Watch out! Facebook is NOT closing in March - please don't spread the hoax!

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured

It's the first calendar quarter of the year.

With February and March on the visible horizon, we're seeing the annual reappearance of "Facebook is closing" hoaxes.

The hoaxes look something like this:

Dear Facebook members, Facebook is supposed to be closing down March 15th because it is becoming very overpopulated. There have been many members complaining that Facebook is becoming very slow. Records show that there are many active Facebook members and also many new members. We will be sending this message around to see if members are active or not. If you are active please send to 15 other users using copy+paste to show that you are still active. Those who do not send this message within 2 weeks will be deleted without hesitation to make more space. Send this me>ssage to all of your friends to show that you are still active and you will not be deleted. Founder of Facebook. Remember to send this to 15 other people so your account wont be deleted.

It certainly sounds unlikely, doesn't it?

Facebook closing down because it has too many members?

Facebook trying to reduce traffic by kicking off members who do nothing (and who thus produce no traffic), yet keeping members who participate in a chain letter that produces only a giant flurry of wasted traffic?

Mark Zuckerberg, who was born, bred and educated as an Anglophone American, writing in such stilted English?

And the reason it sounds unlikely is because it is unlikely, and it's unlikely because it's a pile of garbage.

Invitations to participate in chain letters should always be avoided, because getting involved is almost like joining in a DDoS attack: you're generating loads of wasteful traffic, and actively urging others to do the same.

The problem with chain letters is that if they succeed, their distribution grows exponentially, at least for a while.

To see why, let's do the arithmetic.

We'll assume perfect propagation, where each recipient sends the message to 15 brand new recipients. (That's admittedly very unlikely, but we're looking at the principle here.)

In other words, by participating you become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Other popular "Facebook closure" memes in previous years have warned you about Facebook closing from 29-31 February, a hoax that is rather more obvious (at least in non-leap years, when February has only 28 days), but still seems to attract plenty of interest.

Frictionlessness

One of the problems with modern social networking is the concept of frictionlessness, which is a measure of how easy it is to interact with the system.

This is one of the reasons that Facebook and other online services like Twitter are happy for you to be logged in all the time: the buttons they provide for liking, sharing, retweeting, endorsing, approving, and so on, work with a single click if you are logged in.

If you make a habit of logging out of Facebook, Twitter and other services when you are not actively engaged with them, you will add a tiny bit of hassle to your digital life.

But you will stop yourself being sucked into hoaxes, scams, bait-and-switches, and much more, if you are logged out more than you are logged in.

That's because an ill-considered or an unexpected click on a social networking button will bring up a "You need to login" dialog whenever you are logged out.

This gives you a second chance to consider if you really intended the action you just performed, as well as keeping you safe from malicious behaviour such as clickjacking.

Clickjacking is visual trickery that makes you think you are clicking on something of your own choice, but behind the scenes you are clicking - and thus endorsing - something else entirely, such as a Like.

Stray clicks, fallacious likes and bogus tweets are all easy to propagate when you stay logged in to social networking services as a matter of routine.

Further information

If you're in any doubt as to how this can contribute to the problem, sucking in yet more victims, take a look at this Bait-And-Switch video, where we look at how fake Tweets can put other people in harm's way:

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9 Responses to Watch out! Facebook is NOT closing in March - please don't spread the hoax!

  1. rocketmaster · 207 days ago

    Facebook is closing down again? What about the rumors i've been hearing that Facebook will dissappear in 5 years? Nobody talks about those.

    • Paul Ducklin · 207 days ago

      Five years from whenever you tell the story...so there are always five years left :-)

  2. What? You...you...you mean it's NOT true??? :-P

  3. mikeyjt · 207 days ago

    What? You...you...you mean it's NOT true?
    Oh the humanity!! :-P

  4. Anonymous · 207 days ago

    "Watch out! Facebook is NOT closing in March - please don't spread the hoax!"...

    Damn...

  5. Anonymous · 206 days ago

    So sad if facebook will be closed...facebook help us a lot especially our group page that the news & information can easily be seen & read without delay....hoping it is not true...

  6. hnatt88 · 205 days ago

    To whom this post is addressed? Do you think your readers can buy chain letters? Or that those who do, will read Naked Security?

  7. Anonymous · 203 days ago

    isn't twitting like sending chain letter ?

  8. RickB · 183 days ago

    Facebook closing .. can you imagine it. People having to socialize the olde fashioned way. How would they cope with the stress

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog