Rumor control

I received an urgent Facebook message from my cousin this week. She had received a friend request from me which she knew was spurious, since we are already Facebook friends. She proceeded to instruct me how to warn all my Facebook contacts not to accept a new friend request from me, since someone is obviously using my name and picture for no good purpose.

I thanked my cousin for her warning and told her not to worry—most Facebook users are savvy enough not to refriend someone who is already a Facebook friend. When she repeated her warning, I sent her a link to a Snopes page about Facebook pirates, and she then told me that she felt better and less worried.

When I was in high school and college we did not yet have Snopes. We had to rely on something which we called common sense. Mimeographed sheets were passed around schools, churches, workplaces, and the neighborhood with warnings about sinister plots in the world. The Procter & Gamble company, maker of soaps and toothpastes and many other household items, was actually a satanic organization, which could be proved by studying their corporate logo. Rock musicians were hiding nefarious messages in their popular songs by recording the messages backwards. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had persuaded members of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all Christian broadcasting from American radio and television. None of these messages was true, but without Snopes to discredit them, these messages continued to be shared and believed.

Somehow in the twenty-first century Facebook has become the target of these kinds of rumors. Facebook is going to start charging users for its services. Facebook has claimed ownership and intellectual control of anything its users have ever posted, even if they have deleted those posts. Facebook pirates are using the identities of Facebook users to hack into other users’ accounts and cause terrible harm and destruction.

Snopes has addressed all of these rumors and found them to be incorrect. (Of course if you Google the phrase “Snopes tool Illuminati,” you will receive nearly 42,000 hits in less than half a second.) Facebook users shouldn’t have to check with Snopes before accessing their accounts. Some old-fashioned common sense should dispel any rumors about Facebook, as I will now try to demonstrate:

  • Facebook makes a lot of money providing its free services to its users. If it was not profitable, Facebook would not continue to exist. But it’s not your money that Facebook is earning, so why should you even care?
  • Facebook does not claim ownership of the material its users post. On the other hand, everything posted on Facebook is available all over the Internet to every kind of user. Stalkers and other creepy people can see what you post on Facebook. So can people who have a more legitimate reason to care what you post. Never post anything on Facebook that you would not want seen by your parents, your children, your neighbors, your current employer, or any possible future employer. Use Instagram for those embarrassing posts.
  • Some of the people you encounter on Facebook will have beliefs and opinions that differ from yours. These people include relatives, old high school friends, and even members of your church. They will post statements that you believe to be wrong. They will disagree with things that you post. They will sometimes be rude about these differences. Life happens.
  • If you do not read the things you post before you send them to Facebook, you will sometimes be guilty of silly and embarrassing typos, misspelled words, and improper grammar. A quick run through what you have written will help you catch those mistakes, and this can affect the opinion other people have of you. Save your typos and other mistakes for Twitter.
  • Facebook is not the world. It does not deserve more of your attention than your job, your household, or your relationship with the Lord. It is possible to turn off Facebook and step away from the computer. It is possible to go an entire day without looking at Facebook. Some people live normal and happy lives without even having a Facebook account.

I hope this information has been helpful. J.

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Seven surprising ways people gather your personal information (Number three will shock you!)

  • Phone calls and emails that claim to be from credit card companies or other financial institutions such as PayPal. These companies do not need to verify your information. On occasion a credit card company will call to verify that you made a purchase which seems suspicious to them, but they will not need you to tell them your credit card number or your password. Never share that information over the telephone or online unless you know exactly who is receiving the information (because you contacted them yourself). My favorite phone calls are those from “your credit card company” that never even identify the company.
  • Companies that offer to tell you your credit rating for free. They cannot look up your credit rating without your permission. Once you give them permission, they can look it up for you; then they keep that information for their own purposes or sell it to other companies that want to know more about you.
  • Companies that offer to tell you how much personal information about you can be gathered online. “Do you ever Google yourself? Try this instead!” Once again, you are giving someone permission to gather information about you which they can use for their own purposes or sell to others. The information they gather about you will be linked to your computer so companies can target you with personalized ads.
  • Strangers who want to be your friends on social media. If you don’t know them, don’t accept their offer… unless you don’t mind a complete stranger knowing what school you attended, the name of your favorite pet, and other facts about yourself that often are used as security questions. By the way, when you create security answers, lie. Write down your lie so you don’t forget what you typed. Almost anyone can discover your mother’s maiden name, but if you lie, they won’t know what you said.
  • Search engines in general gather information about you. You can tell them not to retain such information, but you have to do so clearly and repeatedly. I was once curious to know if the Volkswagen Company had ever produced a purple VW beetle. The answer is yes. I received pop-up ads from Volkswagen for more than a year afterward.
  • Stores that offer you a few cents off some items if you use their store card. They keep track of everything that you buy. Of course that’s not a bad thing: they will keep products in stock when they know people want to buy them. But their computer has a lot of personal information about your everyday life.
  • Businesses that ask for your telephone number at the cash register. They are, once again, keeping track of your purchases for their own reasons. This is not always a bad thing. The mechanic who changes my oil and repairs my cars is able to tell me when I’m due for a new fuel filter or some other necessary service. But, once again, a computerized system is keeping track of your personal life for business purposes.
  • The items you discard. Consider how much your neighbors would know about you if they could dig through your trash and recycling at the curb every week. Archaeologists learn more about prehistoric civilizations from their garbage than from almost any other source. Broken tools, animal bones, and traces of worn-out clothing all reveal significant historical and personal details of cultures that would otherwise be forgotten. J.