The polygamy hoax that spread from Iraq to Eritrea

Digital Content

A false rumour that men in Eritrea would be legally obliged to marry at least two women went viral this week. But it's a hoax that has hit at least four countries to date, and actually began in Iraq, where it wasn't as implausible as it seems.

When a far fetched story about enforced polygamy in Eritrea began circulating, it captured attention across the continent. But in fact similar stories - all of them false - have cropped up in a number of countries since the beginning of the year.

And in each case, the way hoaxers spread the rumour on social media pretty much identical. Here's how it plays out.

An "official" government document is leaked on social media, bearing a letterhead, or the signature of a supposed dignitary.

It reads - and we're paraphrasing here - "Due to the recent troubles in our country, we are experiencing a serious shortage of men, and an abundance of woman. Men are now legally required to take at least two wives, and any that fail to do so will face strict punishment." The punishments range from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

When a version of the falsified document appeared in Eritrea this week - as the BBC has already reported - it went viral, and was picked up by a number of news organisations as fact. Read the full story on the BBC trending site here: