For millions it was as if the unthinkable had finally happened. Like a flash flood, 7.1 earthquake or some other startling act of God, it seemed too sudden, too terrible to be true.
But sure enough, there it was, in black and white, the lead story on Weekly World News: "FACEBOOK WILL END ON MARCH 15th!”
Below the shocking headline was a picture of fresh-faced Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerburg, apparently delivering the news in person to a group of (presumably aghast) reporters.
"Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will be shut down in March,” the report read. "Managing the site has become too stressful.”
"Facebook has gotten out of control,” quoted the tabloid, "and the stress of managing this company has ruined my life. I need to put an end to all the madness.”
"‘After March 15th the whole website shuts down,’ said Avrat Humarthi, Vice President of Technical Affairs at Facebook. ‘So if you ever want to see your pictures again, I recommend you take them off the internet. You won’t be able to get them back once Facebook goes out of business.’
"Zuckerberg said that the decision to shut down Facebook was difficult, but that he does not think people will be upset.
"‘I personally don’t think it’s a big deal,’ he said in a private phone interview. ‘And to be honest, I think it’s for the better. Without Facebook, people will have to go outside and make real friends. That’s always a good thing’”.
As the news broke, a great percentage of Facebook’s 500 million users were, predictably, outraged. Facebook and the Twittersphere erupted with the lamentations of scorned Facebook users.
"At first I didn’t believe it but then he sent me a link...to an article about the creator of Facebook saying that there are WAY too many users and that Facebook will shut down on March 15th 2011. HOLY F***!!!!!!!!”
"March 15. Facebook is shutting down!! Ugh. No more Facebook. What am I going to do?”
Something just didn’t seem right, however. Why would a billion-dollar company decide to up and pull the plug when things (such as Facebook’s world domination) were going so well? Why was this not being reported elsewhere and why was there an image of Batboy on the masthead of Weekly World News?
A quick look at some of the other headlines on the Weekly World News site offered an indication as to the report’s veracity: "Megan Fox is a man!” "Alien Spaceships to Attack Earth in 2011!”
So, of course, it wasn’t true. We all remember the old ‘Facebook is shutting down’ hoax that did the rounds years ago:
"FACEBOOK WILL SHUT DOWN IN 7 DAYS IF 1,000,000 PEOPLE DONT JOIN THIS GROUP! MARK ZUKERBURG SAYS THAT I HAVE TO MAKE A GROUP AND HAVE 1,000,000 PEOPLE JOIN IT IN 7 DAYS OR FACEBOOK WILL SHUTDOWN! HURRY WE ONLY HAVE 7 DAYS!”
And it seemed that Facebook was as surprised as anyone else at the news. After hearing of the rumours they issued a brisk statement which read:
"We didn’t get the memo about shutting down, so we’ll keep working away like always. We aren’t going anywhere; we’re just getting started.”
And indeed, it would seem strange if Zuckerburg and Co. chose to walk away from their billion- dollar company just a week after Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies’ investment of $500 million.
But the episode does raise an important question: given the violent reaction of many of Facebook’s more gullible users, just what would happen if Facebook really did pull the plug? Could we expect users to, as our faux-Zuckerburg hoped, "go outside and make real friends”? Or would they just move to Twitter? Or would they riot in the streets? One thing is for sure: the angry reaction of 500 million disappointed users would be an event itself, and would definitely make the (real) news.