Dear Lawyer Mark: I have a question about information that I put on the internet.
I am 68 years old, and my granddaughter got me signed up on a Facebook account.
I love it, because I can keep track of all my relatives and friends. And I found a lot of good recipes.
A few of my friends put out something that said I had to post it because Facebook is a public company and all my information would be owned by the public if I didn’t post the same thing.
I don’t understand how somebody else can own the pictures I put up and what is a public company? — Greasy Ridge Grandma
Dear Grandma: The post that you saw is a hoax that has been going around since 2012, when Facebook went from a privately-owned company to a publicly traded company.
When a company “goes public,” it means that the owners of the private company (usually the founders and initial investors) are offering the company stock for sale to institutional investors and the public to trade on a stock exchange.
While there is a lot of information that becomes public, and some control by the original owners is given up, it does not mean everything that company distributes or owns becomes publicly owned.
Think of it this way, in 1928, two brothers formed a little company they co-owned to produce cartoons. Twelve years later, they went public after renaming it Walt Disney Productions. You can certainly buy Disney stock today, but they don’t get to make all your information public just because you go to the Magic Kingdom.
When you were signed up for the Facebook account, you had to agree to Facebook’s “Terms of Service” and “Privacy Terms.” You cannot alter these by posting anything or tell Facebook not to do something.
Your choices on how Facebook uses your info are simple: 1) They can do anything they want that is listed in their terms of service and privacy agreement, or 2) You can individually negotiate a separate agreement with Facebook (good luck), or 3) You can delete your Facebook account and not use it.
There is something you can do to help stop the spread of hoaxes and fake news, before you repost something you saw on a friend’s wall, go to www.snopes.com to see if it has been reported as fake.
Don’t just trust your friend’s post that says “Trust me, I verified it with Snopes,” because most people just copy and paste their friend’s post, who had copied and pasted it from someone else.
In fact, Science Advances published a joint study by Princeton and NYU that found during the 2016 presidential election, the biggest predictor for whether someone would share fake news was not education level, political persuasion, or ideology; it was age. People 65 and older shared seven times more fakes news articles on Facebook than those 29 and younger, after accounting for the other factors.
In short, don’t trust every post simply because a friend posted it.
While we may certainly trust what our friends tell us when we talk to them, often times those filters we use in everyday life seem to get turned off when it comes to social media.
Thought for the Week: “My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.” Mitch Hedberg.
It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at [email protected] The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.