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What’s Up With Facebook? and A Scam

Big news about Facebook and “trending” news skullduggery recently forced the social media giant to remove the “human” element of deciding what was trending and what wasn’t. Think about that: computers do one thing infinitely better that people —follow algorithms. Humans do something typically better than computers: interpret and/or make use of interpreted data.

So, if Facebook (or any other platform, like Twitter) wanted to honestly let people know what other people were talking about —or even refine the information down to something like “people in Syracuse are talking about”— it would require no human intervention to simply display the data. If, however, a marketing company wanted to make use of this information, it could —and will— interpret it using a combination of understanding of human nature, previous behaviors, new products available, male versus female, what shows are popular on television, and maybe just a bit of intuition.

Facebook assures us that they’ve removed the “human” gatekeepers from the trend line, and it’s now presenting “just the facts, ma’am.” Of course, none of that explains why you see one thing on your news feed and not something else. To a degree, as we’ve explained on these pages before, if and how you react will help determine what you see in the future. But all you have to do is go to a friend’s page and you’ll note immediately that the vast majority of what they post doesn’t end up on your newsfeed —even if you sit and faithfully watch it all day. A layer of  Dante’s Inferno, no doubt!

Moving on: you do have to admire Facebook staying in the game with each new social trend that rears up. The latest, of course, is the “live” concept.

Home broadcasts are nothing new. Podcast and Vidcasts have been around for a long time. And of course YouTube channels and Web channels complete with interactive (chat) features have been active for a long time, too. But when someone got the notion of blending the “instant”of things like Snapchat with the power of video/audio/livestreaming —a whole new opportunity to entertain/bore/horrify our audiences was born.

It’s fairly easy to do, and while it was once restricted to public persons, it’s now available to anybody.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely ways in which this can be fun and even beneficial. Going to a wedding or to visit a newborn and all your family can’t be there? You can livestream a bit of your visit. Maybe you’re at a music venue and it’s just really good and you’d like to share. Most likely the musicians won’t mind unless you charge admission. Perhaps you’ve gone to give aid to people following a hurricane, and you’d like to raise funds —this is a great way to let people know how big the need is. I recently saw a livestream introducing watchers to a dog recently arrived at a shelter in an attempt to find a home.

But no sooner do we get handed a means of communicating (without talking to anybody face to face!) than it will be co-opted for commercial purposes. Already I’ve seen pitches for events, sales, products … with more to come, I’m sure. The one slight advantage we (as yet) have is that we do need to be opted in to the purveyor. So if you have liked a company or product on Facebook, you may find that you’re also being fed plugs for them. To our advantage, we can swipe left!

Finally: it happened again today, and I remember my First Time. My computer froze, a siren started shrieking, and I was confronted with a screen and robotic voice telling me my computer was at risk and the only way to save it and all my sensitive information (I should absolutely NOT try to shop online!) was to call the number found in the Windows Defender (so-called) message. And I couldn’t shut the bugger down. I did a Ctrl-Alt-Del and shut down my browser, and all was well.

Of course it’s a scam, but it can be unnerving. And while most of the information relating to such an event assures you there’s nothing to worry about, some of it is also false and warns you that you have been infected by a Trojan Horse or some such virus and that you need to call another number (theirs, of course) to have it removed.

For the love of all that’s good and holy: do NOT call the number. Any number. Run a trusted malware program on your computer if you must, but keep in mind that nothing has really happened (and of course, you should be running behind a firewall and keeping your virus and malware software up to date). The one thing such scams have been linked to is specific search terms: needless to say, anything to do with sketchy sites, like porn, where a screeching alarm might be particularly concerning, but also anything of a controversial nature (when it happened to me most recently, I was researching illegal immigration penalties in Switzerland and had found myself on a bulletin board discussing how to avoid being caught if you were employing an illegal!). So, as always, watch what you browse.

Nancy Roberts