February 6, 2018

Social Media, Its Risks, and Fake Followers




Bots, and spam, and trolls, oh my.

The wonderful world of social media continues to have its ugly side exposed. Advertising designed to sway opinions. Involvement from shady characters allegedly part of foreign governments. Revenge porn, suicide pacts, misleading or outright fake information, cyberbullying. If you focus on the problems, social media is a cesspool that screams out to be ignored, banned, or severely  restricted.

Recently, the New York Times reported a massive problem with Twitter: "followers" who are not real. Though technically illegal, for a few hundred dollars it is possible to buy thousands of followers, artificially improving one's supposed status.  Most of those purchased names are automated bots, fake humans, or real Twitter users who have had their identities copied. A few days after that story ran, the company began deleting millions of those fraudulent followers from some of its more high profile users. 

Even so, 330 million people use Twitter every month. Over one billion are on Facebook every day. 100 million use the photo app, Snapchat, every 30 days. LinkedIn claims 467 million users. Let's not forget Instagram with 800 million monthly users and 40 million photos posted every single day.

So, what's driving this amazing disconnect between the potential for harm and the massive use patterns? Are the reasons for using Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat, Instagram,or LinkedIn so positive that any harm is accepted as the price of doing business? Or, are the damages that can occur from hacked accounts, ruined lives, wasted time, or political mayhem too abstract to be real to the average user? Is it the "Until it happens to me it isn't real" mindset?

I have no idea. The continued use of such dangerous outlets for social interaction baffles me, even as I continue to take part. Yes, driving a car can result in an injury or even death. Something can happen in the blink of an eye that changes my life.  But, the positives of driving so far outweigh the risks that I continue to get behind the wheel. 

I may have a bad reaction to a flu shot, but I believe the scientific studies that prove my odds of getting the flu decrease if I have the protection, I gladly take that slight risk. 

I have been blogging for nearly 8 years. Close to three million times someone has clicked Satisfying Retirement to read what I have written and others have had to say in response. Yet, I am one massive cyber attack from finding this corner of my world stolen, distorted, or turned into a weapon against others. So far, I have considered that risk and decided to proceed with my writing here. What will I do if a bad actor wants to harm this site? I don't know. though my odds are increasing that I will find out!

I have had my Facebook account hacked twice, yet I am still there, albeit in a very limited way, restricted to just a few dozen friends and family. I work at increasing my Twitter profile as a way to promote this blog. All privacy settings are turned on and I restrict what can and cannot be done with my data. Even so, a determined bad actor could make mincemeat of my account and work in seconds.

I continue on Facebook and Twitter even though I am running a verifiable risk. I am committing the same mistake that I am cautioning you against. Why am I doing that? Are the handful of people who discover Satisfying Retirement through my social media efforts worth the hassle? 

If you use social media in any form, why: connecting with family and friends, learning about something new, entertainment?

Are you worried about having your account hacked or your identity stolen? If so, are you keeping your accounts open anyway?

I guess this is an interesting social experiment. Hundreds of millions of us continue with behavior that has the potential to be harmful. What motivates us? What is the line that we will not cross?

I expect to be fascinated by your responses.


26 comments:

  1. I think one can be hacked in many ways these days, not just through social media. We have been part of the Equifax hack, the Target hack, and some others. We keep our credit file frozen. We have had to cancel some credit cards over the years. A ll very inconvenient and scary too.Not sure what can be done, though,so we just remain vigilant and check our statements carefully.

    Facebook has brought a lot of joy to my life. I have friends and family all over the USA and in England and Europe! I don't have "fake friends" because I do not have an open site.I have filters.I stay in touch with people I have traveled with, women I have met on retreats, with high school and grade school friends.I get to see pictures of all my nieces and nephews and pics of everyone's grandkids..so I enjoy it thoroughly as a way to stay in touch and to share jokes, laughter, and ideas. I don't like talking on the phone a lot and would not be able to keep up with all those people on the phone, anyway.

    I don't find value in twitter or in pinterest, since FB covers most bases for me.

    Pretty much anything we do in this digital world has potential for problems but I don't see a way NOT to participate in the world as it is today. We all use credit cards, have emails, etc. So, just being as careful as possible I guess.

    I've been an early adopter or tech since our son is in the biz. When I at first did not want to do online banking cause I did not "want my info online" my son taught me how it was ALREADY out there, I was just not USING IT.. and that kind of woke me up.I don't think we can avoid some risks. But for people who have no use for Facebook, or twitter, I suppose they can opt out.

    I DON'T like being "tracked" so much so I have moved to duckduckgo for my search engine and use a Safari browser, the less google the better.

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    1. You are so right about the risks all of us undergo even without social media. Equifax's hack was a nightmare that continues. I tried several times to lock my credit with them only to get the message that they couldn't handle my request and to come back later. With the big three credit bureaus our credit life is in their hands and we have very little control.

      I use Twitter strictly for blog and brand promotion. The political comments on it drive me crazy and can upset my whole morning.

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    2. I agree with Madeline. I'm primarily on FB, but I do have a twitter account that I check maybe once a month. Stupid to even be on there, with that stat but, it doesn't do it for me. I should probably kill it. I promote the blog on FB in several different groups plus my own site. If some idiot spammer/phony is going to hack they're going to hack. You can't get far enough ahead of them anymore, IMO.
      b

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  2. It's very simple not to get hacked: you do NOT sign up under the real you. You do not include your real birthday, your real name, real photos of yourself, esp your children. Everything is connected back to a phony email address. You limit exposure only to your friends, who know it is really you. Also, keep your views under the radar screen, excite or anger no one and odds are in your favor you will be left alone.

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    1. Twitter allows you to do this, though Facebook requires a real person behind the account. You are right to scrub personal info. In fact, I am off to delete some stuff from my profiles that could be used to track me down. Plus, I have all privacy settings in place. So, keep my fingers crossed!

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    2. Bob, I'm just as fake behind Facebook. I also know how to fudge my IP tracking numbers. Just shut down your computer and pull your plug out of the wall. Wait a few minutes, replug, restart and viola' you have a brand new IP address. Your old one is gone and no longer traceable. Oh and turn off location services on your iPhone or smart phone. Use only as necessary.

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  3. Hi Bob - Call me an "ostrich" but I'm pretty sure the horse is out of the barn. It's pretty much too late to bother protecting one's identity. In this day and age of instant communication and technical achievement, we are ALL subject to both the good AND bad of our own making. I don't shred documents and I don't worry. Our VISA card has been hacked six times on six different cards and, thankfully, the bank has caught it and just required us to get new cards. Yes, it's a pain to notify all accounts that are auto-billed monthly but that's a minor inconvenience. The very nature of social media is our own worst enemy. Everything is amplified and most stuff is blown way out of proportion. I honestly think things are way better than Facebook posts imply. We love to grab any outrageous story and gossip because I guess we enjoy being thankful if we're not affected by it. And even if we ARE, usually the stories are incomplete or are hyped up as a warning for things that probably never happen. I just choose to take everything with a grain of salt and I've been OK, so far.

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    1. Yes, I agree that our personal privacy and identity are pretty much a thing of the past. But, six times on six different credit cards? That might drive me to only using cash, communicating by landline, and reverting to a dialup modem!

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  4. Hi Bob! Good questions again! As a author and fellow blogger I use social media to help get the word out about my work. I am not one to do book tours and/or spend money on advertising so it is one way for me to advertise and connect with others. I think what much of it comes down to is convenience. There are LOTS of products in the pipeline that will make some things easier for us--but many of those come at a cost of lack of privacy and/or a chance for abuse. (i.e. I love online banking for the ease but am aware of some of the obvious dangers). So do we refuse to participate or go along with it. It depends. For now I'm on SM a LOT and hope for the best. ~Kathy

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    1. As long as I see some advantages I will keep rolling the dice, I guess. Just not clicking on unknown email links or answering spammy phone calls helps a lot.

      My most involved passwords, along with two step verification are reserved for the accounts I really don't want messed with. Otherwise, like you, I opt for convenience over total safety.

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  5. I'm going to keep this short because I'm afraid I might seem snarky if I talk too much. 50 years from now the Internet will be considered vastly more important than the printing press in the advancement of our society. Like everything else, there is a dark side to almost everything but...

    Being able to go anonymous on-line is one of the basic problems. That means the bad guys can't be caught. Eventually, sooner rather than later, this will be fixed. BTW.. It is a little harder to change an IP address than your commentor suggested, but not much.

    I personally don't accept anonymous commentors on my blog. If you want to add to a discussion you need to somehow be accountable for what you say. Anonymity is what makes too many prone to rants and rages.

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    1. Anonymity on social media platforms is certainly part of the problem. Lack of effective controls over spreading false or misleading information is even worse because the consquences can be more serious.

      I have no doubt of the power of the Internet but I wonder if socail media will survive in its present form. The potential for damage seems too great.


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  6. I become less engaged online every day. I do still read some blogs as you can see, but I am really trying to limit FB. I don't enjoy it that much any more. Twitter is a problem for me. I absolutely hate it and yet I cannot seem to look away. It is like looking at a bad car accident. There is so much negativity and scary people on there. I deleted my account once but I couldn't stand not knowing what was going on......I do love Instagram though. It is a way to send my art work out into the world. As far as my blog goes, I have been less and less engaged with that. I think I am just burned out on social media in most every way. I feel like I have nothing left to say about my artwork.....

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    1. Maybe you'd benefit from a social media/online fast for awhile. When I stopped blogging for three months a few years ago I came back reenergized.

      Concerning Twitter, I block/unfollow those who spout nothing but negativity, even those who I agree with politically. By following mainly positive people my online experience has been better on that platform. Even so, I know there are lots of bad people flying around Twitter.

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  7. I started using Facebook about seven years ago to keep up with son and daughter. Since then, my son has stopped using Facebook, my daughter's postings are mostly about dogs, and I've added friends and extended family, most of whom don't ever post anything. Of course, I rarely post anything either. I have "liked" sites that provide affirmations and optimism, and I'll usually check in with Facebook in the evening, when I spend time reading posts from the sites that I have "liked." If I stopped going on Facebook, I wouldn't miss it.

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    1. You are at the same level of engagement with Facebook as I am. I do have one major advantage: all of my immediate family lives here, so keeping up with people doesn't require electronics.

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  8. I do not bank on line nor do I use a phone for banking. I do have a separate bank acct with a debit card, that I put a small amt of money in every month, for my college kid, for gas and emergency food. It was hacked up in Virginia. I am in Alabama. I was not happy. I have Facebook aka fakebook, but I do not give a flitter about twitter. I have seen significant harassment on Facebook, and devious, ugly lies spread about folks that I knew for a fact to be untrue. These rumors were spread by grown folks in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, so that tells me why some of these kids act the way they do on line. I like blogs about personal finance, retirement, and thrift, but otherwise I am not really into tech. I also deal with criminal defendants every day, and the things folks do to each other, and especially the stuff folks do to the accounts of older folks is awful. Identity theft is no joke. I guess that is why I like that you allow me to post as "anonymous" because I am a bit paranoid. I actually find Facebook, and the vicious lies that are allowed to be spread about folks I know, to be very depressing, so I try to stay off of it as much as possible. My granddaddy, a hardworking hillbilly farmer, always told my mom, a liar is worse than a thief, they will hurt you more. Yea, I am sorta country and old fashioned, even with all of my fancy degrees. They are not worth a quarter if you do not have integrity. I just keep on working long hours, go home, and local radio is the only media I try to "do" when I am home. To be real, sometimes I just wanna head for the hills and hibernate.

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    1. Someone choosing "anonymous": doesn't bother me in the least. I will delete inflammatory, degrading, or hateful comments regardless of the name (or lack of one) attached. Luckily, that is a very uncommon occurrence on this blog. Readers here seem to be quite respectful of each other and keep strong feelings within the bounds of decency.

      I understand your concerns and decisions and applaud your determination to do what makes you comfortable. We all got along just fine before Facebook and Twitter and online banking, and can do so today if we choose.

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  9. I think involvement in social media is one of those things that divides us generationally. It's not that we don't use it, or want to use, but I think many of us retirees and such are just not comfortable with it like younger people are these days. My own children (late teens, 20s and late 30s) are totally comfortable using all sorts of SM platforms, and have introduced me to new things as well as taught me a lot about keeping safe, etc. Specializing in social media along with reputation management is its own field in public relations and communications now, and you can get a degrees in it from reputable universities! It's not going away.

    I enjoy using SM, but know my limits with it. I tried Snapchat, for example, but didn't like it. Same for Tumblr and a couple of others my kids use. I'm still on FB (which my kids rarely use these days), but cut way, way back on my Friends list early last year - I pretty much only stayed with friends that post somewhat regularly or that I communicate with, and cut the others, and have enjoyed FB so much more. FB Messenger (and video messaging) has turned out to be a great way to stay in touch with the family, especially when we travel. I'm addicted to Twitter, but don't have a real presence there; that is, I pretty much go there to see what's going on and to stay current with news. I rarely tweet and even more rarely read comments. I follow people I know, or who are well known but my list is small. I tweeted a response to someone though a couple of months ago and my tweet went "viral," which was fun, but that's probably the only time that's going to happen. I picked up a few followers then but they soon left when they realized all I usually did was tweet pictures of cute dogs to my daughter. I used to be a heavy Pinterest user, but haven't gone near it in months. I also love Instagram - I have a private account for friends and family, but just set up a new account to connect with my blog and its going well. I plan to use it more when we're traveling later this year.

    I'm careful on the computer and with websites, or as careful as I can be, and so far so good, even with social media. I've had a very positive experience with commenters on my own blog, and have only had to block one person. Wordpress does not allow anonymous comments; I get to see every new commenter first and decide whether to let their comment through or not, and their spam filter is very strong. Positive though is the name of the game in my book. There are no guarantees, but I've found if I'm positive, others most likely will be too.

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    1. Thanks, Laura, for your excellent overview of your use and rationalization for SM participation. Isn't it interesting that when older generations get comfortable with a particular platform, the younger folks tend to move to something else. FB was all the rage 8 or 9 years ago until it went mainstream with parents and grandparents.

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  10. One day, for no reason I googled my blog by name and scrolled down, noticing all the sites that tell how good or bad my blog is. Suddenly, I saw Jennifer Aniston just before the name of my blog. Every post I had and my wallpaper was there, just not me. What did or could the person gain? I was trying to figure out what to do and then was not posting for about six months. Now, it appears this activity has stopped. What could I have done? Who should I have told that this was going on? I did nothing because I did not know what else they were capable of doing. I suppose I should have been flattered someone wanted to steal my blog. I could tell no difference in anything and could keep posting.

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    1. I think the only you can do is delete it and start over or wait it out like you did. There really is no one to notify who can, or will, do anything about it.

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  11. I deleted my LinkedIn account when I retired a few years ago. I still get invites from people on that platform and have no idea why I am showing up for them to contact me. The delete button is my best friend.
    I never was a Twitter user because I don't speak shorthand and I need more than the maximum characters allowed by Twitter to express my thoughts.
    I am close to shutting down my Instagram account since I get people following me that I don't know and I am tired of deleting and blocking them. I don't see much value to holding onto the account. Many of those in my account don't post much on Instagram and we are already Facebook friends.
    I am a Facebook user and check it a few times a day. I have stopped following friends that constantly post their political views using memes. The ability to use the Message part of Facebook is my go to place rather than email or the phone. The positive side of Facebook is that I was able to connect with friends from my childhood that I lost touch with.
    Social media isn't going away, so the best I can do to prevent harm to myself, is stay vigilant.

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    1. Like you, I had a LinkedIn account for a short period but have not used it for at least two years. Even so I still get asked to hook up with someone on that platform. I just delete the notification and move on.

      I have never used Instagram, did try Pinterest for awhile, but decided it wasn't for me. Facebook is down to maybe two dozen friends.

      I agree: SM isn't going away. It can take over a big chunk of your life if you let it.

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  12. I use blogging, text messaging, and Facebook, and Duolingo. I have tried Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Yelp, YouTube, and Runtastic. I also participate in NaNoWriMo. I also use a lot of online tools that are not social media per se, such as online banking, online shopping, navigation apps, for reading media like newspapers, and for booking accommodation online (such as Airb&b). In order to keep my professional and personal identies separate, I use aliases on social media. I worry about the extent to which Google, Amazon, and Apple etc. are collecting my personal data. I have found that my screen time has crept up to excessive levels. I use online apps and social media because they are necessary to function effectively in our world today. Through electronic communications, I can be connected to people and businesses worldwide, and through social media, I can keep in touch with my own personal network of friends and colleagues. Although I am careful about managing privacy settings and so on, I do not spend much time worrying about hackers. Everything we do in life carries some risk.

    Jude

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    1. Gideon Sockpuppet is certainly a unique alias.

      You are quite involved in this end of things, more so than I am. It works for you and you have your eyes wide open to the dangers.

      The privacy issue and how the big boys use our data will become a major issue at some point. Now we are learning that the Equifax hack was even worse than reported, yet they remain in business and collecting things on each of us every day. I have locked my report on their service, but I would love to cut them off entirely and forever. A company that makes money off my private information but does a crappy job of protecting it doesn't deserve the opportunity to continue.

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