Why do we keep falling for these Facebook hoaxes?

Another viral hoax has left Internet users flummoxed, but the swift reaction may mean social media is getting wise to pranksters. 

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.

Fool me once, shame on you, the saying goes. But fool Facebook users multiple times and, well, will we ever learn? The latest hoax has led many of the site's users to copy and paste a sort of 21st-century chain letter into their status, which may read something like this:

Now it's official! It has been published in the media. Facebook has just released the entry price: $5.99 to keep the subscription of your status to be set to 'private.' If you paste this message on your page, it will be offered free (paste not share) if not tomorrow, all your posts can become public. Even the messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed. After all, it does not cost anything for a simple copy and paste.

At the same time, another hoax is making the rounds, claiming that users may lose the rights to pictures and content shared via Facebook unless a legal notice is posted as a status. 

According to Snopes.com, about a dozen of these viral lies have cropped up since 2009.  

Caitlin Dewey, a culture critic for the Washington Post, lamented on Twitter Tuesday morning that her story, "Why that Facebook copyright hoax will never, ever die" is again relevant, ten months after it was published, which was when the last Facebook hoax pervaded news feeds the world around. In her story, from January, Ms. Dewey offered up the following theory for why we keep falling for it:

Legends like the recurring Facebook message promise to ward off things that we fear or don’t understand: vast corporations, complex copyright laws, the looming specter of big data and disappearing privacy. That a status update could protect against those things makes no sense, of course — but it vindicates and comforts whatever vague anxieties we feel.

Whatever the underlying fears that perpetuate this now routine prank, Facebook responded to this latest one with, of course, a status update: "While there may be water on Mars, don't believe everything you read on the internet today. Facebook is free and it always will be."

If you need a refresher, click here for Facebook's actual Terms of Service, which states in part, "You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings." Though, as Gizmodo's Kate Knibbs notes, by using Facebook, you give the company “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.” In other words, Facebook already has permission to distribute any content you post, and nothing you copy and paste can change that.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.