I Fell for the Facebook Privacy Notice Hoax

That thing about Snopes seemed so legit.

I need to come clean: Yesterday I posted that goofy little copyright thing on my Facebook. And I’m so, so sorry.

Like most people, when I first saw it, I thought it looked like bullshit—these things always look like complete bullshit—so I ignored it. I even laughed a little at other people who were posting it. “Hah, another thought virus clogging up the series of tubes,” I thought smugly to myself. I looked away from Facebook to do some work.

And then … ugh. I can barely say it.

Bleary-eyed from not enough sleep and even less caffeine … I freaking posted it. TO MY OWN FACEBOOK PAGE!

I got hoaxed by a hoax: A friend of mine wrote on his wall some ridiculousness I should have pegged immediately as a farce, something about Facebook owning Snopes and how of course they’d want you to think it was a hoax (well played, Mr. Sharp).

And from there, my thought process was something like, “Eh, it’s probably bullshit, but it couldn’t hurt, right? And then I can stop fucking thinking about it.”

So I copied it. And I pasted it. Without really reading it. And REGRETTED it.

First, there were the nice people who pointed out with a level of politeness that I clearly didn’t deserve that there was no need for me to post it. In other words (not theirs): I was an idiot.

But worse, the thing started showing up in other friends’ feeds. Had my tacit approval of this garbage emboldened others?

There have already been several excellent debunkings of the post, so I won’t revisit all of that except to say that by using Facebook you give the company non-exclusive rights to use the content you post there, not so much for marketing purposes (though they can do that) but so that Facebook itself can exist as a commercial enterprise, and that right goes away when you delete that content. As this is not the first time a variation on this meme has surfaced, Facebook has posted an explicit fact-check about it in its newsroom.

Yes, this is all silly, and sure, it’ll probably come up again the next time Facebook updates its privacy language (though they might take a lesson from this and not update it over a holiday weekend, which always tweaks the twitchy, tinfoil hat crowd).

But it got me thinking: What do the people who perpetuate these things think Facebook is, y’know, going to do with all that stellar intellectual property? Hell, what did I think Facebook was going to do with my random tirades about Melky F. Cabrera deep-sixing my fantasy baseball team or my Instagram cat pictures? Sell them? Prevent me from selling them? (Which reminds me, anyone interested in purchasing Brian Howard’s Collected Thoughts on Melky Cabrera and Cloying Photos of Nearly Identical Grey Tabbies contact me straight away.)

As a guy who writes creates content for a living, I have the same fleeting thought whenever I compose anything on Google Drive, or when I used to blogspot: Do I own this? And of course I do (at least until it’s published by someone with whom I have a contract like, say, The Philly Post, which is certainly planning to make big bucks selling anthologies of my futurist manifestos).

But what did I think Facebook—a site that exists to let people share information—was really going to do with that information? Likely nothing more sinister than market to me, which anyone who comes within 10 feet of the Internet is required to be comfortable with.

As for the privacy thing, I’m a big-tent kind of Facebook user, and share stuff with that in mind. But for those who think you can control the privacy of your Facebook—you’re right, actually, but it doesn’t involve what you post on your page, per se. For the answer to that riddle, I direct you to the wisdom of a guy named The Scumfrog: “If it is private, don’t put it on Facebook.”

It’ll save you more than a little bit of embarrassment the next time a meme purporting to protect your Internet privacy finds its way into your feed.