Row upon row of mobile phones, each displaying the Facebook logo.

Posting a Privacy Notice on Facebook Protects Posted Material?

A copy-and-paste rumor has been on Facebook almost as long as Facebook has existed. There are some small variations such as date and time, but the meat of the hoax goes something like this:

I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By 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). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. You MUST copy….better safe than sorry!

This is a hoax, not least because a determined content thief will not be fazed by a post.

The Rome Statute was originally set up as the legal framework for the International Criminal Court, and while may turn out to be relevant to social media in many ways, it has little to nothing to do with whether or not your photographs are being lifted from your personal Facebook account and reused for nefarious purposes:

The jurisdiction of the Court shall be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. The Court has jurisdiction in accordance with this Statute with respect to the following crimes:

(a)     The crime of genocide;

(b)     Crimes against humanity;

(c)     War crimes;

(d)     The crime of aggression.

Setting aside the Rome Statute reference, we have never found any evidence of this copypasta being true or even effective in stopping anyone from taking photos and other material posted on Facebook or other social networks, and as 2017 and 2018 have subsequently shown, the social network has no compunction about making off with its users’ most private details and selling them to the highest bidder —  or even giving them away:

In the case of Cambridge Analytica, the company was able to harvest personally identifiable information through a personality quiz app called thisisyourdigitiallife, based on the OCEAN personality model. Information gathered via this app is useful in building a “psychographic” profile of users (the OCEAN acronym stands for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Adding the app to your Facebook account to take the quiz gives the creator of the app access to profile information and user history for the user taking the quiz, as well as all of the friends that user has on Facebook. This data includes all of the items that users and their friends have liked on Facebook.

Facebook users should go to the account privacy settings page and change the settings to best fit their needs; if you wish to share images that are personal to you, then use an image editing software package and watermark photos with a name or a copyright notice. For instructions on copyrighting, you can visit the Copyright Office page of the Library of Congress.

Still, none of these are especially effective deterrents. As The Guardian pointed out in 2016, there are no surefire safeguards on social networks, or anywhere online, that prevent people from stealing posted material:

By using Facebook you automatically agree that the service can use your public photos and text pretty much in any way it wishes. The content is covered by this clause in their terms, which is pretty standard for any online service where you upload content:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

While Facebook explicitly states that the usage is “subject to your privacy and application settings” which may give some reassurance, they also, naturally, reserve the right to amend the terms at any time.

The best tip that we can offer is if you do not want something spread on the internet, then do not post it on the internet.