/ Technology

Opinion: Facebook spam is worse than you think

Social media memes may seem harmless fun, but they’re a boon for scammers and ID thieves according to Kate Bevan. Do you agree?

Are your friends making Facebook worse? Scrolling through it the other day, I grew increasingly exasperated as I saw content from pages with witless names such as ‘Granny’s off her meds again’, ‘Piano Moms’, ‘Mummy needs gin’ and ‘Ominous positivity memes’.

I don’t subscribe to any of those, so why were they cluttering up my feed?

‘Engagement bait’

The answer? My friends are interacting with them. It’s bad enough having content from pages I don’t follow shoved into my feed, but more infuriating is the dross they push out: it’s engagement-bait; questions designed to get people to click and reply.

‘Tell me you’re old without telling me how old you are’. Or emoji-splattered posts such as ‘If your vagina or penis was named after the last TV show/ movie u watched what would it be…’ (sic).

Now, your Facebook is yours to do as you like with. But when you engage with this stuff, you’re making Facebook worse for everyone. You’re making it worse for your friends because your interactions on those posts end up in their feeds. And you’re making it worse for everyone because these pages – at best – are designed to accumulate engagements.

Once they’ve got lots of comments, likes and follows, they can be sold to unscrupulous marketers or scammers who strip the page of its previous name and content, and fill it with fake competitions or worse.

Using your personal information

The high number of followers makes the page look legitimate. In some cases, these pages facilitate ID theft. That question about your mother’s maiden name or where you were born? Scammers can use this type of information to, for example, reset passwords.

I’m on Facebook to keep in touch with people I love: my cousin in New York, my friend from my elementary school in Canada, my siblings, my friends. I want to see my friends’ pets and holiday snaps.

Your friends are probably more interested in your pet pictures than your answers to the witless questions this type of content promotes.

How do you feel about these pages? Do you agree that Facebook would be a better place without them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

This column appears in the September issue of Which? magazine.

Kevin says:
18 August 2021

1) Ban Facebook and other “social media” commercial surveillance companies from storing ANY PII from under 18’s
2) Oblige them to provide details on request to any users showing who their data has been sold to (‘anonymised’ or not)
3) Failure in ‘anonymisation’ of data to be subject to exemplary fines (where it can be shown that such data is easily traced back to individuals by simple cross referencing or other basic analysis)
4) Put a “health warning” on the login page advising on the dangers of using their ‘service’

Until their profits are affected by privacy legislation, these companies will continue to push the boundaries of acceptability; they routinely risk public welfare with continous development and commercialisation of intrusive data gathering, it’s time to regulate them more like the drug industry.

Karl says:
18 August 2021

Perhaps it is about time for some statutory regulation of social media sites.

Pete says:
18 August 2021

Gave up on Facebook years ago. Don’t understand why people complain of abuse. Why are they there at all? Facebook loves excess, fanatics, bullies, cowards, fascists, revolutionaries, gun-toting maniacs and fools who make the platform rich by clicking on its booby-trapped links. Despite the genuine good the platform pretends to achieve it remains an open sewer to be avoided at all costs.

I stopped using f’book years ago as I soon discovered how it’s all so far too elitist and there’s never anyone anywhere on there at anywhere near my level of severe disability, just like there never is on stupid useless dating sites which are also always far too elite. And I found almost nothing but gross hostility on f’book, it should be called anti-social media. And the only women on there who ever wanted to be friends with me were always umpteen thousand miles away, both in status as well as distance, totally out of reach, they might as well have been celebrities. And it certainly DOESN’T “empower” me one single bit, it was absolutely no help whatsoever. I keep hearing about the “power” of so-called “social” media but it doesn’t work if you’re all alone and you don’t have loads of friends and/or family with accounts on the same site. And it doesn’t work if your issue is not a typical popular subject. If you’re seriously disabled like me then no-one wants to know, not even “disability” groups.

Social media can be the absolute pits at the time, and I say that as someone who doesn’t even have an account with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

For far too long now people have seemingly been allowed to get away with posting misinformation and fake news with relative impunity and chronic indifference from the authorities.

Those silly ‘memes’ are amongs my biggest bugbears, especially the ones that promote hatred.

But unfortunately the horse has long bolted and alas, it looks like such things are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

Bob Turner says:
20 August 2021

I am glad of the opportunity to share this on my Facebook timeline as I have been trying educate some of my friends who continually do not listen to my advice on this subject. Thanks.

Nemo says:
21 August 2021

Can’t understand why you would want to support and use it. It is too clever by half at joining the dots up with people you even only vaguely know. Big brother stuff. Technically, it’s also very very badly designed and not at all intuitive.
My life is private and I keep it that way. If I don’t meet face to face, I phone or zoom my friends/family and use WhatsApp groups for the occasional comment, joke, FYI, short message or photo. Anything more meaty gets put in an email (previously known as a letter). Even your best friends aren’t really interested in seeing innumerable photos of you and your family/pets or seeing pictures of the meal you are about to eat or the shoes you just bought. When are people going to figure out their lives are largely boring in the eyes of others?
Facebook is a time-waster and mostly for people who have got nothing better to do. Oh, and for companies who want to sell you something or convince you how wonderful their brand is.
As for Twitter – don’t get me started on that. Mostly a place for people who like the sound of their own voices. ………….. (I’ll allow the likes of Marcus Rashford as an exception.)
I never usually waste my time commenting like this but I was compelled to say something about Facebook and Twitter. I detest them so much. I’m proud to say that if you google me I don’t exist. When I die I will cease to be, rather like the ex-parrot.

I don’t open emails sent by Facebook. Periodically I search for them and delete them all.

Save yourself some time and effort. Just set up a filter to move the messages to your junk folder on receipt. Then they need never bother you again.

What gets me is how difficult Fakebook makes it for you to control how you use your account and to keep it private. There are some instructions if you can find them, but they don’t make it easy.

I don’t use Fakebook in my own name, but had to ‘friend’ (or whatever you call it) someone to keep in touch with something a while back. I also looked at Which? members club once. I only registered with the bare essentials some years ago to create an account.

I thought I had secured my account between just myself and the person I wanted contact with but I get emails daily with:
– new friend suggestions How do you stop MUTUAL friends suggestions
– notifications about people and others I have never heard of
– a lot has happened of Fakebook since you last logged in . . . .
– join groups to connect with people in your area who share your interests from riding, runners, angling to beauty. The areas are nowhere near me and I have specified no location or interests
– items for sale/swap (in my area ?!?!?)
– somebody (I have never heard of) reminiscing
– I have (up to) 11 new notifications
– Amazon Echo – UK Alex Help & Support . . . (never had)
– lost an found in my area (I apparently ‘live’ in areas all over the country!!!
– new group suggestions for you my ‘friends’ are apparently members of lost football grounds, James Bond, The Green Man, Grayson’s Art Club, Famtastic Smolbois
– Someone posted in The Which? members club why don’t they send you the whole text instead of baiting you to log in? I might actually log in if I was interested, although I rarely read the emails
– Archers Appreciation / Doctors BBC Drama / Premium Bonds (Unofficial) / HPB Points Exchange / Ercol furniture fanatics / Tent Talk Camping Group UK / Allotment Junkies/ Four in a Bed 2021 because you viewed The Which? members club

That’s how Facebook is designed to work. The idea is to connect people. It originated as an electronic university year book that would helpfully put users in contact with other users who shared the same interests. One of the central concepts was that of mutual friends. If you are a friend of Jack then it assumed that you might like Jack’s friends Jake and John. This is what is behind the application’s success. The downside of this is that if Jack is heavily into Dungeons and Dragons then you will receive lots of other D&D fan’s as friend suggestions even if you hate D&D.

More annoying are the random friend suggestions, including some very dubious members of the opposite sex. And then there are the geographic suggestions. I have relatives living in SA plus friends from Eastern Europe. The result is that I get suggestions in Zulu, Hungarian and Romanian, none of which I neither speak nor read. Those really are the Facebook algorithm going crazy.

I stopped using Facebook,after watching a program on TV all about their adverts and how basically we are being treated like their guinypigs after I realised,I decided I did not want to be one,but as I use WhatsApp as I can video call for free to family abroad I keep the Facebook account open,but just don’t use it,so I don’t have to deal with all the crop they through at u,I get the last laugh Facebook,I’m using them,for free phonecalls and video calls and messages 😆

Pseudonymous says:
25 August 2021

Nobody says that you have to provide your actual date of birth or mother’s maiden name. I tend to be truthful to banks and building societies but friends would be surprised to see how old / young I claim to be elsewhere, and how many mothers I seem to have had.
I also use a VPN and, as a Luddite, don’t have a smartphone and am not on any social media. I therefore get very few dubious emails (and have been known to delete dodgy-looking ones that appear to be from friends before using my own contact details to contact the friend and ask if it was real).

Kev J says:
26 August 2021

I think that facebook is largely redundant, now that we can keep in touch with loved ones via WhatsApp. We can thus exclude pond life.

So what should we do about it????

Philip B says:
29 August 2021

It has been quite some time since I have lost my interest in Facebook but still have an account to keep the contact with friends and family far away. The fact that the terms and conditions whenever I opened my account back ten years ago, were very badly exposed and since then I have had various terms and conditions updates sent by Facebook to agree to. There perhaps should have been more done to protect users and also a clearer understanding when agreeing to their terms and conditions at the intial moment of signing up an account. The technology travelled a lot quicker that the legal side of things.
I wouldn’t call it social media, in fact it is anti social media!

Mike Brockington says:
3 September 2021

Social Media has become septic, minority groups and personal agendas are now given a voice that they previously did not have, despite the views of the majority, this will get worse before it gets better and social media is now not the place to share genuine goodwill and experiences with friends and colleagues; this will simply be taken advantage of and unfortunately destroys the original purpose of these platforms

Kate this is an excellent article, and I will be adding to the clutter by sharing your article…. it makes a change from pets first names etc.