Facebook Status Messages are the New Chain Emails

“This status is being tracked. The owners of Facebook have confirmed they will send $1 to the rescue fund for Haiti every time this is cut and paste as a status.” Sound familiar? This recent status message hoax has been making its way around the popular social network, duping members into posting the status as their own in the hopes that, by doing so, they’ve somehow contributed to the Haitian earthquake disaster relief fund without having to actually open their own pocketbook to do so. While that would be nice if it was true, this hoax is just one of many found on Facebook today.

The hoodwinks, urban legends, fairy tales, humorous tall tales, and out-and-out scams that once arrived via our email inboxes have been slowly making their way to the world’s largest social network. And as before, people are being fooled into reposting because the message always comes from a trusted friend.

Just like the emails that once promised free money from Bill Gates for participation in a Microsoft email beta test, reposting a Facebook status isn’t going to produce money from thin air anymore than forwarding a chain email message would have done in years past. And yet, the same people who are now savvy enough to junk the email forwards and scams into their Deleted Items folder are blindly reposting status messages such as these as if they’re the gospel truth.

Folks, urban legends have evolved. Status messages are the new chain email.

Urban legends have filled our inboxes for years on end. Before the days of technology, these same stories were idly passed around via chats at the water cooler and over-the-fencepost gossip sessions with fellow neighbors. It’s said that the tales tap into a society’s dark underbelly by posing as cautionary tales about the dangerous world we live in (AIDS from a gas pump! A hook-handed murderer!), or they simply tap into our deepest hopes and dreams. (You can get rich quick! You just have to forward an email!). Legends like these may change over the years, but they will always be around in some form or another and they won’t be disappearing any time soon.

Watch Out, You’re Being Spied On!

Another recent message making the rounds warns of something called “Unnamed app,” a vicious little bot that supposedly slowlys down Facebook while also spying on your activities. While there is some truth to the fact that Facebook applications have an unworldly amount of access to your personal data, this particular app is not a rogue spybot secretly tracking your moves, it’s just your everyday, run-of-the-mill software bug. And Facebook fixed it. But that probably won’t stop thousands from “helpfully” passing this message onto their Facebook friends for days (if not weeks and months) to come.

Your Account Will be Deleted Unless…

These viral status messages, brand-new creations about Internet dangers and free money, aren’t the only hoaxes to find their way to the social space. Older urban legends have also been re-crafted to now fit the Facebook era. Take, for example, the warning passed around in the early 2000’s regarding the “overload” of people signing up for Hotmail accounts. According to this missive, Hotmail was over capacity and Microsoft needed to dump some people from the system. In order to prove you were still an active user, you were asked to forward the email to every Hotmail contact you had so that your account would not be deleted. Essentially a harmless prank, this warning transformed itself over the years, reappearing in various forms that threatened the accounts of Yahoo, then AOL, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo, and MySpace users alike. Today, that message is again being circulated as a Facebook status update. The new lingo? It’s not “please forward” anymore – it’s “Copy+Paste.” Because if you don’t, you know, your Facebook account will be deleted. Yikes!

In this case, the fear of losing Facebook access has led many users to repost the warning on their own walls, where it’s seen by friends who pick it up and pass it around too. But again, there’s no truth to this message either.

An Urban Legend or a Deeper Truth?

While the above hoax speaks greatly to our society’s increased reliance on technology, how strong those ties are and how fearful we are of being without them, others play on even deeper emotions. The Facebook story about the $1-at-a-time donations might not be true (side note: the company has set up a Disaster Relief page for those interested in legitimate ways to help), there’s a photo of a Haitian cross whose existence is harder to prove or disprove. Circulating via Facebook right now is this photo of a stone crucifix still left standing in the wake of the utter destruction that was the Haitian earthquake. That one’s real, right? Well, maybe so, maybe not. Ever since the creation of Photoshop, answering questions like these have gotten much harder. What matters though, is not the photo’s veracity (or lack thereof), but the fact that, to some, it seems to hold a deeper meaning about the nature of God – how he’s still there even in times like these. For Christians, it’s an image of hope in a world of suffering. And by reposting it time and again via Facebook, it’s spreading virally around the globe.

It’s precisely these emotions – our fears, our hopes, our desires – that urban legends tap into. And while some are more harmless than others, it can be difficult to know the difference between the truth and a false claim, as this above example clearly shows.

Think Before You Post

So what can you do? Although we’re no longer deluged by the well-meaning warnings and fables that arrive via our email inboxes, we’re still being subjected to their far-out claims. It’s just that the medium is different. Once again, it’s time to be vigilant. Just because you saw it on Facebook, that doesn’t make it true. Just because the message comes via a trusted friend or family member, that doesn’t make it worthy of reposting. Take a minute to think about it, use common sense, run a quick Google search if unsure, and then decide if that story is one to pass on.

Now forward this information to all your family and friends using the “share” button below!

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