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7 Signs Of A Bogus Facebook Privacy Change Post (and why your status update has no impact on Facebook)

facebook_privacy_comic_brian_farringtonEvery September it emerges like a cloud of locusts but far more annoying.  The posts.

Facebook has changed its privacy policy and is going to start charging you tomorrow unless you post the following UCC provisions and use some really strong words to say you DO NOT ALLOW THIS!  It might help if you stomp your foot too.  And you have to copy and paste this, for no good reason other than its funny as hell that people believe this nonsense.

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.

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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.

 

There.  Seven ways to detect a hoax post about Facebook’s privacy policy or a lot of other topics.  We don’t need to do this again, do we?

Sigh.  Yeah.  See you next year.

 

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

The Great Facebook Legalization

I know what you’re thinking. “Did I click 5 Likes or 6 to win those headphones?” We have all your data. So you gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

We’ve all done it. Browsing your Facebook feed a picture pops up. Maybe it’s from a page you like. Maybe a friend shared it with you. Maybe it was a promoted post. But you saw it and you did it.

You clicked Like so you could win something.

The prize didn’t matter. Bejeweled Blitz coins. A coupon for free sushi. Sunglasses. Cruise discounts. Books. Art. You probably didn’t win but you figured it was easy enough to enter.

What you didn’t realize was that you were helping commit a crime.

Okay, not a full on crime. Rather, you were assisting in the violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions. Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. The brand that ran the contest did though.

For many years Facebook required promotions (contest and sweepstakes) to be run through Facebook applications. You were not allowed to use Facebook functionality to enter. That means “Like to enter” or “Share to enter” or “Post a photo to enter” or “Comment to enter” were all violations of Facebook’s terms. If Facebook found out about them, they shut it down–but these contests/sweepstakes were too easy to set up and Facebook doesn’t have a dedicated police force to seek out bad promos.

And we’ve all entered them. Many may have been small companies running a contest. Sometimes they were scam pages looking to pull data from fans (when you Like a page that page can pull a lot of data from your profile). Every so often you would see a major brand run a contest that violated the terms as well. Pepsi did that a few times and they got pulled down. Scams typically got pulled eventually or if they received enough traffic. Small companies mostly got away with it.

I used to guess why Facebook had this restriction. Maybe because apps had better privacy controls than page Likes. Maybe it was some legacy tech issue. Doesn’t matter now that Facebook has changed the terms to allow these promotions to take place.

There is still one remaining restriction brands should know about. Facebook is concerned about promotions that lead to inaccurate photo tagging. For example, promotions that use a photo of a product and encourage users to tag themselves or others in the photo (even though those users are not in the photo) are not allowed.

Which means those sweepstakes will still go on and they’ll still be unauthorized. Perhaps Facebook will try and crack down on these more than the past, knowing that they have permitted more activities so they will try and crack down on the one category they are trying to restrict. Or perhaps enforcement will be unchanged and you’ll see plenty of these promotions populate your Facebook feed.

But now, before you enter, you’ll know that the sweepstakes is unauthorized. Whether that makes it more or less appealing to you is up to you. Facebook doesn’t judge.

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Filed under Facebook, Social Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Platforms, Terms and Conditions

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