Social Media 101: Fake Identities, False Friends, and Social Media Safety

by Craig Hartranft on February 11, 2014

in Op-Ed

When it comes to false friends or identities with spurious, fake, or even absent credentials, the same proverb applies to social media, especially Facebook.

There are many people who will use various deceptive tactics, mostly benign and preying upon what is familiar to you, to gain your confidence. Alternatively, there are also those well-meaning persons who, by acts of both commission and omission, inherently provide little to no information to verify the veracity of their identity. Both scenarios create a clear and present danger to your online security. This article is about staying safe, protecting yourself from the inherent and rampant dangers of social media.

Be Safe, Be On Guard
First, assume nothing. Take precautions if a person, place, or organization, even if you think you know them, attempts to friend you, have you like their page, or join their group. Verify their identity by checking their online information on their page or profile.

Your Gullibility Is Their Advantage; Get Ahead Of Them
Look for questionable identification markers such as the lack of information or authorization. A notable ploy is to have a profile name that is not consistent with the principal person or company who created the profile/page or posts to the same. For example, the profile name is one gender, but the principle owner making posts is identified by an opposite gender (often by use of a pronoun). Some markers are not necessarily indications of identity accuracy or integrity, such as those who have friended or liked the profile or page or if the page has pictures commonly associated with the person or company.

To the former, the fact that a “friend” has friended the profile/page in question does not necessarily vouch for its integrity or veracity. They could have easily fallen prey to the false familiarity the profile, page, or group has created by association. To the latter, many pictures associated with a person, page, or group are easily accessible and copied from the Internet, and then used to create false familiarity. This practice is common for phishing profiles/pages that are associated with commercial brand recognition (like Coke or Jeep, et al). This tactic has its roots in email scams and phishing. However, persons, places, and organizations have also had their identity co-opted for nefarious reasons.

Essentially, all these things are used to give you a false sense of assurance as to the veracity of the identity of the person behind the profile/page/company attempting to hook you into their confidence.

Make Contact, But Don’t Be Surprised At No Response
Lastly, if identity information is lacking, message the profile or page if you have doubts about a request/page/group and make them identify themselves. I know, this begs the question; if they haven’t provided identifying information, the probably will not identify themselves when asked. If they don’t reply in a timely manner (24 hours is good, since social media messaging is almost instantaneous), that’s a very good reason to believe, especially with any of the aforementioned identity markers, that the person/profile/page/group is, at the very least, suspicious or, at the worst, deceptive. Again, exercise caution and vigilance.

Put The Social Media Provider On The Investigation
If you are still concerned, you can inform the social media provider (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al) of the possibility identity misrepresentation or deception. Facebook, for one, makes this easy to do by putting a resource to contact them right on the questionable profile/page. (With the same tool, Facebook also informs you to contact local police, if you think that the profile/page is a potential imminent threat to you or others. This is most often used for online bullying, sexual harassment, spousal abuse, or terrorist threats, but can also be used to advise of past or potential criminal behavior.)

Take the pressure and anxiety of yourself and let the social media provider police their own community. It’s their job. They will attempt to contact the party in question to determine the veracity of their identity and so their profile/page. If they are not satisfied that a profile/page/group, is not legitimate, they will shut it down as a violation of Facebook’s community standards.

If They Did Not Identify Themselves, You Are Not At Fault For Reporting Them
The people who created the spurious page/profile/group may have also created the identity problem themselves by not being forthcoming about their identity in the first place as a legitimate social media entity should. Even so, whether by omission or commission, this is also a violation of Facebook’s community standards and their presence may still be deleted. They are at fault if they do not properly identify themselves, but you are not at fault for investigating and reporting it. You were simply trying to protect yourself. You actually did the responsible thing by holding them accountable. Whatever consequences that they incur are because of their irresponsible actions, and not your vigilance. The page/profile owners need to be more responsible about providing identification.

My Precautions Are Strong and Resolute, But They Keep Me Safe

Personally, I go to extreme lengths to protect my online and social media presence and information. I do NOT “friend” or “like” 100% of what comes from people, profiles, groups, or organizations I do not know, and I only “friend” or “like” about 95% of the persons I do know. That my seem harsh, but I don’t apologize for it or for not responding your friend request, page like, tweet, or whatever.

When a person, place, organization, or company attempts to contact and/or associate with me, I err on the side of caution and investigate. If, after the investigation, I believe there’s even the slightest inkling that they and their attempts to contact me are bogus, I will not associate with them.

Additionally, after my investigation, if I believe that the person/profile/page/group is dubious or spurious (especially they do NOT identify themselves after I have contacted them), I will inform the proper social media provider. I will allow them to investigate and determine if the profile, page, group, or organization is for real. I have had to do this numerous times in the past. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of my music review site and its relationship to my Facebook personal profile, hundreds people contact me on a regular basis to “associate” with me, some on the level, others not so much.

Conclusion
The bottom line: Be vigilant. Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify,” when dealing with the Russians and nuclear disarmament back in the Eighties. In the age of the Internet and social media, this should be reversed to, “Verify, then trust.” With caution, I might add.