My brother sent me a link to a YouTube video through Facebook’s Messenger app a few days ago.
I had questions right away.
First of all, the title of the message was “Vanessa for you,” which, while perhaps suggestive, really made no sense. It also included several “laughing until crying” and “broken heart” emojis, which my brother never uses. Of course, the biggest red flag was that I knew my brother had deactivated his Facebook account a while ago, and the last time he had communicated with me through Messenger was in October 2014. I didn’t click on the link.
I shot him a text, more to make him aware of the situation than to see if it was really him.
Normally, it can take my brother anywhere from a few hours to a month to reply to my texts, and the same goes for me in response to him. We usually do this old-timey thing where we talk to each other on the phone. This time, though, the reply was immediate: “I got hacked.”
The term “hacked” can be used loosely when it comes to social media. In this particular instance, it’s doubtful my brother’s account had actually been breached with the goal of gaining personal or financial information. His account was probably “spoofed,” which, if you’re on Facebook, you’ve likely seen happen before. The most frequent way it turns up on that particular platform is a friend request from someone you are already friends with. A stranger has used your friend’s publicly viewable photos and information to create another account pretending to be them.
As identity theft and information scams go, spoofing is relatively low on the danger meter. That doesn’t mean it’s harmless. And it’s very annoying, especially for the people who have to send out messages to everyone they know saying “If you received (x, y, z) from me, ignore it. I’ve been hacked.”
In my brother’s case, it points to another problem. How do you really leave social media? It’s easier on some platforms than others. Facebook is especially thorny. It’s your profile page. It’s your Messenger account. But who really owns the content?
Well, according to Facebook, you do. That doesn’t mean they’re not mining your account for data or allowing third parties to comb through your information for their own purposes.
You can deactivate your account, which is essentially putting the thing on pause until you’re ready for another onslaught of cat videos and political memes from your more self-righteous but ill-informed friends, relatives and well-wishers. A lot of people, like my brother, use the deactivate option because they like having the choice of rejoining someday, when the maelstrom of anger and rage on social media has faded to placidity. Here’s hoping.
You also can delete your account, which means, in theory, everything is gone. Even that can be a difficult decision. I doubt you saved all of those baby pictures that you posted from your phone three or four years ago on the phone itself. You probably don’t even have the same phone. Maybe all of that stuff you’d like to see now and again is in a storage cloud somewhere. Do you remember which one — or even how to access it?
Social media platforms — Facebook, in particular — can be a lot like the mafia or Scientology. Technically, you can leave, it’s just very hard to do. There are all kinds of issues with sticky tentacles to pull you back in. Some people start to feel like they lose touch with friends and family, or are at least out of the loop, because this is how so many of us communicate today.
And who knows if your data is really gone, and isn’t being spoofed with malicious intent? Hell, the use of these platforms is so ingrained into our everyday lives now, that many of our jobs include some aspect of social media posting, marketing or monitoring — if not all three.
The real sad part is that all of these things — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, et. al. — launched, maybe not with the purest intentions, but with a primary goal of breaking barriers to communication, information and entertainment.
Social media is still used for some very good things, like reaching a high number of people to raise money for someone in need during a difficult time. It can be used to keep educators and their students, employers and workers, or friends and family, in touch when, say, an unprecedented pandemic keeps people mostly in their homes for nearly half a year and counting.
But with the good comes the bad.
Every conveyance of information involving technology in the modern age gets used for its original purpose — for a time. But, in those same fledgling and pure moments, many people are viewing it with two thoughts in mind: 1) How do we get photos and/or videos of naked people on here? 2) How can we use this to scam people?
A very good argument can be made that we’d be better off without social media. Lamentably, it’s far too late to extract ourselves from this bitter and, sometimes, sweet morass.
It’s a shame, but this is why we can’t have nice things. Now, please hit that notification bell, subscribe and give this a few likes.