Facebook Freakout

Facebook is a world of freakouts, and this is coming from a person who knows freakouts intimately. A few nights ago, for instance, I got no sleep, terrified that the clunk sound outside and the motion detector light in the backyard meant a guy from a TV crime drama was outside with a knife, ready to slay my husband and then rape and murder me in my bed. It turned out to be raccoons getting into our garbage.

So I admit to being susceptible and anxious, but what is the deal with the Facebook statuses in ALL CAPS, screaming REPOST THIS!!!

Now, I love Facebook and I’m not about to give it up. I love glimpses into friends’ lives: what they’re cooking, reading, paddling, skiing, and thinking about; antics of their babies, dogs, cats, and backyard fauna; the weather in their parts of the country/world; links to news articles, editorials and blogs I might not have otherwise read and Youtube videos I wouldn’t have found.

But even my smart, even-keeled friends have fallen prey to the latest:

OMG this is for real everyone!!!! Warning to ALL …ALL THE PHONE NUMBERS IN YOUR PHONE are now on Facebook! No joke – go to the top right of the screen, click on Account, then click on Edit Friends, go left on the screen and click on Contacts. All phone numbers are published!! Please re-post this on your Status, so your friends can remove their numbers and thus prevent abuse if they do not want them published.

 It is true that Facebook has caused users—sometimes willingly and sometimes unknowingly—to publish all kinds of personal information. We may broadcast when we are away from our houses and where we are right now, as well as where we live or plenty of information to easily lead others to our “unlisted” phone numbers and addresses. We’d never post our social security numbers online, but we plug in our birthdays, casually mention our mothers’ maiden names, the street we used to live on, and the names of our first pets. We publish photos of ourselves and our loved ones. We share our political and other deeply held views. For most of us, this information is shared just with our “friends,” of course. But how well do we know these people we haven’t spoken to since high school, these interesting people we’ve met at retreats or on the river? And what about those other Facebook apps that request to use personal information?

It’s pretty damn scary, if you think about it. It’s probably easier than ever, and not just because of Facebook, for identity thieves, regular thieves, stalkers, con artists and the like to prey on us. That seems to be the way of this information age. People used to have to pick through your garbage or follow you home. Now they can do a simple Google search.

That does freak me out. But Facebook friends: don’t freak out about every rumor. Facebook hasn’t actually published any new info from you or your friends: the list of your friends’ phone numbers is only visible to you. And only phone numbers published by friends on their profiles or that you synced with your address book will show up on this page…seen only by you. (See this MSNBC.com article and this New York Times blog, for more.)

Friends, I know you mean well. You want to protect your friends’ and your own personal data. Still, before you repost that warning in all caps, about a “new” Facebook danger, a new online scam, or any kind of threat to national or personal security, please do a little fact-checking.

And while I’m griping, maybe a word or two on the whole “repost” phenomenon. Repost this to warn your friends. Repost this if you like mothers, children, or dogs. Repost this to stop violence towards mothers, children or dogs. Repost this so all your friends feel obligated to play this month-long game. Repost this or you’ll have bad luck. Repost this or you are a bad person.

If one more friend tells me to repost something, I may FREAK OUT.

End of rant. Thanks for reading!

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