Be Careful Out There

For this week’s blog post, we are going to examine the subject of social media, hacking, how they can effect outcomes and what platforms are doing to try to curb it.  You might have heard something in the news a time or two about these subjects (if only the internet had a sarcasm font!), but do we really know what they mean? Some folks think of hacking as some covert operation, sneaking through the network like a rogue submarine, sniffing out data; or as a Trojan horse embedding itself into your operating system and then grabbing any stream of sensitive data it can find. Although those are types of hacking, they have become a bit antiquated and generally targeted for a specific purpose.

Social media hacking, shadowing, and fake personas have become the prevalent new warfare in the hacking game. Spin used to purely be a newsroom term for media stories, but now with the advent of social media, everyone can contribute to the spin.

You’ve heard the expression “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet”.  It has never been more true than it is today – fake Twitter handles and Facebook accounts litter the landscape of the Internet. They pose as something that they are not and the public accepts them as real.

One of the best examples is the story of what happened to the National Park Service (NPS) – or at least the perception of the National Park Service, more specifically Badlands National Park.  The Twitter-sphere exploded and national news organizations picked up the story of a rogue park ranger tweeting climate facts in defiance to a refinement of the Department of the Interior’s social media policies. Only it wasn’t the National Park Service or a rogue park ranger. It was someone that made up a fake Twitter handle impersonating the NPS.  The official handle was “@badlandsnps” while the one tweeting was “@badIandsnps” with a capital “i” instead of an “L”. In Twitter’s font, these letters look remarkably the same and it fooled a significant group of folks, including all the news outlets.

Deviant hackers use the same tricks by creating a free email address. They set up up an account and start posting whatever they want people to believe (like the post that there is a machine that crushes cows for fun).

The social media biggies like Facebook and Twitter are working overtime to help, using AI to evaluate post contents and other analytics to help curb the hacking.  It is really an interesting dichotomy between censoring, privacy and free speech.  The best low code solution is the human brain to which we can all be responsible for.  Before contributing to virality, take 5 minutes to fact-check a post. Search it on sites like snopes.comfactcheck.org or for the political side, opensecrets.org.  It is much more satisfying to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.