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Clueless Celebrities Are Making an Instagram Hoax Go Viral

Countless users are sharing a version of an Instagram post that falsely claims the platform will “disclose" after an unspecified time “tomorrow.”

by Caroline Haskins
22 August 2019, 6:38am

Image: Hoax screenshots and Instagram logo from Instagram. Edited by Jason Koebler.

Dozens of celebrities and likely thousands of users are sharing a version of an Instagram post that falsely claims the platform will “disclose, copy, and distribute” their information after an unspecified time “tomorrow.”

“All members must post a note like this,” the post falsely claims. “Instagram DOES NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO SHARE PHOTOS OR MESSAGES.”

“There’s no truth to this post,” Stephanie Otway, a Facebook company spokesperson, said in an email.

Instagram has no plans to make major changes to its privacy policy this week, and posting this message does nothing other than show you've fallen for a hoax. Chain notices like this have a long history on social media and email.

Nearly identical versions of this hoax have gone viral on Facebook both in 2015 and in 2012. In fact, it appears that several versions of the image circulating crudely edited out the word “Facebook” and replaced it with “Instagram.”

However, as pointed out in a tweet thread by reporter Taylor Lorenz, dozens of celebrities have fallen for the hoax. Most of the celebrities identified by Lorenz, such as Judd Apatow, Julianne Moore, Julia Roberts, Tina Knowles (Beyoncé’s mom), and Wacka Flocka Flame have since deleted their post. But several other celebrities like Usher, Debra Messing (on her story), Taraji P. Henson, and Rita Wilson still have their post active at the time of writing.

Former Texas governor and current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry also fell for the hoax. He deleted his post while this post was being written.

Screenshot of Usher sharing the Instagram hoax.
Image: Screenshot of Usher sharing the Instagram hoax. Commented edited out by Motherboard.

There’s a reason why routine hoaxes like this have resonant power: people don’t generally know how the platforms that they use actually work, and how they share their information. As early as 1999, chain emails have falsely claimed that Microsoft founder Bill Gates was giving away free money to people who shared the post.

The average person today generally has no idea how Instagram uses their data. Platform privacy policies, including Instagram’s, are generally long. They also tend to be written in hard-to-parse legal language, and most people just decide not to read it.

Here’s what Instagram generally does with user information, according to its privacy policy: Instagram takes data associated with your posts, including captions, comments, and hashtags that provide keyword data, and geotags that provide location data. Instagram also uses and sells cookies and pixel trackers to other companies, which track your activity that flows from a “session” that includes using Instagram. Some combination of this data sorts users into marketing segments, which is used to provide hyer-personalized ads. By using Instagram, users have to agree to this exchange of information.

Most versions of the hoax, including versions that went viral on Facebook both in 2015 and in 2012, cite the same fictional statute: Uniform Commercial Code 1-308-11308-103. To be clear, UCC 1-308 does exists; the 11308-103 is extraneous. The statute says that people have to provide services in they way they’ve been described and promised. This law has jurisdiction in the United States.

The other statute cited in the post is the Rome Statute. The statute, which several dozen parties signed into their national legal codes, makes extremely violent crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression punishable by law. It’s not clear how this has anything to do with Instagram or its privacy policy. Also, for what it’s worth, the United States did not sign on to the Rome Statute.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.