Friday, December 12, 2014 On January 1st 2015 Facebook Will Drop a 'Bombshell'

Claim:   Facebook has announced it will be turning over user data to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. 


Examples: [Collected via e-mail, December 2014] 

I couldn't find any articles on the notion that Facebook is collaborating with the government, fbi, cia, nsa, etc to disclose privacy of it's users.

Origins:   On 3 December 2014, the highly disreputable web site Before It's News published an article with the provocative title of "On January 1st, 2015 Facebook Will Drop a 'Bombshell' That Will Straight-Up Infuriate You!! Find Out What Now Before It's Too Late ..." The article was predicated on a video called "Facebook Spies on You for the Government" which was posted to YouTube by the (equally disreputable) InfoWars account on 3 December 2014 and narrated by Joe Biggs: 

Central to Biggs' remarks about Facebook "spying" was a specific block of text inside Facebook's newly revised standard terms and conditions pertaining to the social network's use of data culled from the Facebook mobile application. The text was displayed during the video several times, with the relevant portions underlined in red: 

Facebook's (and other similar social media sites') relationship to privacy is a multi-faceted, complex, and perpetually evolving issue. The continual introduction of novel apps, scripts, devices, and other innovations and their intersection with law, law enforcement, and constitutional protections 

ensuring privacy and due process is a matter hotly and intricately debated inside courtrooms, in the course of investigations, and in the media. Neither that video nor this article could adequately address the sheer breadth of issues contained within the scope of social media and individual privacy concerns. 

However, Biggs (and those who echoed his statements) made both vague and specific statements about a particularly imminent issue in terms of Facebook and privacy: namely that on 1 January 2015, Facebook would begin colluding with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and National Security Agency (NSA) by providing those agencies with an unspecified set of data about social media users. According to the rumors, Facebook announced this upcoming collusion via publishing "changes" in privacy policies set to go into effect on that date, as evidenced by Biggs' highlighted text. 

The text in the picture does not, in fact, have any relevance to the disclosure of data to law enforcement sources. In the privacy excerpt shown in that image, the matter at hand is the manner in which data is collected (via mobile devices or computers) and an affirmation that data is collected to identify how and where Facebook is accessed. While a very suspicious assessment of the wording could theoretically focus on tracking users' personal lives via geolocation functions, a standard interpretation of this commentary suggests it merely discloses Facebook is actively using your location to target ads and accessibility functions based on whether you are out and about, at school, or at work. 

While this text alone does not address the scope of Facebook's privacy policies, it bears mentioning this relatively benign passage was the most damning one the video's creators could locate. If that text is the sole evidence of Facebook's plot to land us all in jail via federal interception of how strong our battery is on a Tuesday night, it's relatively weak. 

The video also discusses what later posts referred to as a "bombshell" planned by Facebook for release on 1 January 2015. Aside from the posts linking back to that 3 December 2014 video, the main reference to Facebook changes slated for 1 January 2015 originated with Facebook itself. In November 2014, Facebook posted several updates regarding data use and privacy, including a post titled "Updating Our Terms and Policies: Helping You Understand How Facebook Works and How to Control Your Information." 

In that post, Facebook explained the launch of new privacy controls created in response to complaints its existing settings were too difficult for many users to understand. In addition, the statement detailed how location data and universal logins linked to other services (such as Instagram and WhatsApp) either will be increasingly linked (or were already connected) to existing Facebook accounts. Additionally, Facebook briefly addressed the use of data collected regarding user operating systems, battery levels, and signal strength. 

Quite simply, while Facebook's "Privacy Basics" update slated for January 1 2015 is a bit heavy with jargon and difficult to parse, no part of the announcement could reasonably be interpreted to convey an intent to disclose user data to the CIA, FBI, or NSA. Even indirectly, no portion of the quoted text hinted at cooperation with law enforcement or the use of geolocation or device data in the course of criminal (or other) investigations. And even if Facebook intended to do such a thing (which is not supported by any evidence, anecdotal or actual), turning over data obtained in that manner to law enforcement would necessitate the prior issuance of a search warrant. 
Read more at ABC Paid Darren Wilson $500,000?

Claim:   ABC paid Darren Wilson $500,000 for his interview with George Stephanopoulos. 


Examples:   [Collected via email, December 2014] 

Was Darren Wilson paid $500,000 for his interview on ABC News?

Origins:   On 25 November 2014 ABC aired an interview between George Stephanopoulos and Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. 

One day earlier, on 24 November 2014, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch had announced a grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson. Prior to the announcement Wilson had remained largely out of the public eye, and the interview with Stephanopoulos was the first instance during which he publicly gave his account of the shooting death of teenager Mike Brown and its aftermath. 

Shortly after ABC announced that the interview would air, a rumor began to circulate on social media sites that Wilson had been paid $500,000 by the network for an exclusive sit-down. Unnamed sources from competing networks were cited in the rumors, but no substantiating information was offered to corroborate the rumors.

On 26 November 2014, CNN's Brian Stelter addressed the rumor in a series of tweets after confirming the details with network representatives on the record. Stelter stated ABC denied Wilson had been paid for the interview and added network policy prohibits offering compensation for interviews:

After sending the initial tweets, Stelter respond to individuals who continued to question whether Wilson was indirectly compensated by ABC for the interview. Stelter confirmed he had investigated those claims as well: 

Stelter categorically stated for a third time media representatives at ABC specifically denied making direct or indirect payments to Wilson, including the licensing of photos or footage:

ABC was not the only involved party that categorically denied Darren Wilson was paid for his interview with George Stephanopoulos. On 30 November 2014, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an article that also addressed the claim:

Contrary to some reports, Wilson denied he had been paid for the ABC interview. "Absolutely not," he said. "I wouldn't jeopardize my integrity for a dollar."

Read more at Kitten Dies Due to Home Depot Christmas Tree

Claim:   A kitten died after consuming chemicals sprayed on a Home Depot Christmas tree. 

TRUE: A family in Ontario claimed their kitten died after ingesting a chemical intended to mimic snow sprayed on a Christmas tree purchased at Home Depot.
UNDETERMINED: A kitten died due to chemicals sprayed on a Home Depot Christmas tree.
FALSE: All Christmas trees sold at Home Depot are sprayed with a substance that can be lethal to pets, and Home Depot's corporate offices confirmed the details of the claim.

Example:   [Collected via Facebook, December 2014] 

URGENT!!! We just received a horrifying call from an adopter whose kitten Licorice died this morning of Ethylene Glycol poisoning after ingesting a Christmas tree needle from a tree purchased at Home Depot. Apparently, ALL Christmas trees from Home Depot are sprayed with this material found in ANTI-FREEZE! This has been verified through Home Depot Corporate and the veterinary office that tried to save the kitten's life.

Please keep this family (with four devastated children) in your thoughts tonight. One little girl thinks it's her fault, because she picked out the tree.

Origins:   On 10 December 2014, the Facebook page Forever Home Cat Rescue published a warning to its Facebook page. 

According to that page, an Ontario family claimed their kitten became ill and died due to chemicals sprayed on a Christmas tree purchased at a Canadian Home Depot location. The initial claim also stated "ALL Christmas trees" sold at Home Depot are treated with a chemical that can kill pets, which is not true.

The initial warning about Home Depot Christmas trees was quite vague, and many who passed the message on were confused as to the details of the kitten's illness and death. In addition to the somewhat difficult-to-understand chain of events, the death of the cat occurred on the same day the warning was posted. Consequently, it wasn't immediately clear how much of the claim was confirmed or by whom the poisoning complaint had been verified.

On 11 December 2014, CBCNews published an article about the death of Luna and the warning concerning Home Depot Christmas trees:

A Stoney Creek, Ont., family adopted a black kitten named Luna from the cat rescue group called Forever Home.

The family brought home a Christmas tree from Home Depot after taking the kitten home. They said the feline ingested pine needles and later died. A veterinarian informed the family the cause of death was poisoning from ethylene glycol, extremely toxic to cats.
Additional details were eventually disclosed by the rescue and the family who adopted the cat (alternately called "Luna" and "Licorice" in the comments). The tree involved was not artificial, and the spray was not standard procedure. Some commenters suggested cut Christmas trees were routinely sprayed with chemicals to extend their lives after purchase; however, this incident involved a tree that had been sprayed with a substance intended to mimic snow, not a common plain tree. That detail caused significant confusion, as a number of commenters suggested real trees or artificial trees pose risks to cats for any number of reasons but neglecting to factor in the artificial snow (flocking) on the particular tree purchased by the cat's family.

While the cat's untimely death is sad, the composition of the tree is only one component of the warning circulating on animal advocacy pages. Another is the timeline: according to Luna's owners, the kitten became ill on 9 December 2014 and died the next day. That same day the warning about Home Depot Christmas trees was posted to social media, leaving little time for the circumstances of the kitten's death to be fully investigated. If the warning is to be taken at face value, a comprehensive necropsy and testing of the tree would have to have occurred inside the space of only a few hours.

Home Depot's official Facebook account posted a reply to the thread on 10 December 2014, and its response addressed another consideration. Whether or not cut Christmas trees are frequently sprayed with artificial snow, many are sold from any given location. Some of those trees go to homes where cats reside, but there hasn't been a rash of cat or kitten poisonings due to the use of artificial snow on cut Christmas trees.

Home Depot did not dispute the poisoning claim in its reply, but did state it had not received any other reports of pet deaths attributed to its Christmas trees:

We take all of our customer issues seriously and are actively working with the customer, our merchants and vendors to investigate the situation. Although we've only one report of this, we're moving aggressively to address the matter.
So although it's possible a kitten died as the result of its consuming chemicals sprayed on a Home Depot Christmas tree, no evidence has emerged to definitively connect its demise to the tree. It's not clear the cat was poisoned by the tree, by another element in her environment, or died due to another ailment entirely. No proof has been offered that a veterinarian confirmed the kitten was poisoned by the tree, that other environmental factors were ruled out, or that the kitten died of poisoning at all.

Concerned pet owners should note the situation did not involve a typical cut Christmas tree or an artificial Christmas tree. The tree in question had been sprayed with fake snow, and it is that spray which the cat's owners believed led to her death. Fresh cut Christmas trees or artificial Christmas trees are not themselves suspect: the warning applies only to artificial snow spray. Erring on the side of caution is always wise, but pet owners who have purchased artificial or unfrosted trees from Home Depot or any other retailer need not take unusual precautions. 

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