Facebook started as a way for college students to connect and it has grown into one of the most popular social media networks available today. Currently, there are about 2.6 billion monthly active users—but many of those regular users are not college students. Younger users moved on to apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok—but guess who still loves Facebook? Seniors.
Sure, Facebook is a great way for grandparents to keep in touch with loved ones, but it also has been cited for privacy violations, called out for spreading fake news, and is often used as a tool for scammers. When there is potential for misinformation and scamming, the vulnerable users—namely, the elderly—are perfect targets. Here are some of the biggest risks that we take by using Facebook and why sharing this information with your elders is a good idea.
You can’t believe everything you read online, and that’s especially true on Facebook. After the 2016 election, Facebook received a lot of heat for spreading fake and sensationalized news. These articles and radical headlines get more clicks and shares because of their shock value or extreme opinions. This benefits Facebook because users will spend more time on social media, sharing, commenting on, and liking these articles.
Facebook has put new measures into place to limit the amount of fake news being shared, but it’s not enough. People are still finding ways around these measures. For example, users can change the headline of articles in the link preview. So, you could share an article from USA Today titled “The Importance of Social Distancing to Combat Coronavirus Spread” but then change the preview headline to say “COVID-19 Safety Measures Are Excessive and Unnecessary.”
The preview will still say that the link is from USA Today and show a preview photo from the article—but because it looks legitimate, users share it and spread it without even reading the article. It is assumed that it is accurate information since it’s from a reliable source. This rapid-fire sharing of this type of misinformation is incredibly dangerous to those who are the most vulnerable.
In 2019, Facebook was fined a whopping $5 billion for violating an order from the Federal Trade Commission. This hefty fine was a result of Facebook lying to users about the level of control they had over their privacy settings. This is the largest fine for privacy enforcement that the FTC has ever given out. The next highest fine was $425 million, a result of the Equifax breach.
As a result of this fine, Facebook had to adopt new privacy settings—but how can we trust them to follow through? We’ve been deceived by Facebook before, and we didn’t find out until it was too late. While this may result in positive changes, it’s difficult to trust a company that has received record-breaking fines for lying to its users about privacy.
The Grandparent Scam
The Grandparent Scam has been going around for a few years now.
Here is how it works:
Someone will send you a message or call you, pretending to be a family member (usually a grandchild). They may have found the name of one of your family members through your Facebook posts and photos. They will feed you a story about being in an emergency situation. Some examples include—their car broke down and they need money for a repair or they were arrested and need bail money. They will then ask you to wire money, give your checking account information, credit card information, or to purchase a prepaid card.
If you’re thinking, “No one would ever fall for that,” it may surprise you to know that an estimated $41 million was lost to this scam in 2018. Scammers are good at what they do—they can be very persuasive, especially to a concerned grandparent.
Facebook seems like a simple way to keep in touch with others but there are many risks. All of us are susceptible to these risks but it is important to note that scammers prey on the elderly and something as simple as a name and location can give scammers all they need to successfully steal money from an unsuspecting victim. While privacy measures are assumed to be set up to protect us—they may not be as effective as they’re made out to be. That’s why it’s important to speak with the seniors in your life about these issues—and maybe even suggest that they leave Facebook altogether.