In late 2016, Mark Zuckerberg said it was “crazy” and untrue that fake news on Facebook influenced the presidential election. He now admits that fake messages, intentionally designed by Russian interests, were targeted at and have reached millions of Facebook users since early in 2015.
Meanwhile, teenagers from Macedonia and elsewhere run numerous Facebook pages on behalf of other American politicians to earn money driving user traffic to third-party sites. Shabby marketers employ the same tactics to sell literally everything else.
Full disclosure: I haven’t used Facebook since 2011. I signed up initially because of a client who, at the time, was using it exclusively to communicate rather than regular email. When that engagement completed successfully, I did a quick audit of social media accounts I had + how much time I was dedicating to each. I simply couldn’t sustain the time I was spending on Facebook for the return it was giving me. Personally, I was learning a great deal from my connections on Twitter but Facebook seemed to be time that returned little, if any, value.
So I closed my account. During my time using it, though, even back then, my experiences convinced me that those who choose to use it should be a lot more careful than they are. It’s even more likely most of them probably don’t even know what that means.
What does that mean? If you’re going to continue using Facebook, here are some suggestions:
Don’t Use Facebook to Log Into Other Stuff
First and foremost, do not sign into other online services, sites and apps using your Facebook login. You might think this is giving you some great value, making it easy for you to use every and all kind of service and app more easily. Well, it offers Facebook even more value than that.
When you sign into other services, sites and apps using your Facebook login, you give Facebook permission to know everything you do while using it. If you’re cool giving them access to your spending, dating, eating, shopping, medical, political and browsing habits, then keep doing it. Sites that offer you the choice of logging in using your Facebook account add all of your activities to the dossier Facebook has on you. Be advised.
That goes too far for my comfort level. If you agree and stop using Facebook to log into other sites, take it a step further and unlink sites where you’ve done this in the past. In your Facebook account, choose Settings >>> Apps to view sites and apps linked with your account. I recommend you unlink them all.
Keep Your Friends List Clean
Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Many Facebook users still accept friend requests from people they don’t know and even more accept friend requests if they have a friend in common. Do you think scammers don’t know this?
Why do you connect with every single person from the past you’ve ever known? Unfriend people you don’t know. The more people you connect with, the more risks you take. Take them on people you actually know.
Don’t Take Surveys and Don’t Play Games
Facebook loves it when you do this. It uses this information to grow its overall knowledge of you, your personality, your tendencies, your sensibilities, your personal preferences and other characteristics, subtle and otherwise, you may not think about or realize.
Keep personal info private
If it’s not obvious, I’ll state it for the record: never share your real birthday with a site, app or service, unless it’s for a financial services account for security purposes.
Generally speaking, it should be standard practice to withhold as much information as you can for as long as you can. Doing this well limits the amount of information Facebook or any other site can use to create and endlessly refine a profile of you.
It’s not easy. People who you know, who know when your real birthday is, will sometimes wish you a happy one on the correct day. Couple this to the apps, services and sites you may have given different birth dates to that are now linked with Facebook. Even if you’ve made sure Facebook doesn’t know your real birthday, it knows it’s fake now because it doesn’t match with dates you’ve used elsewhere. Used the same date? Prolly doesn’t matter after at least one person wishes you well on the correct one.
Don’t Like Fake Stuff
Use caution. Every time you like or share something fake, it helps them by increasing their believability. This, in turn, helps them spread farther and wider. Scammers love it when endorsements by careless users generate hundreds, thousands and millions more. That’s the name of the game: to exploit the ignorance of the crowd.
Use An Email Created Specifically and Exclusively for Facebook
Create an email address you use only for Facebook. Case in point: Trump’s campaign for president used a sophisticated operation on Facebook last year that targeted accounts linked with email addresses of registered voters. Once the campaign had your email address, it could target you on Facebook. That was completely legal. Facebook knows all the email addresses you’ve ever used on the site. Keep in mind that setting up a new email address won’t get rid of any old ones you’ve used on Facebook. Another way to solve for this may be to continue to use an old address on Facebook and create a new email address to keep your personal emails and activities more private. Think it over.
While Facebook has designed and implemented some new tools to identify fake stuff, it remains very permissive of content in general. Primarily because it is a business. The point of their efforts is to make money selling targeted ads. So, content in general is money and its legitimacy is a matter of interpretation.
Content that gets “disputed” is called into question, however, it is still true that the more controversial a post sounds, the more skeptical we should be. It’s important to consider the original source of anything posted. If you’ve never heard of a source, chances are good that they’re chock-full of ads poised for you to click on something.
Be Hard to Trick and Report Fake News
Think you can spot a fake account? It’s not always easy. Use reverse image search tools to verify people are who they say they are.
What’s a “reverse image search tool”?
1. Save someone’s profile photo URL– the smaller image at the top of their profile — and right click or touch and hold (depending on the device you’re viewing it on).
2. Choose “copy link to image” or “copy”.
3. Paste it into Google or TinEye to do a reverse image search.
If the image shows up elsewhere, verify it’s not a different person. If it is, you’ve sleuthed out a fake.
Sleuth out other signs of trickery. Make sure businesses are legitimate before you simply “Like” them. Check the number of likes they have and how frequently they post. It’s not uncommon for “businesses” to have a million likes and little or no content at all. It’s simple to pay third-parties for likes but friends, photos and activity with real connections that aren’t linked to a single source are tougher to fake.
Share insights with real, living, breathing family and friends. Facebook’s algorithms constantly change, same as the ways and means to exploit them. Notice something new? Spread the word. Turn others onto trickery you discover as quick as you discover it. Same for any settings and/or services that can help secure privacy and improve our experience. Last, but not least: trust your instincts. If the service is free, remember: you are the product. Getting value in return takes effort on our part but it isn’t impossible.
P.S. These same sorts of tips can/should be applied to LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.