The true, personal dangers of social media

I was horrified by the news recently that Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, falsely linked to Boston bombings on Reddit, had been found dead, his body dragged from a river.

It is shocking that a bunch of anonymous Reddit users can cause such huge damage. Anonymous posts should be ousted. It is not acceptable that people can hide online and make spurious statements. Anonymous postings are one of the worst aspects of the internet, hurting people in real life, personally and professionally. In this case, it led to a person’s death.

The internet can completely devastate a person.

I put a post on Google Plus, which was a big warning about Facebook issues. In response to that post, Jane Mills sent me this awful story of sexploitation via Hotmail. A warning for all:

“I think my account has been hacked Mum”.

After changing the password she managed to access the account.
She was greeted with an email that contained a montage of images built around her Facebook cover page. The images included a topless photo of her and a snapshot of key family member email addresses. It also featured her school and work details.

This montage image was emailed to her along with the threat that if she did not immediately forward nude photos, the image would be sent to her entire email list.

This family went to the police and Interpol is running enquiries, as this is not an isolated instance. Be warned, even changing passwords regularly does not stop this from happening. The mother concluded in her post:

This unknown person has managed to hack into her personal and ‘private’ email account, search every email, then search her Facebook account for other details. They immediately contacted my daughter again when they saw she had deleted her Facebook account. (As this seems to be the main way the hackers build the profile and then threaten the victims.)

This has been an (sic) terrible experience for our family. It is absolutely sickening to think someone has randomly hacked her computer and then threatened her and tried to frighten her into creating nude images.

Now imagine if your father was a conservative Christian person, who attended a fundamentalist church. Imagine you had kept your secret of being a lesbian, for fear of retribution from your family. Then don’t imagine, realise that Facebook told your father. This is what happened to Ms Bobbi Duncan in the USA.

She had been careful to stream what updates her father saw, but it was a simple matter of her joining a Facebook Group for her gay and lesbian choir.

There are a number of options when setting up a group on Facebook:

1. Secret (all discussions hidden to non-members)
2. Closed (anyone can see the group and its members but not the posts)
3. Open (anyone can see the members and the posts)

An open group, regardless of your own personal settings, overrides any privacy settings you have made and will publish you as a group member and your posts to that group for all to see. There are no permission settings.

So the owner of Bobbi Duncan’s group – a choir group for gay and lesbians had set up the group loud and proud as “Open Group”. He had no idea what would happen when Bobbi joined the group. What happened was, without Bobbi Duncan’s permission, Facebook posted a note to all her friends, including her father, telling them she had joined the “Queer Chorus” group.

The Wall Street Journal‘s article is a must read. Facebook rushed to respond to the article, by posting more information about Groups and also suggesting its privacy settings were getting more in-depth and protective. It simply isn’t in Facebook’s interest to prevent people from sharing.

In the era of Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, as such large mainstream channels, beware your information can end up anywhere and be posted to anyone.

The fallout for Bobbi Duncan and her father was a catastrophe and family devastation. Everyone has the right to approach these personal issues with family members in their own way. But if you put it out there online, you can end up losing the right to that personal process.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.




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