A viral hoax has put the issue of misinformation into the spotlight, after many people were duped into thinking their Gmail accounts were about to close.

A post on X that claimed Gmail was shutting down went on to amass seven million views before Google managed to issue a response – taking to the social network itself to declare that reports of Gmail’s death were, indeed, greatly exaggerated.

Perhaps the reason why this hoax got such traction was that – as with all the most effective ruses – it contained a kernel of truth, albeit a very small one. It used a real email sent by Google in 2023, although that was to announce that Gmail would stop access to its most basic HTML view, not that it was shutting down altogether.

Google’s original announcement was to be expected – its HTML iteration dates back to Gmail’s launch in 2004 and, as such, would make the service wholly unrecognisable to most current users. What wasn’t so easy to anticipate, however, was how quickly it would spread when twisted into a hoax.

For its part, X stepped in to highlight the false claim, with its fact-checking service kicking into action so that whenever the post appeared in people’s feeds, it came with the warning that the content contained within it was almost certainly spurious. This system has come about as a result of the company’s Manipulated Media Policy, which prohibits media that has been “significantly and deceptively altered, manipulated, or fabricated”.

In response, Google posted a short, sharp rebuttal (also on X), simply saying: “Gmail is here to stay”. That post, from the @Gmail account, amassed over 12 million views in just four days. The hoaxer was pseudonymous conceptual artist SHL0MS, who claimed it was a piece of performance art before going on to turn pictures of the announcement into sellable NFTs.