6 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Believe on Facebook

businessman texting in his office

Think you can believe everything you read on Facebook? You’re in for a big surprise | iStock.com/shironosov

Everyone knows that you can’t believe everything you read online. That goes double for Facebook. Plenty of people document their lives on the world’s biggest social network, and many of them turn to the service to get their news and discuss the day’s headlines. But for what may or may not be obvious reasons, you shouldn’t believe everything you see on Facebook. Sure, people lie about how great their lives are going, but it’s not just your high school friend who’s given in to exaggeration or that college acquaintance known for satirical posts that you need to watch out for.

Facebook can reveal all kinds of unsavory things, such as whether your friends are narcissists or psychopaths. It can also reveal just how gullible you are, particularly if you fall for one of a long series of annoying Facebook hoaxes. There are plenty of Facebook facts that will make you mad, and a number of reasons why you may want to stop using Facebook. But in any case, it’s a good idea to know what you can and can’t trust on the platform. Read on to check out the things that you shouldn’t always believe on Facebook.

1. Stories associated with trending topics

pretty young woman texts on her mobile phone

Facebook’s Trending feature routinely surfaces fake news stories | iStock.com/kcslagle

Millions of people turn to Facebook to get their news everyday, but the recent debacle with the platform’s Trending feature should serve as a warning that you can’t believe everything you read on the social network. As Mashable reports, Facebook fired several trained journalists from the Trending team and left technical staff and artificial intelligence to choose stories for the feature. So, the list of stories no longer features the content that had been written by Facebook’s journalists and instead just shows terms that are buzzing on the social network. Hovering over one of those terms yields a link to a news story.

The problem is that the Trending feature has repeatedly promoted fake stories, says The Washington Post. It’s surfaced all kinds of objectionable content. And the legitimate news stories that the feature does promote “seem to defy logic and timeliness,” according to Mashable. The disaster demonstrated that abandoning the idea of news curation just degrades the quality of the information that Facebook users receive. The feature often shows stories from sources they don’t know or trust, and it surfaces topics that are neither interesting nor timely.

Max Read reported for NY Mag’s Select/All that “the Trending widget compromises itself, creating a feedback loop as more people ‘talk about’ the things they see people are ‘talking about.'” He continues, “Ultimately Trending becomes an exercise in reflexive information distribution, based on the assumption that data is useful in and of itself — that because Facebook can tell you that a certain number of people are talking about something, it should. But that’s not just useless, it’s worse than useless. ”

2. News stories shared by friends

man sending text message using mobile phone

You probably can’t trust all of the news stories that your friends are sharing on Facebook | iStock.com/Ondine32

It’s no secret that when you’re on Facebook, you’re primarily seeing videos and news stories and other posts that you’re going to agree with. (Just check out The Wall Street Journal’s “Blue Feed, Red Feed” feature for a particularly dramatic illustration of the phenomenon.) It’s not news that our Facebook feeds and online circles of friends can act as echo chambers for our opinions and political leanings. It’s also a well-known fact that our confirmation bias often prevents us from seriously considering new information and evidence that, in an ideal world, would make us reconsider our preconceptions and opinions. But there’s another reason why you might not want to blindly trust the news stories that your friends are sharing on Facebook.

Farhad Manjoo reports for The New York Times that “the internet is loosening our grip on the truth.” He writes that “if you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth.” He explains that despite the diverse news sources accessible on Facebook and via the internet at large, “we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.” In an era when “greater primary documentation [should] lead to a better cultural agreement about the ‘truth,'” we filter documentary evidence through our own biases.

According to Manjoo, fact-checking “has proved largely ineffective against a tide of fakery” because “there are now entire sites whose only mission is to publish outrageous, completely fake news online.” You can personally investigate the sources for all of the information that crosses your News Feed. But it’s safe to assume that a decent portion of the stories shared by your friends aren’t from legitimate sources.

3. People’s posts about their lives

Businesswoman using mobile phone

Plenty of people lie about their lives online, so you can’t believe everything you see on Facebook | iStock.com/diego_cervo

People routinely lie about their lives when they post on Facebook. Few people actually fabricate events from scratch (unless they’re trying to throw off Facebook’s profiling and foil advertisers), but many Facebook users make things sound better than they actually are. They carefully curate what they post to present only the things that make them look successful and happy. They sometimes embellish events to make them sound better. And they only share the most flattering photos of themselves, their family and friends, and the places they live, work, and vacation.

In fact, there are several topics that just about everybody lies about on the internet (including on Facebook). People lie about basic biographical information, like where they live or where they went to college. Some lie about their interests, either to project a specific image or to confuse advertisers. They lie about their age and their birthday. Others lie about the news stories that they’ve read (or haven’t). Some lie about posting photos with #nofilter. They sometimes even lie about who they are. The moral of the story is that if there’s a way somebody could be lying on Facebook, it’s often safest to assume that, at the very least, they’re fibbing or embellishing just a little.

4. Gossip, and information that doesn’t come directly from the source

Worried girl looking at the phone

Gossip is just as untrustworthy when shared online as when it’s spread in person | iStock.com/roshinio

If your circle of friends is gossipy in real life, it’s pretty likely that they’ll be gossipy online, too. But you shouldn’t believe everything that you hear when your friends are talking about other people. F. Diane Barth reports for Psychology Today that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, “even if it’s true,” because something important always gets left out of online conversations. Barth explains that taking to Facebook to do some background research on your date, or asking your Facebook friends what they know about her or him, can backfire and won’t always lead you to reliable information. She writes:

Knowing things about another person that they haven’t told us themselves (often things they would tell us when they got to know us better and felt safe with us) can interrupt the natural flow of a developing relationship. It almost never actually helps; and it can, as in the case of Macie and Sam, stop the process altogether. What it does do is gives the “knower” a false sense of power and control. Genuine strength does not come from having secret power over another person; and real control in a relationship comes from discussions in which negotiation and mutual consent are key.

Whatever you see (or hear) on Facebook is pretty unlikely to be the whole story. The only way to really get to know somebody is to talk to them yourself. It doesn’t hurt to click through the profile photos that a new friend or potential partner has posted. But if you really want to know who they are, don’t turn to gossipy friends or Facebook cliques for information.

5. Claims about Facebook’s policies

man with smartphone and friends

Chatter about Facebook’s policies is almost always incorrect | iStock.com/dolgachov

There’s no better place to be misinformed about Facebook’s policies than on Facebook itself. As Mihir Patkar reported for MakeUseOf late in 2015, there’s a lot of misinformation about the world’s largest social network. Some of these myths have been perpetuated by infamous Facebook hoaxes. But you’ve likely heard about others if you pay attention to your friends’ chatter about how Facebook works. For instance, plenty of people think that there are Facebook apps that can tell you who’s viewed your profile. But you actually can’t see who’s viewed your profile, no matter which apps you install.

People often believe widely-circulated posts claiming that Facebook will start charging you unless you copy and paste the post. But Facebook is never going to charge its users (who are already paying a high enough price thanks to all the data they’re handing over). Plenty of users also fall for posts that warn them to copy and paste a block of legal jargon to change the terms and conditions they agreed to when signing up for Facebook. And other people think that they need to copy and paste a specific status to show Facebook that they’re an active user whose account shouldn’t be deleted.

6. Facebook’s posturing about privacy

business man reading on his mobile phone

You can’t believe everything Facebook says, either, without digging into the details | iStock.com/imtmphoto

Facebook is pretty deceptive about privacy. The biggest lie that Facebook tells the public is that your information is private unless you decide to make it public. Ostensibly, that’s true. But being on Facebook erodes your privacy. It’s hard to control where your posts end up, regardless of the privacy settings you choose. Facebook routinely shares information about you with a wide range of advertisers, vendors, and partners. And even the things you share in private messages aren’t actually private.

One of the top reasons to stop using Facebook is that the platform enables companies to track your movements online. Facebook knows about your web history and app usage thanks to the ubiquity of sites that embed the Like button, offer Facebook’s social login, or use its measurement and advertising services. It uses that information to show you ads that are targeted to your interests and activities. But it also shares information about you with apps, websites, and services that are integrated with its ecosystem. That information can include things like your location, your gender, your email address, your phone number, your relationship status, and more — not really data that you want to share with all of Facebook’s advertisers, vendors, service providers, and other partners.