I have read more than three articles about this stuff, so now I am totally an expert. Don’t worry; I’ll cut through all the nerdy techno-garble and explain what’s what in very basic terms that even I can understand.
Let’s start with a foundational point, which you should know already, but it bears repeating. Check your Facebook privacy settings. Don’t leave everything public. I know that you can’t protect everything, and there are loopholes and gaps and tiny little Facebook Fairies who live in your phone and share all your secrets with their evil fairy cronies. Even still, the existing privacy settings, while not perfect, do at least offer some level of protection and it’s just stupid to leave everything wide open for the whole world to see. Yes, stupid. Don’t tell my kids I used the S-word.
Now let’s talk about the giant popularity contest that is Facebook. You may have noticed that you don’t actually see updates from every single one of your friends in your news feed on a regular basis. Is that because 80% of your friends never post anything? No. I know there are some creepers who just like to see what everyone else is up to even though they never post anything themselves. But most people that you don’t hear from regularly are probably active on Facebook; you just haven’t engaged with them recently.
You see, the Facebook Fairies are watching you all the time. They make little notes about whose status you “like” and whose pictures you comment on and whose links you share. And they assume those are the most important people in your life. So they allow those people’s stuff to fill your news feed. Test this out. Go through your friends list and pick someone you haven’t heard from in ages. Write them a note or comment on a couple of photos. See how fast you start seeing their name appear more regularly!
Your likes, shares and comments also perpetuate the popularity contest. If the Facebook Fairies see that several people are interested in some content that you’ve posted, then they assume that others would like to see it and they push that out to more people’s news feeds. They probably even evaluate the types of things different people are interested in. So if Friend A comments on a lot of baby pictures and pregnancy updates, Friend A will magically have more of that type of post show up on her news feed. If Friend B tends to jump into political debates, the Facebook Fairies will make sure that Friend B has plenty of political stuff to debate about.
Therefore, if you’re sick to death of seeing what your friends made for dinner or how long a run someone just completed, stop engaging in those conversations. Engage elsewhere. The Fairies will figure it out.
Conversely, if something comes up that you think more people should know about (say, for random example, your favourite blogger shares a really fascinating, entertaining, and life-altering post), your comment, “like”, or share will go a long way in catching the Facebook Fairies’ eyes and getting them to broaden that person’s audience.
Are you still with me? This last bit is pretty important. Beyond popularity, we’re now diving into the murky waters of Rogue Facebook Fairies stealing your information. This will probably come as a shock to some of you, so I’m going to say it gently: some people use Facebook for naughty purposes. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
Before I list some of the common examples, let me just say that every time you comment on or “like” these photos or links, you are willfully adding your profile name (and whatever other information you’ve left public in your privacy settings) to a database that some naughty person will someday use for naughty purposes. Do not fall for these tricks!
- The word search. This little scheme appeals to your desire to stand out in the crowd. It will claim that some high percentage of people will all see the same word first, and it asks you to comment with the first word that you see. You want to show that you are different or better, so you quickly comment. Bam. Naughty Person has your profile.
- The shape diagram. How many triangles can you count? How many squares do you see? Most people can only see 14. Ah, but you see 92, so if you comment and say that you see 92, everyone will know how smart you are. Sorry, sucker; Naughty Person outsmarted you.
- The simple math question. 1+1+1+1+1×0+1+1+1+1. Please don’t enter an answer. You don’t get a prize for being right. Everyone loses. Just ignore it.
- The provocative photo with the trigger-word. Comment “flash” and you won’t believe what happens next. Comment “jump” to be scared out of your mind. Comment “police” to see what really happened. Guess what. Nothing happens. Except that Naughty Person beat you again.
- The word games. Most people can’t think of a country that ends in the letter R. Most people can’t think of a colour that starts with P. Most people can’t think of a verb that begins with J and ends with G. You are just itching to type because you can think of one in less than 1.2 seconds, which just proves that you are smarter than “most people”. Don’t do it! It’s another one of Naughty Person’s tricks!
- The Autistic Sister. This one has many forms: the dad who will quit smoking, the mom who will take her kids to Disneyworld. All of them beg for “likes” so someone will supposedly do something or believe something or overcome something. In the words of Elaine Benes, “Fake, fake, fake, fake.”
There are more, and Naughty Person will keep coming up with new ones, so I needn’t go on. Just be smart about this stuff, okay? There’s more than meets the eye with this social network stuff. You don’t have to be cynical about every little thing, but you just can’t go around being completely naïve, either. There are scary, evil people who pretend to be sweet and innocent. Don’t let them win just because you feel compelled to voice your disgust over the picture of the baby in the pot. It’s not worth it.
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