USA TODAY columnist Steven Petrow offers advice about living in the Digital Age.

True or false: Posting a legal notice on your Facebook wall will protect your copyright and privacy rights. False: It’s a hoax. I’m sure you know the notice I mean since it has overrun newsfeeds for the past two weeks, as these things seem to do at least once a year. Even some of my most savvy friends have fallen prey to this one, posting it in the spirit of an “abundance of caution,” as several put it.

So, what’s the deal? First of all, allow me to repeat the answer to my question above — out of an abundance of caution. The answer is False. And that’s for several reasons, foremost among them that back when you agreed to Facebook’s Terms of Service (i.e. when you joined), the social media giant put it in stone that we own and control all content that we post — including photos.

“We have noticed some statements that suggest otherwise and 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,” Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in a statement to address all the confusion.

Now, it’s true that the terms of service do “grant Facebook permission to use, distribute, and share the things you post, subject to the terms and applicable privacy settings.” But that’s another matter altogether, folks.

Being allowed to distribute something is not the same as owning it. Think about these analogies: sells you something that somebody else made (which means the online store is a distributor). Or, if you’re a little older, think newspaper delivery boy. Remember them?

In this latest flood of privacy postings, there have been a lot of spoofs, but I think none as funny as “Facebook Law for Idiots,” a video from College Humor, which was created in 2012 when the privacy policy posts also went viral:

“Here’s what you’re actually posting,” say the actors in the video:

— “I don’t know how laws work”

— “I think legal terms are ‘magic words’ that can force people to do what I want”

— “I believe a wall post is a binding legal contract that can override a terms of service agreement”

— “I make knee-jerk decisions based on fear — like an animal”

— “Posting something on your Facebook wall doesn’t make it true”


If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, you wouldn’t follow them, would you? Instead, think for yourself. Read what you’re posting — and pay attention. For instance this latest privacy policy hoax makes note of the Berne Convention (a 126-year-old Swiss agreement that has nothing to do with the Internet) and the Rome Convention (which governs the international prosecution of war criminals for genocide).

And when in doubt about the veracity of something on the Internet, check out, a non-partisan and independent entity, which is ground zero for dispelling rumors in the Digital Age.

Are you surprised that the Facebook privacy policy is a hoax?

Submit your question to Steven at You can also follow Steven on Twitter: @StevenPetrow. Or like him on Facebook at

Read or Share this story: