That photo of the cute puppy sleeping with a baby has been all over Facebook. Your friends can't seem to stop hitting the share button. So naturally, you want to share it too.
Fine. But let's do it in a way made possible only in this column, with all kinds of fancy special effects.
To start, let's pretend everything is moving in super slow motion right now.
At the top of the image you are about to share, you'll see which of your friends last shared it and where they shared it from. Read that name carefully. So for example, Scott Kleinberg shared "Joe hates _____ who love to eat pineapples photo."
In place of _____, you might see a hate group. Or someone with a very specific religious agenda. Or just a nasty word. The pineapple part is just an attempt to get you to not notice who or what they really are because everyone loves pineapples.
But this is just an experiment, so no worries. Click. Boom. Posted.
Now, still in slow motion, watch the havoc you just wreaked on your Facebook Timeline and everyone you know: Those nasty words are now attached to that photo, which is now attached to your name, which has now been sent to your 1,600 friends, 45,000 subscribers and your great-aunt Sally, who just signed up for Facebook on her 90th birthday.
Now, in real time, kick yourself for falling into what I call the "sharing trap." It's a trap because these groups create pages and upload this kind of content specifically to get unsuspecting people to share. They find a photo to share — usually from a source they don't have rights to or one that's Photoshopped — because they know you'll share it and every share is another place they now own in your network's Timeline.
And this goes for all of those photos, from "how many likes for this handicapped little kid?" to "click like, wait 3 seconds and watch what happens." (Spoiler alert: Nothing happens. Nothing ever happens.)
I'm hesitant to share some of the things I've seen my friends share, partly because some of it can't be printed in a family newspaper and partly because I know they'd be appalled if they knew. But I'll bet you most of them have no idea. The friends I have wouldn't share photos from anti-government groups. And they certainly wouldn't promote pages belonging to them. Yet they do, and that's just the words I can print.
So what can you do to prevent the spread of such hate and deceit? Share your own unique content. No matter how adorable that viral photo is, it's tainted by where it all began.
And if after reading this you're OK with the risk, make sure you're prepared to explain your motives to Aunt Sally.