Saturday, 16 January 2016

Are you internet responsible? Or just well-meaning, gullible and irresponsible?

Have you seen this sort of stuff?

"Today is World Gullible Day - please share this message with all your friends. For every copy of the message shared, Bill Gates will donate €1 to the Identifying Duffers' Idiocy Or Thoughts Society (IDIOTS), which was set up in 1894 by Albert Einstein for a group of gullible people who genuinely thought that everything they read on Facebook is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." (cue: lots of gullible people forwarding out a complete piece of garbage)


"This is a really important life-saving appeal. Please forward it to everyone you know. If you don't forward this message, several small children in Guatemala will be forced to go to work in their cousin's fictitious coal-mine." (cue: pointless filling of people's Facebook inboxes / status streams with this ridiculous message)

or perhaps:

"My cousin's neighbour's dog-walker found a wallet on a bus. Please look at all of the credit cards (front and back) that were enclosed in it - do you know who the owner is, so that we can return the wallet to him?"  (cue: wallet owner's credit cards are used by everyone on the internet)

or even:

"Someone I don't know forwarded this to someone else I don't know, who then forwarded it to this guy I met at the pub a few weeks ago, and he said it's true, it's been confirmed on a programme I've never heard of on American TV and everything, so it MUST be true! For safety's sake when you go away on holiday, you should post on Facebook full details of your home address, any broken windows / locks, where you keep your spare key, where you keep your spare cash in the house, and how long you will be away for. We'll then forward your details on to everyone we know, so that your home can be looked after." (cue: your home is robbed while you go on holiday)

OK. So the examples I've given above are a bit silly and could be considered to be extreme. I made them up to make my point here. But today I genuinely spotted something that utterly HORRIFIED me about how gullible and irresponsible people can be, even if they are meaning well at the time.

This evening, I spotted that my friend XXX (who shall remain nameless, and who has 910 friends on Facebook) had 'shared' / forwarded with all their friends a photograph of an individual's passport which has allegedly been found in the street, forwarding someone else's message of "does anyone know this guy so we can return this to him?"

The photo included the passport owner's photo, name, date of birth, place of birth, passport number, passport issue and expiry dates, their signature, and two lines of electronic detail from the bottom of the passport page - all of which could be used to steal their owner's identity. My friend XXX clearly thought they were doing the passport owner a favour in forwarding this out to their 910 friends including me. SERIOUSLY.  They thought it was OK to share someone else's identity details with 910 people.

I spotted the message an hour after XXX had shared it out - so Lord only knows how many of those 909 other friends had also forwarded it out to their own friends before I posted a "DO NOT SHARE THIS" message on it. 

Perhaps almost WORSE than the fact that XXX blindly forwarded the passport details out to their 910 friends, they clearly didn't read ANY of the comments attached to the photo other than the photo description which said "please share this out to help find the owner". XXX shared the photo SIX FULL HOURS AFTER the original poster of the photo had commented that the owner of the passport had been found. XXX also didn't spot the large number of comments from other people to the original poster that they should give the passport to the police to deal with.

My friend XXX is a lovely person.

Really. They are a very nice person and I am sure that they would not have deliberately or maliciously sent out the passport owner's personal details with any sense of malice or mis-intent. I imagine they saw the photo and thought they could help out in some way by sharing it with their friends, and did so blindly, with a feeling of "I did something good in doing this".  I almost feel bad to be mentioning them (regardless that I'm not sharing their name and details) and they may even become angry or hurt about my using their actions today as an example in this blog-posting. I'm sorry if they feel that way about it, but  as lovely as they are, and as lovely as the rest of my friends and contacts are, it is NOT ENOUGH to be a nice person and to be well meaning, whilst in charge of a device that can connect you - and whatever you post on it - to the rest of the world.  It is definitely NOT OK to be irresponsible and gullible.

If you see stuff on the internet that you are even TEMPTED to share, please bear in mind:
  • Many of the messages that do the rounds on Facebook are - SHOCK, HORROR - untrue.
  • Many of them are listed on Hoax-spotting websites. To find out if a message you are thinking of forwarding / sharing is fake or not, simply highlight and copy a phrase from the message, and paste it into Google along with the word Hoax - and see if it comes up about the message you've seen. Many times you will find that the message which you've just been sent by another friend has actually been doing the rounds on the internet for 5, 10, 15, even 20 years.  
  • Two great websites to use to check out if a message is true or fake are Hoax-slayer and Snopes: Google for them. 
  • Wise up before sending stuff out.
  • Think before posting crap. 
  • Think before forwarding crap. 
  • And certainly, think before posting an individual's personal details to the world.  
  • Check stuff out.
  • If the message seems odd, DON'T FORWARD IT.
  • If it seems too good to be truly, DON'T FORWARD IT.
  • If it is marked up as "oh yeah, it's true, this was on TV like yesterday somewhere else in the world", DON'T FORWARD IT.
  • If it claims that "the more people who share this, the more money will be donated by somebody somewhere", DON'T FORWARD IT.
  • And if it contains anything personal about somebody else, NO MATTER HOW HELPFUL YOU THINK YOU ARE BEING, DON'T FORWARD IT.

Bottom line: 
Just because you are sent something by someone you know or think you know - this does not mean that it is true, correct, legal or right to forward on to others.

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