There is a social media trend that has popped up in the past year or so that has given me pause. On sites like Facebook you will often see pages posting fun open ended questions that seem to be fishing for user engagement. Examples of this kind of post might be: What was the mascot from your high school? What was your first car? Or, bet you can’t name a town with two Ts in it? Most are benign and clearly just for fun. Some even ramp up the fun by asking questions that tap into nostalgia. While these are mostly innocent, I can’t help but feel my librarian senses twitching over the hidden dangers that might be lurking in the background.
The fun, almost game-like, way these posts are presented has people chiming in without stopping to think of the motives behind such a post. My main worry is their viral nature makes them ripe for scammers to use to take advantage of people. Some of the questions being asked lead people to unwittingly reveal very personal information about themselves that at times sound an awful lot like security questions websites might ask when verifying your identity. I don’t have any tips to identify a real poster from a fraudster, but take a moment to think through the ramifications before interacting with these posts. I personally wouldn’t comment on any pages I myself hadn’t subscribed to, but at the very least be mindful of what you choose to post and ask if this is information about yourself you really want floating around the internet.
If you want to go down the rabbit hole a little further, I have a secondary concern that will seem like I have read too many science fiction stories. Textbase artificial intelligent “bots” are a real thing online. You will often hear stories of them behind many misinformation campaigns. What I worry about is the posts we are discussing could easily be wrapped up in this misinformation network. So what the posts are doing is getting you to train one of their bots without realizing it.
Just so it isn’t all doom and gloom, it is worth noting that bots themselves are benign. You probably already interact with less nefarious “bots” already without really realizing it. Many customer service platforms deploy these to deal with common issues. Whatever the reason, some of the posts we’ve been discussing just seem like they could be used to train a system, or “bot,” to understand language better. The disguise of a fun social media post has me thinking that if there is a bot behind it, the very fact that it is hiding its identity would mean that it is probably up to no good.
Be safe out there and take a moment to think before you post.