Fake Facebook Privacy Messages and other legends and rumors

In the late 90s, a new but virulent type of email chain was common.  This was the  Foiled Abduction” claim that swept through email inboxes.  The message was something like this: “Be careful at <some retailer>.  A man has taken a child, changed the child’s appearance in the bathroom and attempted to leave with the child.”

facebook-logoThe popular term for this type of false assertion is urban legend, which is but one form of Internet rumor. This started a host of similar and usually very unsettling claims and rumors.  Another famous one was the guy who woke up after a drinking binge in a tub of ice finding out he’s missing a kidney or other vital organ.

There are some common attributes of urban legend and other rumors:

  • They seem plausible — When you read one, it really sounds true.  Usually, there is some verification sentence like: “There was a news story on Timbuktu’s Channel 4 news that says …” or “The brother of my good friend had this happen to him.”
  • They target a real fear — Every parent is concerned about their kids in a big-box store.
  • The details are ambiguous — Once you grab someone’s attention, let them fill in the blanks
  • There might be a thread of truth in the message — The best lies are ones that have some element that is true. Back to the child abduction: It’s very conceivable that someone attempted to abduct a child at a big box store at some point in time. Certainly, there have been other abductions of children in public spaces.  Just not the one described.
  • They almost always encourage passing the message on — Since the message can’t go viral without it being passed on in some fashion, there is usually an urgent plea (or threat) to encourage you to forward the message.

Many of these messages are relatively harmless, except that they increase fear and paranoia. Some are designed to malign a person, corporation or other entity.  Occasionally, they are used to distribute malware. They stoke the fires of the conspiracy theorists among us. Personally, I think it takes a special type of warped to create these messages and launch them.

So, it’s with this background, I was intrigued by one of the latest of this type of message.  Since it’s 2015, it is making the rounds on Facebook and is targeting folks genuine fear of losing control of one’s personal privacy and the rights to artifacts like photos.

I have seen several folks post the following on their Facebook newsfeed:

Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I state: at this date of January 4, 2015, in response to the new guidelines of Facebook, pursuant to articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts etc. published on my profile and my page. For commercial use of the foregoing my written consent is required at all times.

Those who read this text can do a copy/paste on their Facebook wall. This will allow them to place themselves under the protection of copyright. By this statement, I tell Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, broadcast, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and or its content. The actions mentioned above also apply to employees, students, agents and or other personnel under the direction of Facebook.

The content of my profile contains private information. The violation of my privacy is punishable by law (UCC 1-308 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).
Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are invited to publish a notice of this kind, or if they prefer, you can copy and paste this version.
If you have not published this statement at least once, you tacitly allow the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in the profile update.

It meets the criteria of a good urban legend:

  • It’s plausible. Who knows what Facebook’s privacy policies are?  They seem to change all the time.
  • Also, there is some official language that makes it sound grounded in law: “The violation of my privacy is punishable by law (UCC 1-308 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).”  Really? The reference to UCC 1-308 is rubbish.  The US Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) 1-308 provision has to do with providing protection from ambiguous contract terms, but doesn’t provide any protection against binding license terms. When you sign up to a service such as Facebook, you can’t amend the provisions by slinging UCC 1-308.  Also The Rome Statute is even more spectacular rubbish. It’s a statute in the International Criminal Court that define four core international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
  • There is certainly a thread of truth: By signing up to Facebook, you are giving Facebook liberal license to use your content, though you do retain ownership to it.  The way to revoke this license is to remove the content, unless someone has shared it, which will leave it available to Facebook.
  • Pass it on: In the Facebook case, there is pressure to publish the message to be “protected” and to help protect others.  Plus the message encourages others to just copy the text into their newsfeed.

See the following Snopes Facebook Privacy Notice article for a more complete analysis of this particular message.

One more note about legal matters: Many people believe themselves to be experts on what is legal. In the high tech field, we have to sign non-compete and non-disclosure contracts as a condition of employment. I can’t tell you how many folks believed these are not enforceable, hence they aren’t fully constrained by the provisions. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true!

Speaking of Snopes, this is the website that I usually look at when I see something on social media or via email that looks suspect.  You can also use TruthOrFiction.  It’s worth a perusal of their site to see the sheer volume of rumors, legends, and other viral messages out there.  Also, they will report if a rumor is partially or really true. Even if the rumor is true, there is usually significant context that’s important.  In the Snopes article Affordable Care Jacked, they report on a rumor that ties increases in federal income tax rates that were “caused” by the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare).  The bottom line is that rates did indeed go up, but a couple years ago without any connection to the ACA.

If the rumor isn’t on Snopes, a simple Google or Bing search will usually ferret out the information.  For example, search on “chemtrails” and you’ll see several references to the rumor that the US is sending chemicals down on its population for a variety of nefarious reasons.  See the wikipedia article on chemtrails for some more detail.

The reason for this particular post is simple: Whenever you see something that confirms a fear, strikes you as true or asks you to pass it on because it will make you successful or without passing it on will cause some form of calamity, take 10 minutes and do the research. Once you have the facts, then you should post whatever makes sense to you to post.

Just don’t be a pawn in the game.

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