It’s a hoax. A chain mail joke. And every year it flies around because people don’t remember it from the year before. I tried blogging about detecting these hoaxes almost three years ago and the same points hold true. This year even Facebook got in on the action by publicly telling people it was fake.
But I decided to make it easier for people to detect these hoaxes with the following list of bogus nonsense that can help you find the next Facebook hoax. Some of this is a bit of tough love if you’ve been one of the people spreading this rumor–but it’s time for you to put your thinking hat on. Yes, even while using social media.
The next hoax may take a different form or say it’s for some other reason, so I’m giving you all the ammunition you need to find and kill hoax posts.
1. It asks you to copy and paste something into your status update.
Look, I know your status update is really important to you as a Facebook user. It’s where we tell people about how much fun we’re having and the great deal we got on something and how we’re really, really tired. But it isn’t a Magical Contract Box. You don’t get to put text in it and have that conjure some mystical legal impact like changing your terms with Facebook (check reason number 6) or giving yourself some extra degree of privacy (check reason number 5 below) or avoiding some bogus charge (check reason number 4). That’s not how Facebook works, that’s not how contracts work, that’s not how life works.
2. It cites some source of information without a link.
You are a sophisticated Facebook user once you’ve been using the platform for more than a day. So you know how easy it is to link an article, a video, a picture, or many other forms of information. If a status update starts off by citing some source of information like a Channel 13 or WXYZ or some newspaper you’ve never heard of and it doesn’t contain a link to that original information then I want you to use some critical thinking skills. “Are they not linking this information because it’s common knowledge or because it doesn’t exist?” I want you to ask yourself. And then I want you to realize that you have no idea who Channel 13 is and why should you trust them. And then I want you to ignore the status update.
3. It pretends to be legal by mentioning the UCC or Statute of Rome or some such nonsense.
Look, I get that the legal system can be a bit mysterious because lawyers want to keep a reason for suffering through law school for three years. So part of this is on us–you don’t know what the UCC is except now I’m going to tell you. The UCC isn’t a law. It’s a code that is recommended to states to make a law and have it be common across all states (the U stands for Uniform). But it isn’t a law. So any status update that cites the UCC like it’s a law? Immediately bogus. Also if you see something that vaguely sounds like a law, like the Statute of Rome, think to yourself “Do I live in Rome?” If you do, I want you to get on your scooter and go drive around a bit. If you don’t, I want you to ignore the status update.
4. It says Facebook is about to start charging you.
I’m not saying that Facebook will always be free–that’s up to Facebook. They said they are always going to be free (see that post at the top) but they could change their mind. But even if they did change their mind, let’s think about it for a second–if Facebook were going to start charging its 1 billion plus users do you think you would find out about it the day before it happens? And do you think you would find out about it from a status update? An unsourced status update with no link that likely comes from one of your friends who, let’s face it, don’t post any technology news ever? Nope. If Facebook were going to start charging everyone you can be sure every news outlet would cover it and Facebook would be getting ahead of the message by alerting every user the moment you logged onto Facebook.
5. It tries to use anything but the Privacy settings to, you know, impact your Privacy settings.
Facebook has an incredibly robust Privacy settings page. It’s grown over the years, partially as a reaction to users asking for more Privacy settings. But while you can access many settings when you post something (like who can see it, what information it includes, whether it has a location, etc.) and you have many more global Privacy settings available via that funky lock icon in the top right corner of every Facebook page ever, one of the few places where you can’t change your privacy settings is by posting text in your status update. Because I know how important your status update is to you and your friends–but Facebook isn’t reading everything you post. Nor are they setting their computers to constantly monitor your status update to see if you’ve signaled some new relationship between yourself and Facebook. This is mostly because you’re being paranoid, but it’s also because…
6. You don’t get to modify your agreement with Facebook
Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh. You do have one way of modifying it–you can delete your account. Although even then the Facebook terms you accepted when you signed up have some applicability, namely as in what happens when you delete your account. But those terms you accepted when you signed up? Yeah, those were actually a contract and you don’t get to modify them without Facebook agreeing. Just like if you pay your rent by sending a check to your landlord and write a note on it saying “I hereby change my monthly rent to $5” that’s not going to work. The terms apply to you. The fact that you chose to accept them without reading the document? Guess who’s fault that is? Hint: not Facebook’s.
7. It says you must copy and paste, not share.
It seems silly that I’m even listing this one but it irks me. Besides the notion of having any status update with a legal impact, why would anyone think that copying and pasting is somehow more impactful than sharing? Have you ever signed a contract, ever? Of course you have–you’ve agreed to terms, you’ve signed up for cell phone plans, maybe you’ve bought a house or leased an apartment. Were you handed a paper to sign or told to check a box? Of course you were. You were never asked to write out a paragraph word for word so that it would apply to you. That’s just silly. Stop being silly.
Sigh. Yeah. See you next year.