Like many things in life that are arguably bad for us, Facebook can be a lot of fun. We have 24/7 access to our friends and families’ stream of consciousness, allowing us to feel connected to people we don’t see very often ‘in real life’. When we can’t attend an event due to its location, our busy schedules, empty pockets or poor physical or mental health Facebook brings our friends and their experiences to life with check-ins, videos and photos.
Facebook also allows us to surround ourselves with people who think like us when we want to be in the safe bubble of a particular interest or support group. Facebook can also be a great educational platform for those blinkered by media bias or prejudice to get out of their bubble and engage in lively debate and fact checking with broader minded people.
But this isn’t an ideal world, and Facebook has a dark side. From data mining to unconsciously contributing to the spread of fake news or getting your business embroiled in a sticky situation because of something you’ve shared, it’s far easier than you think to take a step into the dark side of social media.
Sharing is caring, right?
Before you hit the big blue button, here are three ways that sharing posts on Facebook can be harmful to you and others.
1) Sharing a picture of someone you do not know to raise awareness for a cause.
Always check your sources. If a person is lost then do not share their picture unless it has come from the police. People escaping dangerous situations do not want to be found and sadly it is very common for Facebook to be used by people manipulating the truth in order to appeal to our basic human desire to help them. This also goes for being encouraged to shame someone who is purportedly accused of having done something criminal, embarrassing or otherwise distasteful. It’s a common form of cyber-bullying to spread lies about people in this way.
2) Being asked to copy and paste a series of questions.
Social engineering is the biggest cyber security threat and it is astounding how many people mindlessly give away sensitive information on Facebook. Think about when you set up an account online with say a financial institution. Which three security questions do they commonly ask? The street you grew up on, the name of your first pet and your mother’s maiden name.
Now take a look at this post which encourages you to copy and paste the questions, complete with your own answers and share it on your timeline.
Find your goth name! Mother’s maiden name + name of your first pet
Find your soap opera name! Middle name + the street you grew up on
Do you see where this is going? This post is not a fun way to get to know your friends. This is a social engineer looking to mine Facebook for information that could make your account, the associated email address and all the apps and accounts connected to it vulnerable to attack.
3) Being asked to copy and paste to raise awareness for a cause or show loyalty.
“Copy and paste if…”
These posts were not created for us to share a fun fact about ourselves or show our love for a friend or family member. They are designed by advertisers looking to identify Facebook users belonging to certain demographics. If you share these posts you are not raising awareness for a cause, you are showing scammers that you are easily manipulated when it comes to particular subjects.
OK, mind blown. What else do I need to know?
Ironically, some of the most successful viral hoaxes are public service announcements warning about cyber security.
They are cleverly designed to trigger our desire to help by sharing information that seems important.
Jayden K Smith, Anwar Jitou, Tanner Dwyer and Bobby Roberts are not going to friend request you and clone your account. Sharing a Facebook post “opting you out” will not protect the privacy of your images and Mark Zuckerberg is not planning on making you pay to log in to your account any time soon: “Facebook is free and it always will be.”
What’s the deal with copying and pasting versus sharing?
When a post is shared, it becomes part of a chain of posts which link to the original and this makes it easy for Facebook to track down viral hoax messages and remove them. If the original post is removed by Facebook then all of those shares are removed too.
By copying and pasting a message, you not only protect the identity of the originator of the hoax, but you create a new instance of the message that is not dependent on the original.
So if 50 people share the message publicly by copying and pasting it then 49 posts will still remain when the original is deleted and the originator can mine this information without leaving a trail back to their account by simply searching for a sentence within the body of the message.
Privacy settings are also a factor in why viral hoaxes rely on copy and pastes rather than shares. If you share something a friend has posted then your post is subject to their privacy preferences. For example let’s say User A shares User B’s post. User B’s post was set to “friends only” so even though the post appears on User A’s timeline, it will only actually be visible to friends (or friends of friends if that option is selected) of User B. This kind of post isn’t going to go viral, but if User B’s post was public and is shared publicly by User A then more people will see it, share it and the hoax originator can also see it and search for it.
How do I stay safe online?
- Think before you post. If you want to show your love or loyalty, create a native post in your own words.
- Never share a link based on its clickbait headline.
- Never share any content on Facebook that requires you to copy and paste it.
- Never share a provocative image without first Google searching it to see if the source can be verified.
- Pay it forward: Now that you’re woke, share the link to this post with anyone you see sharing in this way.
Lianne Marie is InFusion’s shared media specialist. She knows who will and who won’t share this post, and if she does not see your name in the list she will understand.