One of the popular questions we’ve been getting recently is why do all those viral posts you see on Facebook ask you to “copy and paste” something into your status.
While not everything you see on Facebook that implores you to “copy and paste” something on your Facebook timeline is a scam or hoax, it is a popular phrase that you will see in both.
But why ask users to copy and paste?
It is easy enough to determine that a driving factor to imploring others to “copy and paste” something is to help it spread across social media. After all, if you “copy, paste and post” a message to your own status, all of your friends can see it, and when they in turn copy, paste and post it to their own timeline, all their friends can see it too, and this is how content can go viral across social media.
But, why not click the share option instead, which has almost the same effect of posting it onto your own timeline?
Many of these viral hoaxes we see these days explicitly tell you NOT to share the message, and will specifically instruct you to copy and paste it to your status instead.
There are two reasons.
Firstly, by copying and pasting a message, you create a new “instance” of the message that is not dependent on the original.
So, for example, if 5000 people share a message by clicking Share, and for some reason that original message was removed (for example, deleted by Facebook for being fake!) then all those 5000 “shares” will all vanish. Basically, if the original post being shared is removed, so does all of its shares.
The same doesn’t apply if you copy and paste a message, then post it. If 5000 people copy and paste a message to their own timeline, and the original gets removed, you still have 4999 instances of the message remaining on Facebook, since they are all separate posts, independent of each other.
Secondly… copying and sharing is a more effective way of sharing content on Facebook since it isn’t dependent on privacy settings. If you share a friend’s status, that ‘share’ is still subject to the same privacy settings. For example, if Person A shared Person B’s post, and Person B had “friends only” privacy applied, that shared content is still only visible to Person B’s friends, even if Person A shared the post onto their own timeline.
Another reason, of course, is that it makes it harder to track down the person who started a hoax, since we’re all passing along a message in a digital game of Chinese Whispers, and the privacy settings of many users often makes it nigh impossible to track the original creator of a particular message.
Often we see rumours warning users not to share copy and paste messages because it makes them vulnerable to hackers. While we applaud the notion of generally avoiding sharing this type of content, there is no real reason to suspect it compromises your account security. Sharing such statuses doesn’t automatically put your account at risk (how could it?) and the notion that scammers are using such statuses to “see who is gullible enough to fall for scams” seems to us like a little bit of a stretch, since there are more effective ways of determining who can fall for a scam than this. However these statuses could highlight which users don’t have good privacy settings applied, since searching Facebook for a viral message will reveal all those users who shared it with public settings applied. In which case, sort out your Facebook privacy settings!