Defending Yourself against Fakers on Facebook

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Fake news was the buzzword regarding Facebook last fall, as both sides of the political debate claimed the platform was spreading lies and outrageous fabrications. In reply, Facebook created new security features designed to combat false posts, an effort it is still trying to perfect with more recent changes to the way the site displays news articles. Beyond just the news, however, is there more to worry about when checking your feed on the popular site? The recent hurricanes led to a spat of fake videos and dire weather “forecasts” that prompted local news outlets and the National Weather Service to issue warnings to viewers to make sure to verify the information that is being presented in the posts by consulting legitimate weather resources, an echo of similar warnings issued during various snowstorms last winter. In addition, there are the usual host of phishing and other scams that show up on the popular website every day. The good news is, it is fairly easy to protect yourself if you do a few simple things and keep a few tips in mind.

When it comes to items like false news or weather reports, the best thing to do is to consider the source and see if you can verify the information. If the website or address looks suspicious, you may be seeing something that is not a legitimate site or one that has a certain agenda. This is not limited to just political news either, as the weather example shows, and can include health and science news as well. One website you can turn to is FactCheck, which is run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to weeding out untruths in U.S. political debate. The site has a few sub-pages that reach beyond politics and cover science and health. A similar site is Politifact, which does focus more on politics but sometimes also delves into other related areas. When looking at the site for this blog post, one of their current stories on the Truth-o-Meter is about Lady Gaga, a report that she was arrested for a confrontation with Melania Trump—the story rated a Pants-on-Fire. If the story you need to fact check is one of those that could be an urban myth, then you can always turn to Snopes, which covers a wider range of topics from mainstream news to celebrity gossip. The site includes a hot 50 list and a new items list for a quick overview of what is trending at the time.

Aside from planted stories, Facebook does also have its share of old tried-and-true scams, like click-bait, phishing, and spoofing. Click-bait is essentially a link that is sent to you via private message or posted in a feed, either directly on your feed or on a friend’s page. One recent scam involved using messenger on a compromised account to send a message about a video to all the friends of that account. The message included a link that unleashed malware if the person was using an Android device or the Chrome browser and clicked the link. Phishing works in a similar way, but usually directs the user to a fake login page and, once you enter your password, then your account could become hacked unless you change the password on the real site. This is a big enough problem that Facebook even has a security page dedicated to avoiding spam and phishing. The page is an excellent resource with plenty of tips on how to avoid spam and what to do if you do become a victim of a spam. There are now also warnings that pop up on your newsfeed when someone else posts something to your page, so you can be aware of this type of activity. The warning includes a link to Facebook’s security check-up page, which is another good resource, as it is an interactive review of the settings you have in the security center. Together, these two help pages will guide you through every setting to make sure your page is secure.

The last item is the spoofing of a page. Similar to email spoofing, a Facebook spoof is not someone actually hacking your page, but making as close a copy as they can to make it look like your page. The spoofed page then sends friend requests to almost everyone you know and more. Many times friends and family will then report that they went to the page and saw something that made them worry you had been hacked, either links to weird sites or illicit photos of someone they do not know. The easiest way to see if you have been hacked or spoofed is to log on and look at your page. If everything seems OK, then search for yourself by name and see if another page, the spoofed one, shows up as well. If it does, then you can report that page to Facebook for removal. The easiest way to avoid getting spoofed is to keep some of your data private so only your friends or friends of friends can see it. This would include perhaps your pictures or anything other than the basics in your profile, such as your high school or college.

—Laura N.

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