You Owe Me $2 For Reading This Blog Post Title (And The Three Signs Of A Social Hoax)

You read the title. You owe me money.

Contracts are not magical incantations.  A law student doesn’t spend three years studying for classes, then another few months studying for the bar, then taking the grueling multi-day (mostly) exam so that they emerge with a magic wand that lets them cast contracts.  This is why Hogwarts never opened a law school.  Among other reasons.

Don’t get me wrong, forming contracts via magical powers would be awesome, but that’s not how contracts work.  The title of this blog post, despite its language, does not impose an obligation upon you to pay me $2.  I will probably not stalk you all the way to the top of a snow-covered mountain seeking my compensation.  Probably.

Contracts are meetings of the minds.  Put even simpler: they are when two parties agree on a relationship.  One party typically makes the offer and the other accepts.  Although the offer and acceptance can look different, sometimes not equal, they are the components that create an obligation.  The obligation is not created by a magical phrase or demand that is simply read by another party.

The recent tumult over the Facebook copyright notice illustrates this point as well.  If you haven’t seen it posted by anyone on Facebook–fantastic.  If you posted it yourself without knowing better, now you’ll know better.  If you knew better but saw a few friends post it have them read the great rundown by the amazing New York Times Tech columnist David Pogue.  It really is good, I’m not just saying that because he once called me the “funniest Dell lawyer I know.”

Yes, I have proof.

This particular thread probably began as people reacted to the recent proposed changes on Facebook policy voting (another tempest in a teapot I may blog about later).  But it has similar wording and fake law citations as other hoaxes about privacy or content policies.  There are plenty of blog posts (even beyond Pogue’s) that detail how wrong this is, but let me give you some pointers on how you can identify the next hoax.

1. It tells you to copy and paste something into your status update.  Example: Copy and paste this into your status and you’ll get free bacon for life!  When you signed up for Facebook, you agreed to their terms.  Part of those terms says that, surprise, Facebook gets to modify those terms.  Not you.  And there isn’t a law out there that you get to cite that lets you take that power away.  There was an offer (you can use our service if you agree to these terms) and acceptance (you agreed to those terms and started using Facebook).  Contract was formed and your only move at this point is to complain to Facebook (won’t modify the contract but maybe it will make you feel better) or stop using the service (also won’t modify the contract but should make it less an issue for you).  So if you see a post saying you just need to copy and paste something into your status update and that will somehow change your relationship with Facebook, it won’t.  Copying and pasting a status update will only get you a new status update.  If the post says otherwise, it’s probably a hoax.

2. It cites the UCC as authority.  Example: UCC 3-4-311-5-g-unicorn-4.5 says that the bacon will be crisp, yet not burnt.  UCC stands for Uniform Commercial Code.  Here’s the thing–it isn’t a law.  It’s a model law that states can enact if they want.  These model laws are created so that if every state adopts them there would be consistent laws on that subject matter (Federal legislative power being limited).  And the majority of the UCC has been passed in every state–but the authority that any particular law would actually give to you isn’t a provision of the UCC.  It would be a specific state law.  If you want to get more nit-picky for the next hoax (and you can really show up your friends), UCC section 1 defines terms and talks about how you should interpret the other provisions–it doesn’t provide other authority (although people with questionable motives like to suggest otherwise, but let’s not go there).  So if there’s a post that references the UCC as an authority and the post isn’t a really dry law journal article, then it’s probably a hoax.

3. It asks you to have your friends do something.  Example: Make sure your friends hover over this picture of bacon, think happy thoughts of bacon, yell out “Oh bacon my bacon!” and even more bacon will bacon bacon your bacon!  Asking other people to do something is usually a sign of a hoax trying to go viral.  Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them to share this information.  Other times it’s more complex, like having them perform 4 or 5 steps so that they won’t see all the weird articles you read on Yahoo! and that you constantly listen to Hanson’s Mmmm…Bop! on Spotify.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Some of these may be less hoaxes and more just ineffective information–anything that requires all of your friends to perform many steps to be effective is not going to work.  But more than likely this is just a hoax.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of hoax and it won’t be the last.  But now you’ll be better equipped to identify the next hoax and be able to explain to your friends why there’s no magic-bacon-producing status update.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Hanson playlist that needs my attention.

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11 Comments

Filed under CopyFUD, Copyright, Facebook, Laws, Privacy, Social Content, Social Platforms

11 responses to “You Owe Me $2 For Reading This Blog Post Title (And The Three Signs Of A Social Hoax)

  1. You are the funniest lawyer I know. Thanks Ryan! Now I am a contented member of “I know there is never-ever-any-magic-bacon-producing status update” club.

  2. Oops! Copyright law is far more complex and powerful than that, especially in the UK. Facebook must be slowly waking up to that, hence their panicky disclaimer published on their news page. Are we right to distrust a huge company that avoids paying corporate tax? Right.

    • Do you mean the one at http://newsroom.fb.com/Fact-Check ? Not sure why you’d call that panicky.

      • The fact they even acknowledged it means that this has some resonance beyond a mere hoax.

      • It’s a hoax that gained media attention on virtually every major US news publication. So it is more than a mere hoax–it’s a hoax that a lot of people are talking about. Myself included because I had several people asking me about it. I can only imagine how many people asked Facebook.

      • Unfortunately it’s not a hoax. The spelling mistake and the reference to the Berne Convention make it a well-intentioned if slightly naive attempt to promote knowledge of copyright laws and debate around our privacy laws. Paranoia? No one in Britain trusts Zuckerberg after we discovered we’re paying his tax bill. Where do you stand on that? (You may need to do some Googling if you watch Fox News.)

        So, it’s easy to be a snippy keyboard warrior but anyone with the sense to view the bigger picture will see a very pertinent and valid argument.

      • I don’t know enough about tax law in the US let alone the UK to take a position on that. But as for this blurb making the rounds, it is not an innocent attempt to educate. That kind of thing is written differently. This blurb tries to convince people that 1) there are new Facebook guidelines about content ownership and 2) that by posting the text you can change the terms of your agreement with Facebook. Neither are true.

  3. I like to think a lot of the people who copypasted this notice are the same people who posted highly personal information about themselves, possibly while drunk, and later regretted it.

    If you don’t agree with Facebook’s terms of service, don’t use Facebook. I don’t. I also don’t get spammed endlessly with messages about how my friends are playing Farmville or Cityville or Whateverthehellville. I’m pretty happy about this arrangement.

  4. Pingback: The Sky Is Not Falling: Your Guide To The New Facebook Terms | SoMeLaw Thoughts

  5. John Hastings

    Bottom line. If you don’t want your info out there, do not use any social media, or SaaS at all. You can either deal with the consequences or not stay connected.

  6. Pingback: 7 Signs Of A Bogus Facebook Privacy Change Post (and why your status update has no impact on Facebook) | SoMeLaw Thoughts

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