I often wonder why people still choose to believe in, and spread around chain letters in this day and age when the Internet allows for easy and fast fact-checking. I’ve seen this one pop up from four different Facebook friends of mine, regarding a supposed plan to start charging users to continue to use the service after all of the changes made to the profiles and news feeds over the last few months.
This is the sample that I’ve seen floating around, except written in ALL CAPS for emphasis. Now let’s look at this letter’s claims one-by-one, shall we?
“It is official it was even on the news. Facebook will start charging due to the new profile changes.”
Sounds scary at first, doesn’t it? If Facebook, one of the largest non-pornographic sites on the Internet, was going to ask its users for a monetary fee to continue using Facebook (something that no other social networking website has ever done, including MySpace or Friendster in their primes), then surely this would be top-story material for all of the major news networks, including the big three cable news channels? Except nope…not a peep of this “breaking” story from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. The only mild annoyance you’ll see upon logging in are the notifications of the changes to the news feeds. You can still browse Facebook and post your statuses normally, without being hit in the face by a paywall.
“If you copy this on your wall your icon will turn blue and facebook will be free for you.”
By “icon”, I’ll assume the letter means “profile photo”, since the actual Facebook logo is all blue-and-white, and always has been since the site’s inception. Profile photos don’t change color or disappear automatically whether or not you post a message or a certain number of messages. You’ll notice that a great deal of the posters of this message don’t have blue icons (unless the poster in question is a fan of the St. Louis Blues or Dallas Cowboys or some other local sports team that uses a lot of blue, but for the purpose of this chain letter I won’t count those). The only way you’ll get your “icon” to change color is if you take a picture, turn it blue yourself, and then upload it.
“please pass this message on if not your account will be deleted if you don’t pay”
Like many chain letters, this one ends with a warning of dire consequences if the message isn’t spread to as many people as possible. But for every person who posts a message like this one, they probably have 10 or twenty friends who won’t repost the message, all of whom have different reasons for doing so. I don’t do it because I don’t want to be seen as a propagator of spam, because I’ve dealt with many a chain letter like this one before Facebook and MySpace became popular. Unlike chain letters that get sent through e-mail, you can’t simply delete the offending status message. Facebook lets you hide statuses that you don’t want to see, though they’ll still be on the other person’s wall. I have no idea whether or not MySpace lets you do this, as I left a few years ago because I found Facebook to be “more useful”.
Chain letters like this one pop up a lot, but rarely does anything bad happen in these cases. Not spreading the word won’t incur the wrath of the angry Internet chain letter god – you won’t have your Facebook account deleted, you won’t have seven years of bad luck, and you sure as hell won’t be forced to pay money for something everyone else uses for free. So just relax, browse happily, and be cautious about anything you read.