The Facebook privacy hoax illuminates the viral bullshit machine

privacyA message purporting to preserve your privacy rights on Facebook is making the rounds. It’s a hoax. But it’s a great example of how the current state of the Internet is perfectly suited to spread bullshit.

As briefly as possible: the idea behind the hoax is that Facebook is going to charge you for privacy settings, and you can prevent it by posting the appropriate message on Facebook. Of all the takedowns of this very silly idea, I like Gizmodo’s. The text of the post cites the Rome Statute, which applies to the International Criminal Court. It’s all nonsense, and Facebook has denied it.

But why does crap like this spread?

Here’s why:

  • We resent Facebook’s control. You agreed to Facebook’s control when you signed on. They can change their privacy policies any time they want, and they can do anything they want with your data. We’re all powerless; we chose to interact on a platform managed by an independent company with its own priorities. This lack of control makes people paranoid, and susceptible to nostrums that they imagine will free them from Facebook’s grasp.
  • Posting is easy. Thinking is hard. This, in a nutshell, is why the Internet is filled with bullshit. Posting a notice seems like the least you can do, since it is, literally, the least you can do. Checking Snopes or actually reading the gobbledegook you’re about to post takes a second, and we don’t have a second. No one stops to think how all those posts gum up the rest of our feeds (or that a post on Facebook has no legal power to do anything).
  • The controversy, perversely, spreads the stupidity. Facebook responds to engagement. Posting “this is a hoax, you idiot” as a comment on somebody else’s post actually makes that post rise in our newsfeeds. The smug takedowns (“If you post this kind of thing, I will unfriend you”) create further controversy and spread the meme further.

In fact, controversial and often false statements in the political world get spread the exact same way. Facebook requires no fact-checking; anybody can post anything. And it’s perfectly designed for you to further spread the stupidity with a single click.

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”jbernoff”]Facebook is a machine perfectly designed to spread bullshit.[/tweetthis]

No amount of sanctimonious hand-wringing or ridicule can change the nature of this bullshit machine, because Facebook and all of social media feeds only on virality, not truth.

You can’t stop it. But if you want to put in a little effort, you can rise above it. Resist the reflex to “like” or denigrate what you read. Ask yourself what the higher, more interesting truth is. Ask why things are spreading. Ask what insight you have that no one else has seen. Write that. You’ll stand out, believe me.

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One Comment

  1. So important not to “like” OR DENIGRATE. We can’t engage at all with the BS, not even to correct or reprimand or mock it–especially in an election season. Takes a lot of self-control.