THE BLOG
10/09/2012 01:53 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2012

Facebook Didn't Publish Private Messages, But the News Still Went Viral

About a week ago, frenzy erupted around allegations that Facebook had started to publicly display users' private messages from years gone by. Facebook investigated and denied that allegation, but it caused a scare that travelled at breakneck speeds across the Internet and had Facebook clamoring to calm user fears. Was there any evidence of this actually happening? Nope. Not even one person had actually confirmed an instance of a private message being leaked. Turns out, most people just plum forgot how liberal they used to be with wall posts back in the day. In fact, I did find one post on my own timeline that had a phone number in it, and I was convinced it must have been a leaked private message, but then I searched through my old emails and found the notification email I got from Facebook when that message was posted. Sure enough, it was a wall post, not a private message. 

It's nothing new for a company to have to defend against a massive uprising, even when they haven't done anything wrong, but now the momentum builds so fast. While it may be a grossly unfair position to be in, Facebook has no one to blame but itself. They created what is now a viral news industry. Cable news brought us the 24-hour news cycle -- unheard of in our parent's generation -- and now Facebook has brought us the 24-second news cycle. News travels fast, and it comes at you from so many different sources at the same time, that even that most unfounded allegations gain instant credibility. Nowadays, if a topic is "trending," and if it appears in your newsfeed enough times, people believe it. It's the world we now live in, and Facebook created it. 

The 24-second news cycle isn't the only change Facebook has brought about, it has also created another interesting news phenomenon -- an echo effect. News travels fast on Facebook, yes, but it also leaves a big trail behind it. A huge number of Facebook users are not daily users. Even though a story could be old news, to these users, it's brand new when they log on and see it for the first time... and frenzy erupts again. This original story about private messages being leaked broke a week ago in France, but last weekend it erupted again across North America, which resulted in most of my weekend spent with friends trying to see if we could find any interesting tidbits on the profile pages of people we knew. Alas, nothing. Our time would have been much better spent elsewhere, but as I looked into it more an more, I realized how old the news was and how little mainstream media attention it had garnered. The truth is, mainstream media, for the most part, relies upon sources and confirmed facts before publishing a story, not so with information that travels across Facebook. Despite how obvious this may seem to everyone, the fact is, we are just so eager to believe these days that it's almost dangerous. 

Joshua Slayen is a lawyer and the VP of Business Development for LegalLinkup.com, the website that intelligently matches lawyers and clients based on needs and expertise.