Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ben Rothke


Terms such as revolutionary, groundbreaking and the like are often used in reference to the web and social media.  While for the most part true, the web and social media have also been revolutionary and groundbreaking for scammers and con men.

In previous years, classic scams such as the Nigerian 419 scam were restrained by the costs and logistics of fax and hard copy distribution. Even using bulk mail, the cost of sending out a million letters was enormous. Today, tens of millions of emails can be quickly, inexpensively and anonymously distributed.

In Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media, editor Anne Mintz is one of 10 contributors to this book that analyzes why the information superhighway is also a highway of lies, deceit, manipulation, scams and similar nefarious things.

One of the problems of books written by numerous contributors is that the writers often step on each other and create redundant content, often moving away from the theme of the book.  Mintz did an excellent job ensuring that all of the chapters are on different topics without any overlap, and all the authors stay on theme.

In chapter 2 on guarding Your Privacy and Identity, Cynthia Hetherington suggests the following exercise to better understand how scammers and marketers find victims.  For 3 days, keep a journal of all the times you share your name, address, phone number, credit card number, use a grocery store coupon, answer unsolicited mail, reply to telemarketing calls and the like. After 3 days, you will understand how much personal information is indiscriminately given out.

Hetherington also provides information on to monitor the flow of your personal data and lists numerous agencies and their URL’s on how to opt-out. She also gives 10 hints to use Facebook and maintain a modicum of privacy.  Rather than list all ten; suffice to say, it comes down to using common sense.

In chapter 6, Ben Fractenberg writes on the topic of online fraud.  He does an excellent job on detailing the many different schemes and associated frauds. He references the Money Laundering and Reshipping Fraud web site. 

The site is dedicated to providing information on fake companies offering part-time, work from home job scams, in particular money mule or money transfer fraud, aka 'payment transfer agent' scams and the related reshipping fraud or 'parcels agent' scams.  There are over 1,000 different scams listed.

Deborah Liptak has fascinating analysis of information warfare and cybersecurity.  She writes that in a survey of over 400 terrorist, 44% were engineers, who were recruited for terror operations.

In the chapter on political misinformation, Laura Gordon-Murnane writes that the news media and newspaper have served an important watchdog function, ensuring that the government and political leaders are held accountable for things they said they would do. 

With the financial instability of newspapers; the watchdog and investigative reporting services have suffered greatly.  She also lists a number of fact-checking tools, such as PolitiFact and FactCheck that are being used to get government officials and candidates in check.

With a subtitle of misinformation and manipulation in the age of social media, the book at first sounds like it is a Chicken Little approach to social media.  But Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media is pragmatic, not histrionic.

The overall threat is real. In fact, older Americans single-handedly lose nearly $3 billion a year to fraud, some of it online, according to a study last year by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech.  Most victims are between 80 and 89, and most are women.

Scammers, thieves, liars, manipulators, pxxophiles and the like are using social media in a big way.  To avoid being caught in their lair, it is imperative to know the risks. 

Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media indeed does a great job at that, and contains the collected wisdom of a lot of really smart writers.  It is a great read for anyone who wants to avoid being a victim of the multi-billion dollar problem of Internet fraud.

Cross-posted from RSA

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Lisa Simpson If you don't want to be a victim of fraud, it's very simple. Don't try to cheat others.

People are victims of fraud because of their own greed and personal needs. This starts with classic cons like the the Tip, Jamaican Switch, the Wire, etc. Every con from the beginning of time plays on greed. You find a sucker who wants something for nothing, or close to it. Then you use their own greed to trick them out of something they have - usually their money.

These new digital age scams are nothing but a rework of the old classics for a more modern age. They all offer the "victim" something for nothing or almost nothing with enough hooks to get them to "bite" and overlook that its obviously far too good to be true.

Many of the scams freely admit that they're doing X, Y or Z to circumvent some law or other. If you wire money to an admitted crook, you're a greedy fool. And I'm sure you're familiar with the old saw about a fool and his money....
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