A recent Facebook hoax has many users worried about the privacy of their Facebook accounts. While it’s often annoying that people believe everything they read on the Internet, the hoax did spark conversations about how private our social media accounts actually are.
Different versions of the hoax spread across Facebook, but the main idea was that the site would charge users a monthly fee—around $6—to keep their accounts private. The message urged that the only way users could prevent paying the fee is by copying and pasting the message as a status update. Any users who did not copy and paste the message would have their private posts and photos made public.
Some users recognized that the message was obviously fake and that those who shared it were gullible. Those who believed and shared the message, however, are not completely foolish. It is reasonable to assume—with the existence of National Security Agency surveillance and threats to net neutrality—that one day, privacy would be a pricey privilege on the Internet.
Privacy and ownership related to personal photos spurred concern about Instagram after Facebook bought the photo-sharing app in September 2012. While Instagram doesn’t claim ownership of users’ photos, it does have the right to share user information—such as location—with third-party organizations or business affiliates.
These types of internal, unseen privacy settings are typical for most websites and social media platforms. But it seems we only become concerned with this privacy when information about it goes viral in boy-who-cried-wolf hoaxes.
Although it is irritating when our Facebook friends share fake information and Photo-shopped pictures without thinking twice about the validity of the source, viral privacy hoaxes hold some amount of merit.
When a corporation has access to years worth of personal information we share—often frivolously—on our status updates, messages and photos, it’s no wonder people are willing to spread a hoax—just in case.