … Here’s why Google has decided to shut down Google+ — for good.

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