Facebook’s Other Problem

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Much has been made both of Facebook as a source of disinformation and its efforts to address it which have been attacked as suppression of free speech (news flash: it isn’t–as a private sector corporation, it is fully within its rights to determine what and who is on its platform). I’m not here to debate that–a stupid debate, especially when people use the very platform they are criticizing to have the debate!

I’m talking about a problem that is somewhere between annoying and insidious that it seems to me Facebook is uninterested in dealing with. In my experience, it is growing, and I think if allowed to grow, it could undermine Facebook as a platform for legitimate social engagement. It is the problem of people creating fraudulent profiles with various nefarious intents.

How many of you have received a Facebook request from someone who is already your friend? This is like a virus. Gaining access to your profile they can either do the same thing to you, or they can fill your newsfeed with their extremist views. The simplest thing to do is to search all friend requests before you accept them to be sure they are not your friend already. If not, report them to Facebook, which almost immediately shuts down the person’s activity on that profile. Also, this seems to happen most to those rarely on Facebook, and not likely to notice as quickly that someone is “spoofing” their profile. If you are not going to use Facebook, you might be wise to close your account.

I ran into a variant of this the other day. Someone tipped me off that someone named “Bob on Brooks” was friending them. “Bob on Books” is the name of my Facebook book page. They were using my profile image, which is easily downloadable or screen-captured from Facebook. I searched and found it and reported it and it was taken down. If you got that request, believe me, I’m not that interested in brooks!

Then there are the seductive friend requests. As a male, barely a day goes by where I don’t get a request from a woman, usually with two first names, like “Emily Laura” whose picture usually reveals some cleavage and that supposedly sexy pouty face. Lately, more of them include “Bitcoin trader” in their profile. All this suggests that they want to be friends with my money, not me. I suspect there are other old guys out there gullible to this stuff. This one’s simple: delete.

The newest has started cropping up on my Facebook page (not my profile). It has happened more to women who comment on a post and get a comment from a man (supposedly) who says “I really like your personality but was not able to friend you. Could you send a friend request?” Creepy, huh? It gets creepier when they do it with five other women on the same thread! So much for being someone special. Some men receive these from (supposed) women. I’ve reported this to Facebook but they say it falls below their threshold of violating “Community Standards.” Everyone is glad that I ban anyone doing this and delete posts. We’ve essentially created a “neighborhood watch” to ferret out this stuff. My sense is that Facebook really doesn’t care.

From what I can gather, when they have a friend request from you that they have accepted, anything in your profile accessible to friends is accessible to them. Whether they use it to create fake profiles or for identity theft, this can be serious. Never fall for the sweet-talker who tries this!

Finally, there are the messages that start with “Hi” or “How are you?” Best thing is not to respond and block. Your real friends send a message, not a teaser. They are looking for a response, usually to set you up to hit you up for money or collect personal information about you.

Like other things in the social media world, there is no upside for Facebook to care enough about this to take real action unless their existence is threatened. Here’s a newsflash for Facebook. When people start having a daily experience with Facebook that is one long exercise in avoiding fraud and stalkers and fake identities, people might start leaving. People leave Facebook when the negatives start outweighing the positives. Public assurances are not enough.

One thing much of this has in common from what I can tell is fake identities. Right now, Facebook only has a program to verify business identities, from what I can tell. Individuals can create fake accounts easily, and if Facebook closes down one, the same person simply creates another (or a bot does). Could Facebook create a trusted identity program? I’d even be willing to pay a modest fee for this (an upside for Facebook). Devices used to interact with Facebook (and Facebook does track this) could be blocked if used fraudulently. That would make this a much more expensive activity. If the same name and likeness are used as an existing account, it should not take a user report. Facebook notifies me whenever I log in from a new device or even browser.

I suspect there are a variety of other strategies Facebook could use. The question is, will they wait until they are overrun by this problem? At that point, it might be too late. And Facebook will become a neighborhood of scammers trying to scam the promoters of fake news. The rest of us will have left. And they will deserve each other.