Sunday, August 2, 2009

Caveat Twitterius

This is sort of a follow-up to my last post, which dealth with the threat that spoofing creates for on-line communities.

At the end of the day, though, spoofing is really just a type of prank. There are ways to avoid it, there are verification safeguards, and then there's the way it could lose value upon exposure.

The REAL threat -- and this time I mean it! -- may come from people trying to elicit personal information or otherwise scam you using these sites. Since I opened a Twitter account a few months ago, I've noticed that I've gotten dozens of "followers" who I've never heard of. Considering I haven't actually tweeted since the week I opened the account (not that I wouldn't do it, I just haven't), I don't think I've suddenly found legions who love my debonair wit (yeah, right). That hasn't happened so much with Facebook, but I did just notice a bikini model who I'd never heard of, claiming to be a member of my graduating class, trying to "friend" me. Thankfully, with Facebook you can nip that stuff in the bud by not confirming.

I don't really know why this happens.

With a hat tip to Occam and his Razor, the Twitter thing may just be mistaken identity. I have a common first name and a somewhat common last name, so it's quite possible that it was a simple case of the wrong Greg Page. (There are two minor celebrities with the same name, so that adds to the plausibility here).

Next, it might just be someone trying to inflate his or her own stats. Actual celebrities with actual accounts are known to have millions of followers. People looking for their own ego boost, or just trying to cure boredom, might try to manipulate their own follower numbers by blindly adding thousands and thousands of people that they follow. The Big Idea here is that if half those people reciprocate the follow, a pimply kid drinking soda in his basement could eventually have more followers than Brad Pitt.

Third, it could be a commercial thing. Since the dawn of marketing, companies have been looking to target their advertising using clever consumer research. By scooping up tons of information about what people do and don't like -- and then hiring an intern or two to sort it all out over Starbucks -- someone, somewhere thinks they're going to make a buck. It could also be someone's inroad into a marketing pitch (again, that's with the idea that a certain percentage of people will automatically reciprocate follows).

Next, it might be scam-related. We've all heard about the long-lost relative scams, the click- here-for-the-survey-that-asks-for-personal-info scam, etc. The only limit on these types of scams is the creativity of the scam writer.

To take it another step into the dark side, someone could be trying to craft a set up. I'm not sure how many documented cases of this (can you say 'urban legend'?) but I have heard people tell me about a scam that involves someone Facebook friending people in his area using some bogus "party guy" image. He (or they) gather/s information about all these "friends," to include things like addresses, phone numbers, workplaces, etc. Because people often post personal data in their status updates, i.e. Jamie and the boyz are soooo totally going to Cancun next week...YEAAAH!, the supposed Facebook friend now has the info he needs to be able to rob Jamie's house clean before he gets back. For that example, which really doesn't seem too far-fetched, take all the many ways theft can be done entirely online, and you can see why people who would do us harm can probably find endless sources of baseline material online.

At the end of the day, a little bit of common sense and discretion can probably get people around most of this. Still, it's just important to keep in mind that there are going to be bad actors lurking in ANY community, and the on-line one is no different.

So when bikini models who you've never heard of suddenly want to be your *friend* it might be wise to check your vanity at the door.

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