Social Media Scam-A-Rama

January 26, 2023

The Internet is a virtual playground for scam artists.  While it is horrible that bad actors can get away with their crimes, it is also impressive the depth and creativity they go to for “easy money.”  Fortune shares the soap opera-worthy saga of how: “Social Media Influencers Are Charged With Feeding Followers ‘A Steady Diet Of Misinformation’ In A Pump And Dump Stock Scheme That Netted $100 Million.”

The US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) busted eight purported social media influencers who specialized in stock market trading advice.  From 2020 to April 2022, they tricked their amateur investor audience of over 1.5 million Twitter users to invest funds in a “pump-and-dump” scheme.  The scheme worked as follows:

“Seven of the social-media influencers promoted themselves as successful traders on Twitter and in Discord chat rooms and encouraged their followers to buy certain stocks, the SEC said. When prices or volumes of the promoted stocks would rise, the influencers ‘regularly sold their shares without ever having disclosed their plans to dump the securities while they were promoting them,’ the agency said. ‘The defendants used social media to amass a large following of novice investors and then took advantage of their followers by repeatedly feeding them a steady diet of misinformation,’ said the SEC’s Joseph Sansone, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit.”

The ring’s eighth member hosted a podcast that promoted the co-conspirators as experts.  The entire group posted about their luxury lifestyles to fool their audiences further about their stock market expertise.

All of the bad actors could face a max penalty of ten to twenty-five years in prison for fraud and/or unlawful monetary transactions.  The SEC is cracking down on cryptocurrency schemes given the large number of celebrities who are hired to promote schemes.  The celebrities claim to be innocent, because they were paid to promote a product and were not aware of the scam.  

However, how innocent are these people when they use their status to make more money off their fans?  They should follow Shaq’s example and research the products they are associated with before accepting a check…unless they are paid in cryptocurrency.   That would be poetic justice!

Whitney Grace, January 26, 2023

Fixing Social Media: Sure Enough

January 25, 2023

It is not that social media platforms set out to do harm, exactly. They just regularly prioritize profits above the wellbeing of society. BrookingsTech Stream hopes to help mitigate one such ill in, “How Social Media Platforms Can Reduce Polarization.” The advice is just a bit late, though, by about 15 years. If we had known then what we know now, perhaps we could have kept tech companies from getting addicted to stirring the pot in the first place.

Nevertheless, journalists Christian Staal Bruun Overgaard and Samuel Woolley do a good job describing the dangers of today’s high polarization, how we got here, and what might be done about it. See the article for that discussion complete with many informative links. Regarding where to go from here, the authors note that (perhaps ironically) social media platforms are in a good position to help reverse the trend, should they choose to do so. They tell us:

Our review of the scientific literature on how to bridge societal divides points to two key ideas for how to reduce polarization. First, decades of research show that when people interact with someone from their social ‘outgroup,’ they often come to view that outgroup in a more favorable light. Significantly, individuals do not need to take part in these interactions themselves. Exposure to accounts of outgroup contact in the media, from news articles to online videos, can also have an impact. Both positive intergroup contact and stories about such contact have been shown to dampen prejudice toward various minority groups.

The second key finding of our review concerns how people perceive the problem of polarization. Even as polarization has increased in recent years, survey research has consistently shown that many Americans think the nation is more divided than it truly is. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans think they dislike each other more than they actually do. These misconceptions can, ironically, drive the two sides further apart. Any effort to reduce polarization thus also needs to correct perceptions about how bad polarization really is. For social media platforms, the literature on bridging societal divides has important implications.”

The piece discusses five specific recommendations for platforms: surface more positive interparty contact, prioritize content that’s popular among disparate user groups, correct misconceptions, design better user interfaces, and collaborate with researchers. Will social media companies take the researchers’ advice to actively promote civil discourse over knee-jerk negativity? Only if accountability legislation and PR headaches can ever outweigh the profit motive.

The UK has a different idea: Send the executives of US social media companies to prison.

Cynthia Murrell, January 25, 2023

Discord Resources

January 19, 2023

Among Facebook’s waning prestige, TikTok’s connections to a surveillance-loving regime, and whatever the heck is happening at Musk’s Twitter, one might be in the market for an alternative social media platform. LifeHacker suggests an option gamers have been using for years in, “How to Find Discord Servers You’ll Actually Like.” Writer Khamosh Pathak recommends checking with friends, some of whom might already be on Discord. One can also check communities or pages found on other platforms, especially Reddit. Many of them have their own Discord servers. Message them if they don’t display a public link, Pathak advises. Or simply check Discord directories. We learn:

“You can try Discord’s own discovery tool. Click the Compass icon at the bottom of the sidebar. Their Featured collection isn’t that great, but the Search tool is. Search for something that you’re interested in, or something you want to explore. Searching for ‘mechanical keyboards’ brings up 79 different servers, for example. If you want to discover something entirely different, you can use a third-party Discord server directory like Disboard, which does a great job at categorizing and tagging communities. This will help you discover up-and-coming communities in different sections like gaming, music, and more. And, of course, there’s the search function that will help you narrow down to servers with specific interests, like woodworking or ceramics. For fans of gaming and anime, Discord.Me is an even better option. While they do have a varied collection of servers, their focus is really on gaming and anime (something that will become apparent after spending more than five seconds on the page). You can read the detailed descriptions if you want, or you can click the Join Now button to directly open the community in the Discord app.”

Discord offers the familiar ability to engage in text- and meme-based conversations, but one might also enjoy talking to other humans in real time over voice channels. Check it out for a different social media experience.

Cynthia Murrell, January 21, 2023

Seattle: Awareness Flickering… Maybe?

January 17, 2023

Generation Z is the first age of humans completely raised with social media. They are also growing up during a historic mental health crisis. Educators and medical professionals believe there is a link between the rising mental health crisis and social media. While studies are not 100% conclusive, there is a correlation between the two. The Seattle Times shares a story about how Seattle public schools think the same: “Seattle Schools Sues Social Media Firms Over Youth Mental Health Crisis.”

Seattle schools files a ninety-page lawsuit that asserts social media companies purposely designed, marketed, and operate their platforms for optimum engagement with kids so they can earn profits. The lawsuit claims that the companies cause mental and health disorders, such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and cyber bullying. Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) lawsuit states the company violated the Washington public nuisance law and should be penalized.

SPS argues that due to the increased mental and physical health disorders, they have been forced to divert resources and spend funds on counselors, teacher training in mental health issues, and educating kids on dangers related to social media. SPS wants the tech companies to be held responsible and help treat the crisis:

“ ‘Our students — and young people everywhere — face unprecedented learning and life struggles that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive properties of social media,’ said SPS Superintendent Brent Jones in the release. ‘We are confident and hopeful that this lawsuit is the first step toward reversing this trend for our students, children throughout Washington state, and the entire country.’”

Tech insiders have reported that social media companies are aware of the dangers their platforms pose to kids, but are not too concerned. The tech companies argue they have tools to help adults limit kids’ screen time. Who is usually savvier with tech though, kids or adults?

The rising mental health crisis is also caused by two additional factors:

  1. Social media induces mass hysteria in kids, because it is literally a digital crowd. Humans are like sheep they follow crowds.
  2. Mental health diagnoses are more accurate, because the science has improved. More kids are being diagnosed because the experts know more.

Social media is only part of the problem. Tech companies, however, should be held accountable because they are knowingly contributing to the problem. And Seattle? Flicker, flicker candle of awareness.

Whitney Grace, January 17, 2023

Social Media: Great for Surveillance, Not So Great for Democracy

January 13, 2023

Duh? Friday the 13th.

Respected polling organization the Pew Research Center studied the impact and views that social media has on democratic nations. According to the recent study: “Social Media Seen As Mostly Good For Democracy Across Many Nations, Except US Is A Major Outlier” the US does not like social media meddling with its politics.

The majority of the polled countries believed social media affected democracy positively and negatively. The US is a large outlier, however, because only 34% of its citizens viewed social media as beneficial while a whopping 64% believed the opposite. The US is not the only one that considered social media to cause division in politics:

“Even in countries where assessments of social media’s impact are largely positive, most believe it has had some pernicious effects – in particular, it has led to manipulation and division within societies. A median of 84% across the 19 countries surveyed believe access to the internet and social media have made people easier to manipulate with false information and rumors. A recent analysis of the same survey shows that a median of 70% across the 19 nations consider the spread of false information online to be a major threat, second only to climate change on a list of global threats.

Additionally, a median of 65% think it has made people more divided in their political opinions. More than four-in-ten say it has made people less civil in how they talk about politics (only about a quarter say it has made people more civil).”

Despite the US being an outlier, other nations used social media as a tool to be informed about news, helped raise public awareness, and allowed citizens to express themselves.

The majority of Americans who negatively viewed social media were affiliated with the Republican Party or were Independents. Democrats and their leaners were less likely to think social media is a bad influence. Younger people also believe social media is more beneficial than older generations.

Social media is another tool created by humans that can be good and bad. Metaphorically it is like a gun.

Whitney Grace, January 13, 2023

Surprise: TikTok Reveals Its Employees Can View European User Data

December 28, 2022

What a surprise. The Tech Times reports, “TikTok Says Chinese Employees Can Access Data from European Users.” This includes workers not just within China, but also in Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. According to The Guardian, TikTok revealed the detail in an update to its privacy policy. We are to believe it is all in the interest of improving the users’ experience. Writer Joseph Henry states:

“According to ByteDance, TikTok’s parent firm, accessing the user data can help in improving the algorithm performance on the platform. This would mean that it could help the app to detect bots and malicious accounts. Additionally, this could also give recommendations for content that users want to consume online. Back in July, Shou Zi Chew, a TikTok chief executive clarified via a letter that the data being accessed by foreign staff is a ‘narrow set of non-sensitive’ user data. In short, if the TikTok security team in the US gives a green light for data access, then there’s no problem viewing the data coming from American users. Chew added that the Chinese government officials do not have access to these data so it won’t be a big deal to every consumer.”

Sure they don’t. Despite assurances, some are skeptical. For example, we learn:

“US FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told Reuters that TikTok should be immediately banned in the US. He added that he was suspicious as to how ByteDance handles all of the US-based data on the app.”

Now just why might he doubt ByteDance’s sincerity? What about consequences? As some Sillycon Valley experts say, “No big deal. Move on.” Dismissive naïveté is helpful, even charming.

Cynthia Murrell, December 28, 2022

The Law of the Twitter Storm

December 12, 2022

Our fearless leader (Stephen E Arnold) has captured several laws of information. An article at Variety illustrates one we call the Twitter Storm, which states that information builds momentum. “‘Twitter Files’ Touted by Musk Reveal How Execs Debated Decision to Block NY Post Account Over Hunter Biden Articles.” In accordance with the Twitter Storm law, we expect the consequences of the leaked documents, the visibility the story has, and the follow-on consequences to be impactful. Information flow works like the forces which created the Grand Canyon.

Reporter Todd Spangler summarizes the 2020 kerfuffle over Twitter’s decision to block the Post’s account. See the write-up to learn or refresh those details. The commotion was recently re-fluffed by investigative reporter Matt Taibbi and by the platform’s new monarch, Elon Musk, who promptly fired the executives responsible for blocking the Post. We learn:

“The new disclosures, touted as ‘The Twitter Files,’ were posted in a lengthy Twitter thread by investigative reporter and author Matt Taibbi (and retweeted by Musk). It’s based on ‘thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter,’ according to Taibbi — shared with him, it would appear, with the blessing of Musk, the conservative tech mogul who is the world’s richest person.

Taibbi, in a note about ‘The Twitter Files’ on his Substack page, said that ‘in exchange for the opportunity to cover a unique and explosive story, I had to agree to certain conditions.’ Taibbi did not disclose what those conditions are.”

One factor at play here is a perception of left-wing bias behind the original decision. Spangler continues:

“Musk, a self-described ‘free-speech absolutist,’ has complained that in the past Twitter censored conservatives and that under his ownership Twitter would adhere to strict principles of ‘free speech’ — a stance that critics have feared will lead to an increase of misinformation and hate speech on the platform.”

Indeed, that is a big concern. But is Musk as committed to free speech as he claims? We notice Twitter is allegedly censoring content from Mastodon. As users flee the new Twitter, many are turning to that decentralized platform instead. According to TechCrunch, Mastodon’s active user base increased by more than fivefold within days of Musk’s takeover. But surely that has nothing to do with the alleged censorship, right?

Cynthia Murrell, December 12, 2022

TikTok: Back in the Surveillance Spotlight?

December 6, 2022

In western countries, especially the United States, TikTok is a platform showcasing the worst of its citizens. It also encourages poor behavior due to mob mentality/crowd psychology. Did you know that China owns TikTok and uses it to collect data on US citizens? It is probably manipulating algorithms to show Americans the worst of the worst as well. The FBI is finally catching on that TikTok is not a benign social media platform, but it is probably too little too late.

CNBC wrote that, “FBI Is ‘Extremely Concerned’ About China’s Influence Through TikTok On US Users.” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned US lawmakers about the potential threat TikTok poses:

“ ‘We do have national security concerns at least from the FBI’s end about TikTok,’ Wray told members of the House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing about worldwide threats. ‘They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users. Or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.’”

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance denies any bad actions and condemns anyone who claims TikTok is anything more than a short video-sharing platform. The Hill has a similar take on the same story “FBI Head: China Has ‘Stolen More’ US Data ‘Than Every Other Nation Combined’” and uses the same quote from Wray but includes an additional one:

“There are still unresolved questions about data sharing between Chinese companies and the government in Beijing, said Wray, adding that ‘there’s a number of concerns there as to what is actually happening and actually being done.’”

What is interesting about China is that it is one of the world’s oldest countries and its cultural mentality is different from than the West. China could be patiently playing the long game to subvert the US government with the help of its citizens. How? They systemically use TikTok to condition Americans’ attention spans to be shorter and influence bad behavior.

Why is the FBI only concerned now?

Whitney Grace, December 6, 2022

A Trifecta for Meta, TikTok, and Twitter in Kenya

November 23, 2022

Once again, social media companies show their disdain for local laws and information integrity. Rest of World reports, “Facebook and Instagram Ran Ads Violating Kenyan Election Law, New Report Reveals.” Furthermore, according to the Mozilla Foundation report, Meta, Twitter, and TikTok failed to moderate harmful posts amid the Kenyan general election in August. Journalist Andrew Deck writes:

“Kenyan law states political candidates cannot campaign in the 48 hours before an election day. Candidates for both major political parties did just that, with paid promotions on Facebook and Instagram, which are both owned by Meta. Meta itself requires advertisers to abide by these blackout periods. Some ads from the opposition Azimio la Umoja party reached as many as 50,000 impressions and one gubernatorial candidate alone ran some 17 violating ads. … The porousness of moderation filters during this time contributed to what [Mozilla researcher Odanga Madung] calls a ‘post-election twilight zone,’ the report said. Despite public commitments to ramp up moderation resources before Kenyans headed to the polls, Meta, Twitter, and TikTok all saw breaches in their moderation systems, according to the report. In the days after the polls closed on August 9, election rumors on social media were exacerbated by the release of 43,000 polling station results publicly by the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Political parties and media companies released their own tallies of these votes, leading to conflicting declarations of the winner. Breaches included the circulation of misleading electoral tallies by opposing political parties and conspiracy theories about election fraud.”

What an interesting matter. See the article for more election chicanery that made it unchallenged onto social media. Meta, TikTok, and Twitter all insist they did their best to uphold regulations and label misinformation. Madung, however, believes they did not adequately test their procedures within Kenya. That seems like a sound conclusion. Just how long will these companies’ negligence contribute to election turmoil in countries around the globe?

Cynthia Murrell, November 23, 2022

OSINT: HandleFinder

November 22, 2022

If you are looking for a way to identify a user “handle” on various social networks, you may want to take a look at HandleFinder. The service appears to be offered without a fee. The developer does provide a “Buy Me a Coffee” link, so you can support the service. The service accepts a user name. We used our favorite ageing teen screen name ibabyrainbow or babyrainbow on some lower profile services. HandleFinder returned 31 results on our first query. (We ran the query a second time, and the system returned 30 results. We found this interesting.)

The services scanned included Patreon, TikTok, and YouTube, among others. The service did not scan the StreamGun video on demand service or NewRecs.

In order to examine the results, one clicks on service name which is underlined. Note that once one clicks the link, the result set is lost. We found that the link should be opened in a separate tab or window to eliminate the need to rerun the query after after each click. That’s how one of my team discovered the count variance.

When there is no result, the link in HandleFinder does not make this evident. Links to ibabyrainbow on Instagram returned “Page not found.” The result for returned the page of links, which means more clicking.

If one is interested in chasing down social media handles, you may want to check out this service. It is promising and hopefully will be refined.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2022

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