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Better Certain than Silly: Stop Falling for Scams

“Better safe than sorry,” is one of those phrases that sounds universally wise and salient but in reality is only situationally true. The point of the phrase—lost long ago along with the deeper meaning of most of these common sense clichés—is that it’s best to hedge ones bet by leaning on what’s most likely, what’s most certain.

For example, if one were exploring some coastal cliffs, it’s better safe than sorry to stand a few few back from the edge, just in case the cliff were unstable. Similarly, if you’re inclined to get heartburn after eating pizza, it’s better safe than sorry to stow a bottle of antacids in the glove box of your car.

In both scenarios, the selected behavior—caution around a cliff’s edge and toting around an emergency supply of TUMs—is a low-cost behavior that helps to minimize your exposure to a far greater risk. Sure, you may miss an incredible view by not walking right up to the edge of the cliff, but you also won’t die. And yeah, your friends might tease you for having a bottle of antacid tablets in your car, but be honest: you never really liked them anyway.

I’m taking your through this right now because I want to make a point about something I have seen repeatedly online over the past few days:

Better to be safe than sorry. An attorney advised us to post. Good enough for me. The violation of privacy can be punished by law. NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you do not publish a statement at least once, it will be tacitly understood that you are allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in your profile status updates. I HEREBY STATE THAT I DO NOT GIVE MY PERMISSION.
Copy and re-post.
Deadline tomorrow !!! Everything you’ve ever posted becomes public from tomorrow. Even messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed. It costs nothing for a simple copy and paste, better safe than sorry. Channel 13 News talked about the change in Facebook’s privacy policy. I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute

First of all, I have written about this previously, so I’m not going to belabor might point here. However, after reading “Better to be safe than sorry…” about a dozen times, I felt like I needed to address that point a bit.

To those of you who posted this, I want to be clear at the outset that I’m not intending to mock or humiliate you. You weighed your options and thought that posting this message was the safest bet. I understand why you did it. I just want you to see where you misjudged the risks.

Posting anything online is relatively low-cost, and so, in a scenario where your choices are to post a bit of legalese or risk losing your photos, posts, etc., you decide to post. Again, it’s low-cost, especially when compared with the risk of losing your digital identity. However, the real risk isn’t in your post but in what your post will cause others to do.

There’s no real cost to you in your carrying an umbrella in your car everyday, in case it might rain. There’s no real risk to society either. However, if you ran around holding your umbrella above your head and screaming about the sky falling, like Chicken Little, that would have a much higher risk to society. Like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, a panic could ensue. Now, when we talk about people shouting fire, we often assume that the shouter is doing so out of bad faith.

But what if the panic that results from an errant alarm was due entirely to someone who thought they saw or smelt or felt a fire? That’s what I’m seeing on Facebook. People think they smell a fire. Facebook’s been in the news for a variety of issues, but they don’t know exactly what it was. They see a friend post something about Facebook doing something nefarious like taking control of ones personal writings and photos, and they think that this must be where are all the heat and smoke are coming from.

This is all part of a larger trend we’re seeing in society: reading headlines, gleaning bits of information, and yet making decisions based largely upon ignorance of the facts. We all do it. We assume that we know the story from the headlines, like sophomores who think we know what To Kill a Mockingbird is about by reading a review online and watching a YouTube video summary. That’s what has to stop. We have the right to freedom of speech, but we have the responsibility to be informed when we speak. Or share online. Our democracy is under attack right now, and it’s weakening under the strain of conjecture—based upon gut-feelings and limited information gathering—being levied as fact. Please don’t weaken our national discourse even further by shouting “fire” on a crowded social media network.

If you’re going to warn others about some perceived, you might want to have some level of certainty. Would you feel comfortable telling your friends and family they have cancer based upon a cursory glance at WebMD? Maybe you would, but that’s half the problem. Sure, your friend might want to have that mole checked out because its better safe than sorry, but when he actually goes to the doctor, he’s going to search for certainty. This is something that most people never do. The post included above claimed that an attorney was consulted in the posting of the message. There is absolutely no way that’s true because an attorney would have told the original poster that the “Rome Statue” actually refers to the “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” which established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which focuses on genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Facebook really isn’t in their wheelhouse. At least, not until they try to invade Twitter and commits some heinous atrocities against their retweets.

I think the issue is that most people don’t want to have to think for themselves. The quest for certainty seems to be too arduous, and I get it that certainty may not seem attainable in this “fake news” environment, but some measure of certainty can still be found with even a limited amount of searching.

Why do people hang back from the cliff’s edge? Because they are certain that gravity is real and that a fall of several hundred feet would be lethal. Are they convinced that they will fall? No, the ground around the cliff could be entirely secure, but they are certain that if they did fall the results would be fatal. They don’t know for sure if they will suffer the risk presented by the cliff, but they know the risk is certainly possible.

To those who posted this bit of panic-inducing misinformation, were you certain of the possibility of the risk? I don’t think you were. I don’t think there was any certainty involved at all. Instead, your decision was based upon some vague notions about your Facebook friends’ trustworthiness, some limited information gleaned from the bad news about Facebook’s misdeeds, and a whole lot of playing it “safe” for fear of being sorry. Sadly, the “sorry” scenario that is feared is almost always overblown and unlikely to occur, causing those who choose “safety” over certainty to look silly.

It is silly to carry and umbrella and claim that the sky is falling, and it’s no less silly than to try to fight against a Facebook power grab by posting a pseudo cease-and-desist order on Facebook itself.

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