The Dark Side of Social Media

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By Hector Cisneros

Social media has been a Godsend to most people. It has allowed millions of people from around the world to connect and share ideas. It has made it possible for people to reconnect with family and lost friends from the past. It has made it possible to find missing loved ones and allowed humankind to share the blessings and calamities of our world. But like all powerful tools, Social Media is a double-edged sword. It has a dark side that is often ignored by the general public. This Dark side of Social Media is riddled with all manners of scams, bigotry, hatred, piracy, pornography, bullying, cyber traps, ID thieves and much worse. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will explore the dark underbelly of social media to expose its dangers and to give our readers a leg up on how to avoid the Dark side of Social Media.

So, what exactly is the Dark Side of Social Media? Frankly, it’s the part of social media that most people want to ignore. The Dark Side of Social Media is connected to the Dark side of the web. The parts of the web where scam artists, perverts, Cyber stalkers, Trolls, Cyber Bully’s, hackers, social terrorist and cybercriminals carry out their nefarious deeds. So, the question remains - why is this even out there?

The Relinquishing of Privacy – As far as I am concerned, we are partially to blame. We relinquish
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our right to privacy when we join any social networks and sign away our rights to keep our personal information private. All social networks make money by selling access to your information so vendors can target your profiles. We have given away our right to privacy in exchange for the convenience of sharing our lives with others in the world. This would be ok if everyone was vigilant and vetted all their connections. But most people are not vigilant, and
most don’t vet the people who ask to follow them. To make matters worse, for the networks to be open and accessible, they have to make you accessible to all, and this makes you vulnerable to cybercriminals searching for new victims. In March of 2013, I wrote an article called Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks. It talked about the dangers of social media and how hackers were using it to build psychological profiles on potential victims. They would use these profiles to create customized phishing emails and direct message campaigns to trick victims into divulging sensitive information. They would also use them to get victims to click on malware links and other cyber traps to gain access to their digital devices. Another article worth reading that I wrote is called: The State of Internet Privacy & Security in America Today. That article includes many suggestions that anyone can implement to tighten their social media security and avoid becoming a cybercrime victim.

Fake Copycat Sites are where scam artists create fake celebrity or copycat social pages used to gather your friends' social information. Cyber criminals have created fake social sites on all major social platforms. Anyone who connects to or follows these pages are setting themselves up for attack and the copied celebrities along with those duped into following them become victims as well.

Last year I was a victim of one of these criminal acts. An unknown Facebook scam artist copied one
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of my Facebook pages and began connecting with people I know and asking them for charitable donations. Luckily for me, I monitor my pages daily and the people with whom I am also connected know me fairly well. I received a call from a friend soon after the copycat page was up. My friend asked me if I had started raising money for a charity and I said no. He informed me that there was a page with my pictures on it asking people to help a charity that I was not involved with. I quickly located the fake Facebook page and contacted Facebook support to ask that they deal with this imposter. To my surprise, Facebook support pulled it down in less than 15 minutes. I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t caught on to this forgery so quickly!  Fake Facebook or what I call copycat pages are apparently common on Facebook and because of this Facebook takes dealing with the scammers very seriously. For more details on this story read:
Getting Faked Out On Facebook on this blog.

Your Social Posts and Profile is the Key to a Cyber Criminals Success
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All online fraudsters are trying to gain access to your sensitive information.  Cyber criminals often use your social media profile to implement very sophisticated Phishing Scams that includes information that you are familiar with and know. This can include your kids’ names, places you shop, institutions you use and a lot more.  You give them this information when you post your life on social networks online. The hacking takes place when you open a malware attachment or a link in the phishing email that sends you to site laced with all manner of psychological traps that they build based on your social posts and profiles. Speaking of telling all to the world - It never ceases to amaze me to see friends posting live vacation pictures on Facebook and Twitter, announcing to the world that they are away from home. This screams the message - “it’s time to come rob your house.” Which is just what cyber criminals are scanning for on social media.

Once a cybercriminal knows your age, where you live, what kind of car you drive, what you read, your affiliations, the books, music, and movies you like, they can build a strategic plan to go after the keys to your kingdom. Their goal is to steal your Identity.

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ID Thief - The stealing of information that is used to prove to others you are who you say you are is the cyber criminal’s holy grail. An item like your social security number, financial accounts, user names, and passwords are what they seek. Cyber criminals know the majority of people keep some forms of this information on their digital devices. Once a cybercriminal gains access to your computer, tablet or smartphone, they begin the process of finding your ID credentials and lifting them to either transfer control into their name or to create additional financial accounts in your name so they can run up charges and leave you holding the bill.

So far, I have only addressed cyber criminals whose primary motive is to get ill-gotten gains by fleecing you out of your hard-earned money. Another ugly part of the Dark Side of Social Media is cyber criminals whose motives aren’t getting rich, but instead they wish to hurt others. These are the haters and perverts who seek to disparage, hurt or even sexually abuse others.

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Child Traps Chat Rooms – Many social networks have groups and clubs. They also have chat capabilities. These are sometimes used to trick under aged kids into a sexually explicit situations where they can be baited into meetups where they get sexually abused or worse. More often what happens is that kids are asked to check out a chat site that is separate from the social site. These internet chat sites are monitored less than the social sites and are used to engage in online video perversions and to lure children and teenagers to meet with sick adults looking to abuse them sexually.

Cyber Stalking is where ex-spouses, lovers and deranged fans follow every post of their victim in order to commit nefarious acts. This can be anything from posting revealing pictures, to posting harassing, vulgar, hateful or salacious language.  Telling others false information and perpetuating demeaning stories and spreading rumors and lies about one’s character. In 2014 my business
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partner Carl Weiss wrote an article called
Cyberstalking for Fun & Profit. Needless to say, this article was not about having fun or about making a profit.   It was about how cyberstalking and cyberbullying had gotten out of hand.

Cyberbullying and Cyber Trolls are related to Cyber Stalking in a way. These cyber miscreants try to intimidate others by doing the same kinds of things that a cyberstalker does, except that cyber bullying is normally used when we are talking about kids engaging in online bullying. We call these same acts committed by adults, “Troll” or “Cyber Trolling” when the adult is not your ex-spouse, lover or fan. Trolls and Cyber-bullies are a growing trend. Check out “Are Trolls Taking Control of the Internet?” for more insight.

Social Terrorism - I also include hate speech, racism, and terrorism in the group of Trolling. Hate
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speech in any form is harmful. This is particularly true when that hate speech is guised in the form of religion that espouses that it’s OK to cut people’s heads off because they are your prisoner or disagree with you. This type of religious fascism is extremely destructive. It spreads hate and perpetuates hate as its message of salvation. There is no place for any kind of hate, racism or terrorism on social media and we need to encourage our social networks to turn it off and filter out these types of messages. If you don’t think terrorism is a problem on social media, read:
Terrorists Have Hijacked Social Media: A Dangerous New Paradigm.

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Easily Accessible Porn - The internet has no shortage of Porn sites. What is amazing to me is how easy it is to find porn on social network sites. Many of the social networks prohibit pornography. However, they don’t prohibit people from creating a profile that provides links to explicit sites. Even if they do, the links can be pulled down quickly. Another trick used by porn perpetrators is to post links to other sites that do have direct links to porn. The most explicit example is Twitter. I have noticed if you type “porn on twitter” in the regular search box, very few if any direct porn profile links show up. However, if you open an incognito browser tab and type the same thing you get tons of Twitter porn profile showing explicit videos! That’s right - on Twitter. 

Kids, especially teenagers, are computer savvy. They know how to find anything on the net, especially when it comes to finding porn on social network sites. Many have heard that teens are sexting each other (i.e. sending sexually explicit text messages with or without images). But did you know that they are also using social sites like Snap Chat and Instagram to send sexually explicit disappearing photos and videos to each other? Even worse, this could be happening between sexual predators pretending to be a teenager.

Like all powerful tools, the internet and social media can be used for good. But like all double- edged swords, it can be cruel, destructive and cause irreparable damage.  What can people do to address these issues? How can an ordinary social media user have an impact on the Dark Side of Social Media? For starters, take full responsibility for how you and your family use social media. Make sure you teach your children and teenagers about the dangers of the web. Stop ignoring the problems; they aren’t going away. Stand up and be heard. Tag and report social posts that are inappropriate, vulgar, salacious, perverted, depicts acts of violence, hateful or racist speech and images. This includes language, pictures, podcasts and videos that include any of the aforementioned types of questionable posts including inciting terrorism.  Report posts that you feel have crossed the line of human decency. Make sure you tell the social network provider and also report these kinds of inappropriate posts to your friends, family, co-workers and especially the media. I am not a huge advocate of internet censorship. By the same token, I want protection for our children put in place so they can grow up without being exposed to the underbelly of the world at every turn. Having said that, the solution starts with us. You, me, our friends and neighbors need to say enough is enough. It means taking full responsibility to make sure there are filters and protections installed on out digital devices to protect young minds from learning too much too soon. And finally, we need to make sure we take the daily responsibility to protect our financial futures from cyber criminals looking to make themselves rich while turning our lives into a living hell. If we all do our part and take full responsibility for the Dark Site of Social Media, it will lessen its negative impact on our lives, and the Internet will be a safer place for all.

That’s my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

In this article, I have detailed the Dark Side of Social Media. My topic has included what scam artists, perverts, Cyber stalkers, Trolls, Cyber Bullies, Terrorist and hackers do on social media to gain access to your personal and financial information to carry out their nefarious deeds.  Also included are links to various reference articles that provide lots of tips to help avoid the dangers of the dark side of social media. It is my hope that you will share this information with your peers and that you will take the time to leave us a comment on this topic.

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Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 

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