by Maja Belamaric, Director of Communications, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
A few months ago, I logged into my Facebook account as I always do first thing in the morning. While I usually receive only a few random friend requests here and there, that morning I woke up to several just overnight.
After a few minutes of clicking on those profiles, I quickly realized that most were not legitimate people. They were fake accounts set up for marketing to mesothelioma patients, or just generic spamming. Since then, I am seeing this phenomenon quite frequently, and I know you are, too.
On one particular occasion (see Figure 1), I could see that a fake marketer account already had 7 ‘friends’ in one of our groups. That means that 7 of our community members accepted connections to this fake account, thus allowing the marketer to look at their friends list and add additional connections from there, while reading their private conversations and looking at their photos.
Often this creates a cycle of, “if one friend of mine is friends with them, then they must be vetted and okay for me to add to my friends.”
It is important to us to harbor a safe online community where those affected by mesothelioma can freely communicate with one another. In order to break this cycle and prevent such breaches of privacy, we recommend that our community members take a few steps to protect themselves and others in their communities.
1. When such a request presents itself, it’s easy to look at the profile and, at first glance, assume that this person is real and has sought you out because you both have been affected by mesothelioma. If the profile’s shared content contains only generic mesothelioma information, if they’re a member of many groups, if they don’t share any personal information or if their personal information is inconsistent (i.e. they work in Pennsylvania, but live in California; or the language used on their page is not English; or the photo looks impersonal, pixelated, or stock) (see Figure 2), chances are you are dealing with a fake account.
2. Don’t rely on mutual friends to ascertain that an account is real and not a marketer/spammer. A number of our community members are easily being duped by these fake accounts and accepting the requests. Because of this, others in the community see that they have mutual friends with the fake account and are then further inclined to accept the request as well.
3. When in doubt, air on the side of caution and do not add the person to your friends list.
4. Look through your current Facebook friends to ensure they are all people you know and check for the above-mentioned signs.
Social media networks and Facebook in particular,are incredibly useful tools for everyone affected by mesothelioma. They provide us with the ability to easily receive and provide support at the moment it’s needed; to share important information about personal experiences that are hard to find in medical journals; and they are perfect for mobilizing large groups of people around issues important to our community. Make sure you protect your online profile!