'Sick child's classmates refuse to wish him Happy birthday'. 'A green BFF in your Facebook status indicates site security'.' 'Share this to win / to be blessed / to receive money.'
These sorts of 'memes' (a piece of media that spreads through social media) are ubiquitous on social media, and a reason I am rapidly loosing interest in Facebook, as too many people share them blindly, without checking the facts.
This week's tool is Snopes, which helps spot the fake stories, and fraudulent memes.
'But it's harmless'
The reason many of these fraudulent memes are created is to collect 'likes' and 'shares'. These memes are designed to catch your attention, and to encourage you to share. In a digital world, the likes and shares are almost the same as currency, because the popularity of a site will contribute directly to it's advertising revenue, to how high it is in search results, and whether people believe it is real. You may click 'like' to indicate your approval, but these 'click farmers' will keep all the likes, but remove the image you liked and replace it with something else. This means your like could be used to bolster their online value.
Some posts encourage you to share to 'help the police / RSPCA' catch someone who has done something wrong. If you share these without checking, you could potentially be guilty of libel, if the accusations are not true. Equally, you could make someone's life really miserable by widely spreading something that is so malicious. If you want to help sharing these posts, only share directly from their official websites.
Personality quizzes, knowledge quizzes, etc, can all be used to collect information about you, your likes and preferences. This data can be used to build marketing profiles and make predictions. Many of these also request access to your personal data profile, and this can allow them access to your friends as well. Potentially, you are giving away personal data that can be used against you in identity fraud, collected without your knowledge, and used without your knowledge. And you are opening up your friends to the same risks.
So, how do you protect yourself?
It's simple - check before you post!!
- Check it out on Snopes. This site exists exclusively to identify fake information.
- Do a quick Google search - often this leads you to further information that will help you find out whether or not the story is true.
- Check your security on your social media accounts, and close access to anything you do not recognise, or that you so not want to have access to your data.
- Ensure that your social media account only has a limited amount of personal information - I almost never use my real date of birth on social media, because of this. Alternatively, create a fake profile that you use, so you can have the benefits of the internet, without the risks.
- Use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. It it seems incredibly unlikely or shocking, it may not be true.
- If in doubt, don't share or click like.
Snopes says: In the age of a surfeit of information but a dearth of research, the most common way to do that is on social media. Unfortunately, it's also easier than it's ever been to spread around misinformation, deliberately or not, and open yourself and others up to malware or nasty little advertising scams.