We may have stopped forwarding them years ago, but the chain email never really died: It just migrated to Facebook, where its copy-paste offspring continue spreading rumors, superstitions and lies.

The dual hoaxes circling the network this week are painfully representative. One, related to copyright, claims that you must copy/paste some legalese in order to maintain the intellectual property rights over your posts and photos. The second, related to privacy, claims that everything you've ever done on Facebook will soon go public - unless you post the warning or pay up.

Both of these hoaxes are patently ridiculous (as we discussed in January, the last time they went viral). But they're also, when you think about it, pretty understandable.

Despite Facebook's valiant attempts to make its privacy settings more transparent, they were fairly opaque for a number of years - and they remain really complicated, particularly for less savvy users. These copy-paste messages cut through the dense layers of settings and filters and activity logs; they put the issues in unequivocal, chain-email terms. They're like totems carried against the vast, impersonal forces of Facebook.


Too bad, for their believers, that they don't work.