By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
February 7, 2009

How do these rumors get started? Or, more to the point, how do they get perpetuated?

Late Thursday, a site called tinycomb (“Hand-Picked Tech News”) reported that Facebook had been banned “for life” from every Apple (AAPL) store in the United States — some 207 retail outlets in all, by my count.

This must have been one of those facts that was too good to check, because I’m pretty sure none of the half-dozen newspapers and blogs that repeated and embellished the story bothered to do any legwork to confirm it.

It certainly seems that most of the readers who applauded the reported ban — a couple dozen at tinycomb, nearly 40 at Digg, more than 120 at MacRumors — took it as fact.

“Why has this been kept under the radar?” asked SherwinNero at tinycomb.

“Has it really been kept under the radar,” answered Max, “or was it considered ‘not significant enough’ to put it on the front pages everywhere?”

Or is, just possibly, not true?

I know from experience that some Apple stores put limits on where on the Web you can take their demo machines — sometimes restricting Safari to Apple’s promotional pages.

And it’s certainly possible that individual stores have blocked Facebook — as MySpace has been blocked since May 2007 — because some of its members were hogging the machines.

Indeed, Ars Technica quotes an unnamed Apple employee who says his store has been blocking Facebook for about a month.

“It’s just trying to find a balance between letting people try out the computers, but not tying them up so others can try them as well,” he told Ars. (link)

But a person at Apple headquarters  in a position to know assures me that there is no nationwide ban on Facebook in effect — permanent or otherwise.

I’m headed to the nearest Apple store to check it out. If you’re in one now, let us know in the comment stream where you are and whether the demo machine you’re using will let you get to your Facebook page.

UPDATE: CNET’s Caroline McCarthy beat me to it, did the legwork, and confirmed that Facebook is accessible at all three Manhattan Apple Stores, although as suspected there are individual machines in those stores that will redirect you to an Apple Store page. See here.

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