The recurring Facebook privacy hoax

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Since the start of the year there's been a resurgence of posting of copyright/privacy notices on Facebook. They're based on a two-year-old hoax. Why do they keep coming back, asks Gareth Rubin.

"In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc (as a result of the Berner Convention)."

Have you seen this status - or a variant - posted to your friends' Facebook profile recently? If so they have fallen for a hoax that has been doing the rounds since 2012 and will not die, no matter how many times it is debunked.

The message suggests that Facebook is planning to grab and sell users' photos and videos. In response, thousands of the social media giant's members have reposted the above status, or a variation. But it is nonsense. Facebook does not own copyright to user's content, it only has to right to distribute it - which is the whole point of the site.

And there is no such thing as the Berner Convention - there is a Berne Convention and it protects copyright. Some of the posts instead mention the Rome Convention.

Facebook's spokesman, Andrew Noyes, has said that under the initial terms and conditions, the company has the right to share and distribute your content. But if you want, you can alter this in your privacy settings. "We wanted to take a moment to remind you of the facts - when you post things like photos to Facebook, we do not own them."

"You should take no notice of these posts, they do absolutely nothing," says Marie Brewis, managing editor of PC Advisor. "It doesn't matter what you put on your profile, you have already signed up to Facebook's terms and if Facebook was going to change its terms and conditions it would tell people."

But people do keep taking notice. "It's one of the things about social media - people see all their friends talking about something and think it must be true," says Brewis. "And everyone wants to be the one who is in the know and to share something before anyone else.

"People think Facebook and Google are sucking up all their personal details so even people who don't have anything to hide get quite worried. And these terms and conditions can be quite hard to get your head around. Most people don't read the terms in the first place when they sign up so there could be anything in there, we just tick a box that says 'OK'."

You cannot retroactively cancel the permission you have granted Facebook when you first signed up. The only way to prevent the company sharing and distributing your content is to entirely deactivate your account.

Dr Maria Michalis of the University of Westminster Centre for Social Media Research says: "It is one of the things about social media - if you see a friend has posted something you tend to believe it. So stories go viral and they cannot be stopped. That's why we will keep seeing this hoax for years."

In response to the privacy postings, many people on Twitter and Facebook itself have commented that the best thing about this notice is that it tells them which of their friends are gullible enough to fall for a hoax that is years old.

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