Image of car crash victim used in false posts across US Facebook groups
Facebook users in the US and elsewhere have shared the picture of a woman in a hospital bed with claims that she was brutally mugged and authorities needed help to identify her. But the story is false: the woman survived a car accident in 2016, in which the driver was killed. The incident was covered by major US media outlets. The victim’s road to recovery was well-documented on social media; a year after the crash, she recorded a Facebook Live to thank her supporters. AFP Fact Check has previously drawn attention to the trend of sensationalist or panic-inducing posts being spread in US groups to increase followers or obtain personal data from users.
“We need urgent help identifying a young woman who was mugged, stabbed and left for dead on the roadside. She is in a coma right now & the deputies are not able to identify her because she doesn’t have an ID on her,” read a Facebook post with more than 1,000 shares on a yard sale group for New York residents.
It prompts users to “bump” the post to increase its visibility.
The same claim was posted in other US Facebook groups including here and here.
The false story also made its way to South Africa where a Facebook user asserted that the woman in the photo was in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria. Users in the comment section were, however, quick to point out that it was possibly a hoax as it was circulating in other groups across the world.
‘Pray for Tay’
Carrying out a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check found that the picture in the false posts was used in reports about a young woman who had been involved in a serious car crash in 2016. Local news outlets belonging to Fox News and ABC identified her as Taylor Carlton, aged 16 at the time. According to these reports, the crash happened on May 22, 2016, in Dammeron Valley, Utah. Carlton’s friend, who was driving the car, died at the scene.
Carlton – who had sustained several injuries, including multiple fractures across her body from her head to her hip – was airlifted to the hospital and had to be revived.
The articles about the accident mention a Facebook page called Pray4Tay, which is still active. The ‘page transparency’ section shows it was created on May 24, 2016 – two days after the crash.
“We have created this page to document Taylor's recovery and keep the community up to date,” reads a statement on the page.
The page was updated on a regular basis with pictures and videos documenting the woman’s recovery and the family's fundraising efforts.
The Facebook page also links to an online fundraiser titled “Taylor’s Recovery Fund” on the GoFundMe website.
A disclaimer on that website says the fundraising campaign was launched by a cousin of the car crash survivor at the request of her mother.
Nearly a year after the accident, she recorded a Facebook Live on May 21, 2017, to thank her supporters, show her scars and update them on her recovery.
FB groups targeted
Since July 2022, AFP Fact Check has debunked several claims (including here, here and here) that followed a pattern of alarming yet false claims being shared in US groups. While older ones were mainly posted by Facebook users based in Zimbabwe, more recent examples appear to be from US-based accounts.
The method typically starts with an attempt to sow panic with fictitious warnings about criminals targeting individual communities or a sympathetic plea for help locating parents or pet owners. Once sufficient engagement had been reached, the post would be edited with a bogus offer designed to solicit personal information.
Another common thread in most of the posts, including the latest ones, is that the comments section is closed, making it difficult for users to question the veracity of the claims. The accounts posting the claims also generally have little or no activity.