Telling users to “beware”, the meme declares: “Stop using the abbreviation ‘LOL’. ‘LOL’ stands for ‘Lucifer our Lord’. Satanists end their prayers by saying ‘Lucifer our Lord’, in short, ‘LOL’. Every time you type ‘LOL’ you are endorsing Satan. Do not use ‘LOL’ ever again! Keep Satan out of your life. Share this advice to Christians.”
It’s been shared dozens of times recently, in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Zambia.
First used for ‘laughing out loud’ in 1989
But LOL has been used as a short version of “laughing out loud” for decades, since the 1980s. There’s plenty of proof of that – and zero proof that typing LOL when you think something’s funny means you’re “endorsing Satan”.
The respected Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of LOL for “laughing out loud” to 1989. Then, long before the internet we know today, it was used and defined in an “electronic text” on something called FidoNews.
The dictionary defines LOL as: “Originally and chiefly in the language of electronic communications: ‘ha ha!’; used to draw attention to a joke or humorous statement, or to express amusement.”
When it was added to the dictionary in 2011, the BBC reported that Oxford’s researchers had found the “oldest written records of ‘LOL’ (used to mean laughing out loud) are in the archives of Usenet, an early internet discussion forum”.
It said the “original use was typed by Wayne Pearson” in Calgary, Canada, who claims he wrote the first ever LOL in reply to a joke by someone called “Sprout”.
LOL is also defined as “laughing out loud” by the Collins Dictionary, Dictionary.com, the Cambridge Dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Macmillan Dictionary and more. Some say it also means “lots of love”, but none includes the definition “Lucifer our lord”.
‘Appeared out of the ether’
So where did the hoax come from?
The meme seems to have started circulating on the internet in about 2012. It was quickly debunked by NBC News in the US, as well as by fact-checkers Hoax-Slayer and Snopes.
Snopes says the hoax “appeared out of the ether in November 2012”.
“No mention of such a connotation predated the rumour’s first appearance, and documentation of the term’s generally accepted meaning of ‘laughing out loud’ is extensive both on the internet and among linguists who have studied the usage of internet slang.”
Snopes points out that Oxford’s researchers had thoroughly researched the origins of LOL before it was added to their dictionary.
“Had the ‘Lucifer’ variation legitimate been an (even partial or marginal) root, it would have shown up in the extensive research done on the etymology of LOL prior to 2011.” – Mary Alexander (09/05/19)
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.