Five Lies About Facebook

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It’s time for an episode of Mythbusters, social network style. Here are five things you may have heard or thought about Facebook (and its Web 2.0 cousins) that aren’t necessarily true.

* Using Facebook increases your chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease. (And you thought computer viruses were bad.) Yes, this report is real, though its accuracy is somewhat dubious. It seems a doctor in the UK noticed both an increase in the rate of STDs and an increase in patients admitting that they'd recently hooked up with sex partners via social networks. A couple of British tabloids got hold of this report and, ipso facto, Facebook gives you the clap. As a nameless Facebook spokeshuman told The Telegraph, "correlation is not causation." But you may want to get a latex cover for your keyboard, just in case.

* Using Facebook leads to divorce. This theory has a bit more horse under it, but again the causation isn't exactly rock solid. According to yet another UK report, some 20 percent of divorce suits filed in 2009 mentioned Facebook as a contributing factor to marital unhappiness. (Sounds like those Brits really need to get out more.) In an unhappy marriage, it would make sense that spouses are paying more attention to, and spending more time with, their Facebook friends than their significant others. (Of course, it doesn't hurt when your old high school flame is looking mighty fine in his/her profile picture.) That doesn’t mean Facebook caused the break up. Social networks are just a sexier thing for divorce attorneys to throw into the mix than, say, TV.

* You can make your Facebook page totally private. Not so. Though you can limit access to a lot of the information you put on Facebook, some information you provide – specifically “your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to-- is public, per Facebook's privacy policy. Don't like it? Don't use Facebook.

* You can say or post anything you want on Facebook (and other social nets) because you're protected by the First Amendment. Actually… no. First of all, the First Amendment only applies to the government attempting to abridge your right to free speech. Private corporations like Facebook, MySpace, etc, can and do make their own rules about what is and isn't permissible to say. Among other things, Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities prohibits “content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” That can also include banning hate groups, though what Facebook determines to be a “hate group” has drawn some fire, as has its decision that photos of breast-feeding mothers fell into the porn/nudity arena. In other words, no hating/no lactating. Got that?

* Everybody puts embarrassing pictures on social networks, so it's no big deal. Well, it might not be a big deal to you, but it was to Kevin Colvin, Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, and Stacey Snyder, who all lost their jobs and/or sullied their reputations due to a few "harmless" photos they uploaded to Facebook and MySpace. If you must share those candid snaps from that lost weekend in Cabo, use Facebook’s privacy settings to reveal them only to people that you know won’t rat you out.

And oh, by the way, that totally hot stranger doesn’t really want to share his/her sexy photos with you, that “free gift card” doesn’t actually exist, and your Facebook password was not just reset. Those are all scams designed to separate you from your personal information and steal your identity. But you knew that already, right?

Author Dan Tynan has encountered a few too many Facebook scams lately. When he’s not cursing the scumbuckets soiling his inbox, he lovingly tends the 24/7 snarkfest known as eSarcasm.

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