Facebook has been in the crosshairs of critics for quite a while, and the news this week of a Trump-connected behavior-modification firm getting its hands on private details of fifty million users hasn’t helped. Mark Zuckerberg and his team have a lot to answer for, including how Facebook was used by Russian organizations to manipulate public opinion before — and after — the 2016 election. Aside from the political outcries, there is probably some shareholder scrutiny for the company to endure.
I’m not what you’d call a power user of Facebook, but I’ve noticed other problems with the service.
In the last few months, I’ve received more Friend Requests than ever, and many of them are obviously bogus. FB seemingly makes no effort to verify that its accounts belong to real people (or companies), which is why you should always dismiss its claims to have two billion users, or whatever the latest number is. I have no objection to it counting product marketing accounts, like those for Oreo, or Lowe’s, or Greetabl. The problem comes in when the accounts some Friend Requests come from are clearly not what or who they purport to be.
I know a middle-aged guy who is single, good-looking, and dates younger women. His Facebook friends list is littered with dozens of very attractive females. I was impressed that he knew them, even casually — until I started getting Friend Requests from many of them, too. There’s always a photo or two of a woman, always showing cleavage, often in a bikini or other skimpy wear. Sometimes her picture is accompanied by a photo of an iconic place like the Taj Mahal (she’s never in the picture, of course). I’ve even gotten Friend Requests from different accounts that had a picture of the same young woman! That’s because these aren’t real Facebook account holders. The photos come from free stock image companies — their credits are in the file tags of the photos.
In each instance, her “friends” are all male, and there is no information about the woman — no hometown, no occupation, no job — or if there is, it’s always from someplace I’ve never heard of that likely doesn’t exist. Sometimes, the woman’s name also has a man’s name under it, or a different woman’s name in parentheses. No real human does that.
It’s nearly impossible for this person-likely-to-be-a-bot to have any interest in me, so I always deny the request and report it to FB as spam. Even if I accidentally accept their Friend Request, I’ll never see anything they post, because I don’t follow them (or pretty much anyone, except close friends I know in real life). But that doesn’t stop them from coming, every single day.
The other bot problem I’ve encountered is the automatic posting of comments that lead you to spam sites. For instance, last week, I casually mentioned the movie “Black Panther.” As soon as I hit the Post button — and I mean immediately! — there were comments from bots offering links to sites where you can illegally download or watch the movie for free. I didn’t click on any of them, but tried deleting several, only to have new ones pop up instantly, like a game of Whack-A-Bot.
Facebook got its original boost from college students and other young people freely posting about their lives online. It was a brilliant idea that inverted the idea of using websites to gather information. Instead, Facebook users are the ones providing the content, which the site then re-purposes to its other users, whose data it gathers and sells to third-parties including advertisers.
That’s all well and good, but in doing so, Facebook should have taken more responsibility for monitoring who was using its resources, and how. And don’t hand me the excuse that it can’t possibly manage the content and usage habits of hundreds of millions of accounts. That’s the whole Facebook business model.
Oh, and the younger demos that kick-started Facebook’s early success? They’re long gone, ceding the site to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Millennials have moved on to Instagram and Snapchat (though the latter has lost a lot of luster after Rihanna and Kylie Jenner, both major influencers, dissed it publicly and suggested their followers stop using the app entirely)
Facebook is going to have to get control of how its vast reach is being abused, and soon. I can’t be the only Facebook user who runs into these problems, and yet the company doesn’t seem to be making any effort to deal with the persistent infestation of bots. Or if it is trying, it is failing miserably.