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Facebook shutting down March 15 (or April 1)

Even IT security firm Sophos deems it necessary to reassure people that, contrary to a Weekly World News report, Facebook will not disappear March 15.

All hail the Web's Caesar. All hail the power of the rumor.

Facebook is closing down. The Roman Emperor of social networking is tired of it all. He is heading for pastures new. Oh, and you might never be able to get your photos (or your pokes) back.

Such was the story printed by the venerable Weekly World News in order to allay the boredom of standing in line at Albertson's.

The fateful day of Facebook's going away was said to be March 15, the Ides. The tides of sadness immediately crashed over the Web, as the hurt, the bewildered, the forlorn, and, no doubt, the Schadenfreunds of freunds lamented, jeered, and cheered.

With just a few clicks from the cities and the sticks, the twig of a rumor began to sprout a trunk.

"Hope it's not true, but if it is, we'll have to accept it," typed one Facebookian through tears of woe.

The reaction, no doubt, was fueled by the Weekly World News quoting Zuckerberg as saying: "Facebook has gotten out of control. And the stress of managing this company has ruined my life. I need to put an end to all the madness."

Yes, there really exist people who haven't seen "The Social Network."

Even IT security site Sophos, a sane mind in a frightening world, felt compelled to offer its own frisson of fright that such a thought had gained any traction at all on the Web.

Suddenly Wi-Fi became short for wild-fire as panic buttons were depressed and the depressed began to panic that their online friends would disappear into the cloud with no GPS home.

Many will, no doubt, opine that the spreading of such a rumor shows how gullible people can be and how much damage can be done through the Web's stunning immediacy.

Some, however, might consider that the greater sadness lies in the fact that people seem incapable of distinguishing not between rumor and fact, but between the Weekly World News and the National Enquirer.

Just because both are seen at supermarket checkouts doesn't mean both espouse the same principles of subterfuge.

The Weekly World News has long peddled tales of nonsense, such as the idea that George Clooney will run for president (he's not that silly), or that Michael Jackson faked his own death (he wasn't that devious).

The Enquirer, on the other hand, is the publication that revealed John Edwards' relationship with Rielle Hunter.

If people can't distinguish between these two similarly shaped publications, how can we expect them to distinguish between the rumor that Facebook is shutting down and the rumor that it's now worth $50 billion?