Q: I trust you guys, so I have to ask: Is it true that your private Facebook inbox messages are now visible for all to see, from 2010 and earlier? I keep seeing people posting this on Facebook. - Robyn
A: This recent privacy pandemonium is likely the shock waves generated from users in other countries that are just now being forced to use Facebook’s Timeline.
According to TechCrunch, the first cases of people being worried about the potential exposure of old private messages came from France, which was the most recent country where Timeline was pushed to all users.
Facebook has reviewed every claim made that private messages were appearing on Timelines and found them all to be previous posts. The confusion seems to be from the fact that before 2009 there were no “likes” or comments on wall posts, which meant we used posts to reply to previous posts. Taken out of context, these posts could easily be mistaken for private messages today.
Facebook went on to say that there are technical barriers that prevent private messages from appearing as wall posts. The two systems are totally separate from a programming standpoint, so this actually is technically not possible.
Old-timers may remember back then you couldn’t comment directly on a wall post (they weren’t the same as status updates). You had to use the Wall-to-Wall feature to piece together a conversation that took place over multiple individual posts on each other’s Walls.
If you see anything that you feel isn’t something you want to be public, you can always float your mouse over the top right corner of the post to hide or remove it, which is the only accurate information contained in the warnings.
If nothing else, this should show everyone on Facebook how globally connected we all are and how one person starting a rumor in another country can easily cause hysteria on the other side of the world in a matter of hours.
A quick math exercise should help everyone understand that they should be more diligent about blindly spreading ‘warnings’ that they haven’t checked out for themselves.
If we assume that the claim that an average Facebook user has 245 friends, there are only three degrees of separation between you and 14,706,125 other users.
Active Facebook users have 2 to 3 times the average number of friends and are most responsible for spreading misinformation because their networks are bigger.
In their excitement to be the ‘source’ of some new information to all their friends, few bother verifying the information first.
It’s actually very easy to verify or debunk any ‘warning’ on Facebook before you decide to share it. Simply copy and paste the entire warning into Google and you will likely find many references to the information so you can validate or discredit it.
If you can’t validate it, don’t spread it. If you can debunk it, share the real information with your friend along with the tip that Google can help them verify warnings in the future.
A big red flag for any warning posted by any of your well-meaning friends is when there is no link to a credible source that fully explains the information.
Another sign that the information might not be authentic is when the post ends with ‘copy and paste this to your wall to share it with your friends’. It’s the same level of suspicion you should have when an e-mail ‘warning’ tells you to ‘forward this to all your friends’.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Email him at email@example.com.