The Kneejerk Click-and-Share

Or, “Facebook is going to steal your photos before you’ve even taken them!”

Those of you on Facebook are quite likely familiar with variations on the following post:

For those of you who do not understand the reasoning behind this posting, Facebook is now a publicly traded entity. Unless you state otherwise, anyone can infringe on your right to privacy once you post to this site. It is recommended that you and other members post a similar notice as this, or you may copy and paste this version. If you do not post such a statement once, then you are indirectly allowing public use of items such as your photos and the information contained in your status updates.

PRIVACY NOTICE: Warning – any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/or the comments made about my photos or any other “picture” art posted on my profile.

You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee, agent, student or any personnel under your direction or control.

The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law. UCC 1-103 1-308 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE

When I see stuff like this, the first thing I do is stop and think about it for a minute. Does it seem even remotely plausible? (In the case of the above example, no. Becoming a publicly traded company has nothing to do with privacy rights.) Then I usually take a few minutes to look into it. I use my Google-Fu. I check reliable and highly useful places like Snopes.com where, more often than not, I’ll find that the post is a mutation of an outdated or equally erroneous post. And based on what I find, I do one of three things:

1) Share the post,
2) Ignore the post, or
3) Tell people to stop sharing the post because it’s just not true (giving them links to relevant sources, of course)

For the record, it’s usually #3.

Sadly, there are an awful lot of people who will pass the post along without a moment’s thought. Hence the reason it’s usually #3.

And when it is #3, sometimes people will thank me for the correction, delete and/or correct the erroneous info, and mention how they need to remember to check these things before clicking “share” in the future. Unfortunately, other people will just leave the post there and not respond to comments pointing out its bogus nature, or they’ll delete it and act is if it was never there, because who likes to admit they were wrong about something? No one. It’s not a pleasant feeling. But what really makes me want to bang my head against hard objects is when I get responses like this:

“A lot of people told me it’s not true, but I figure what can it hurt? LOL”

What can it hurt? Well, my least tactful response is that it makes you look kind of stupid. My more tactful response is that, because other people with kneejerk click-and-share tendencies are going to share the post after seeing it on your page, you’re needlessly perpetuating misconceptions and disseminating information that just ain’t true. Too many legitimate issues are obscured by the tinfoil hat flavored variety. But my main concern about this “share now, think later (if ever)” culture is that it’s part of a larger problem that unfortunately isn’t limited to the internet: a lack of critical thought.

In the ancient days of email forwards, I would sometimes do exactly the sort of thing I’ve ranted about here. “A friend sent me this email saying you’ll get cancer if you hold in a sneeze after ingesting Pop Rocks and Coke, so it must be true! Forward to everyone!” Two things helped me change that habit. The first was a friend who revealed that an email I had forwarded was bogus. He introduced me to the glory that is Snopes.com, for which I am eternally grateful. Because I hate feeling like a dumbass. The second was a class I took as an undergraduate called Science vs. Pseudoscience. That class helped to remind me that a) I have a brain, and b) I should engage it in critical thought more often.

To make a long blog post short (too late!), I’m toying with the idea of writing a series of blog posts (probably posted fairly irregularly given my schedule) titled something like “Why Skepticism is Not a Four-Letter Word.” Given that I normally blog about writing-related matters, I’m not sure if that would be of any interest to the folks who actually read my ramblings. But it would give me an outlet for some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head, and I guess that’s reason enough.

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