Fake Facebook Accounts

signupNo one is giving Facebook or Meta or Mark Zuckerberg a free pass these days. Criticism is a daily event and their PR people must be in constant firefighting mode. But Facebook has been doing things to protect privacy and security and Facebook I keep hearing ads on podcasts about how they are promoting safety.  Unfortunately, the criticism is usually drowning out the tools they do offer and the actions they are taking. If you are on Facebook, you should be doing your part in protecting your account. Much of online protection is a matter of personal responsibility.

One of the areas that often gets attention is fake accounts. By the end of 2019, Facebook removed a staggering 5.5 billion fake accounts. Plenty of companies would be happy to have that many legitimate accounts but Facebook far exceeds that number. The removals continue and from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2021 they removed approximately 1.8 billion fake accounts, up from 1.3 billion fake accounts in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

Why would anyone want to make a fake account?

Scammers use fake Facebook accounts to connect with users and then their friends to scrape personal information. That can be used to steal identities. They can also reach out to anyone who's accepted that fake friend request to try and scam them, since this fake account is sending friend requests to all your friends. This is called Facebook cloning.

I have seen a number of my friends' accounts be cloned using a few photos they have made public and any "public" information. When a clone of your account is created using your name you are not the real object of attention. It is actually your friends that are the target and the hope is that your friends will accept the fake friend request.

The cloned account often looks quite bare. Some people immediately recognize that they are already friends with that person/name and know this new request is fake. But if you have many friends or accept requests without looking a bit closer, you can be scammed. If you accept that friend request, the scammer now has access to your friend-visible information and then your friends' accounts' personal information. This access expands rapidly even if not everyone accepts the requests.

To report a fake account, go to  https://www.facebook.com/help/306643639690823

You should also take the initiative to use some tools Facebook offers and do some protecting on your own.

Privacy Checkup - helps you control who can see what you share, how your information is used and how to secure your account.

You see the message if you click next to the ad "Why Am I Seeing This Ad?" You can adjust what ads you see starting with that one.

Off-Facebook Activity is a tool most users don't know about. It lets you control or disconnect the information businesses send to Meta about your activity on other apps and websites.

And you can download or request and export your data so you can move it between services.

Google and YouTube Changing Features for Kids and Teens

social media

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

With continuing pressure on the big tech companies to protect user privacy, particularly for younger users, Google is introducing updates to YouTube and its search feature aimed at increasing safety for kids and teens on its platforms. The changes include a number of things to give minors more control over their digital footprint and somewhat constrain commercial content for children.

Some of these changes affect their bottom line profits but there is the PR value of making these changes, and I'm sure they hope it will keep the government from regulating or punishing them for awhile.

Google stated that it wants to work with "kids and teens, parents, governments, industry leaders, and experts in the fields of privacy, child safety, wellbeing and education to design better, safer products for kids and teens." 

For YouTube (via their blog blog.youtube/news-and-events/

  • YouTube default privacy settings for users aged 13 to 17 will be the “most private option available” (that only lets content be seen by the user and whomever they choose - teen users can make their content public by changing the default upload visibility setting)
  • YouTube will also start to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids" (for example, videos that focus on product packaging or encourages children to spend money)
  • YouTube will have “take a break and bedtime reminders" by default for all users 13-17. (Some adults could use that feature!)
  • YouTube will turn off autoplay by default for this age group

There are also changes for other parts of the platform, including search. 

Google will be introducing new policies that allow people under 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their image from Google Image results. Removing an image from Search doesn’t remove it from the web. They will also be turning on its SafeSearch, which aims to filter out explicit results, for all existing users under 18 and make it the default setting for teens who set up new accounts. The SafeSearch update will be rolled out “in the coming months,” according to Google. 

In other apps, Google will disable location history for all users under 18 without the ability to turn it on. A safety section in Play will show parents which apps follow Google's Families policies and disclose how they use the data they collect in greater detail.

Of course, ads are where Google makes its money, but it will "block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18." 


It Is Way Past the Time to Update the Communications Act of 1996

social media
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

If you have been using the Internet for the past 25 years, you know how radically it has changed. And yet, no comprehensive regulations have been updated since then.

The news is full of complaints about tech companies getting too big and too powerful. Social media is often the focus of complaints. We often hear that these companies are resistant to changes and regulations, but that is not entirely true. 

On Facebook's site concerning regulations, they say "To keep moving forward, tech companies need standards that hold us all accountable. We support updated regulations on key issues."

Facebook may be at the center of fears and complaints, but they keep growing. Two billion users and growing.

There are four issues that address that they feel need new regulations.

Combating foreign election interference
We support regulations that will set standards around ads transparency and broader rules to help deter foreign actors, including existing US proposals like the Honest Ads Act and Deter Act.

Protecting people’s privacy and data
We support updated privacy regulations that will set more consistent data protection standards that work for everyone.

Enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms
We support regulation that guarantees the principle of data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate.

Supporting thoughtful changes to Section 230
We support thoughtful updates to internet laws, including Section 230, to make content moderation systems more transparent and to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for combatting child exploitation, opioid abuse, and other types of illegal activity.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. Its main goal was stated as allowing "anyone [to] enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other." The FCC said that they believed the Act had "the potential to change the way we work, live and learn." They were certainly correct in that. But they continued that they expected that it would affect "telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools."

And it did affect those things. But communications went much further and much faster than the government and now they need to play some serious catchup. It is much harder to catch up than it is to keep up. 


The New World Normal


You are still going to hear more and more this summer and fall about the "new normal" or the "next normal" as we hopefully move out of the pandemic and return to something similar to but not the same as what we called normal in 2019.

Isn't normal always changing? What is normal anyway?

Normality for an individual is when your behavior is consistent with the most common behavior for that person. But normal is also used to describe individual behavior that conforms to the most common behavior in a society. Normal is also at times only recognized in contrast to abnormality.

In schools, we talk about individual student behaviors that are not normal because they contrast with the majority of students. We can talk about an entire college as not following the normal behavior of other colleges.

In March 2021, Rutgers University was the first university I heard announce that all students would be required to be vaccinated in order to be back on campus in September. I am a Rutgers College alum and I was happy to hear the announcement, but it was met with agreement and disagreement immediately. I thought back to when I attended Rutgers in the last century, and to when my sons went off to college in this century. Some vaccinations were required for me and for my sons. The meningitis vaccine was required and is typically given to preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old with a booster dose at 16 years old. I don't recall any protests about vaccinations for students in K-12 and college being public events before. Typically, vaccinations are recommended for college for measles, mumps, and rubella, meningococcal, human papillomavirus, and influenza.

Talk about "vaccination passports" is a discussion well beyond school campuses.

Great Seal of the United States

I read something online (I'm not linking to it) connecting the post-pandemic normal to the New World Order (NWO), which is a conspiracy theory that hypothesizes a secretly emerging totalitarian world government. It's not a new conspiracy. Believers will point to "evidence" such as the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States having the Latin phrase "novus ordo seclorum", since 1782 and on the back of the U.S. one-dollar bill since 1935. That translates to "New Order of the Ages." It is generally considered to allude to the beginning of the era where the United States of America became an independent nation-state. Conspiracy theorists claim this is an allusion to the "New World Order."

I also read online that PEW research feels that "A plurality of experts think sweeping societal change will make life worse for most people as greater inequality, rising authoritarianism and rampant misinformation take hold in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak." That is a harsh prediction. They do add that "a portion believe life will be better in a ‘tele-everything’ world where workplaces, health care and social activity improve."

Their research found that the next normal may "worsen economic inequality as those who are highly connected and the tech-savvy pull further ahead of those who have less access to digital tools and less training or aptitude for exploiting them." They also feel that the changes that may occur will include the elimination of some jobs and enhance the power of big technology firms. Some of that power was growing pre-pandemic through market advantages and using artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that seem likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of their users.

Likewise, the spread of misinformation online was happening well before the pandemic, so I don't view this as a pandemic-caused issue. Some of the PEW respondents saw the manipulation of public perception, emotion and action via online disinformation as the greatest threat.

The WHO (World Health Organization) is talking about moving from the "new normal" to a "new future" in a "sustainable response to COVID-19." Some of their recommendations about global health could easily be recommendations for global education.

Recognizing that the virus will be with us for a long time, governments should also use this opportunity to invest in health systems, which can benefit all populations beyond COVID-19, as well as prepare for future public health emergencies. These investments may include: 1) capitalizing on COVID-19 enhancements to surveillance, lab, risk communications and other core capacities, 2) back casting to identify gaps and steer resources to future health needs like genetic sequencing and contact tracing with Information Technology, 3) building on COVID-19 innovations to accelerate recovery and address other pressing health problems, and 4) strengthening multi-sector collaboration to improve health services and reduce health inequity.

EDUCAUSE suggests that part of that next normal in education will be improved student engagement through lessons learned during the pandemic. For example, during COVID-19 teaching, breakout rooms emerged as one way to offer environments for collaborative learning. Their use both emerged from perceived "Zoom fatigue" and also contributed to that fatigue depending on how it was implemented.

Globally, writing on the World Economic Forum website suggests that this idea of a New Normal "must not be the lens through which we examine our changed world." Why? One reason is that what we call "normal" has not worked for a majority of the world's population. "So why would it start working now?" Then what should we do? The writer suggests that we "should use our discomfort to forge a new paradigm instead."

Large scale change - a new paradigm - is a lofty goal and what that new paradigm would be is still far from clear. Stay tuned.