Mon, Feb 9th 2009 8:32pm
"Fears of impostors increase on Facebook" screams the CNN headline, followed by the tale of a guy who fell for a scam after one of his friends' Facebook account was hacked. Apparently the friend's status said "Bryan NEEDS HELP URGENTLY!!!", and the guy got a direct message saying his friend had been robbed in London and needed money to get home. So the guy did what any reasonable person would do -- he wired $2800 to a London bank account, while his friend was sitting safe and sound at home in Seattle. This type of scam is apparently becoming more common on Facebook, but it's part of the larger issue of impersonation that could grow to be a problem for it and other social networks. Social-networking profiles have become proxies for our real offline personalities, and the fact that people will buy into them wholeheartedly, like the guy in the above scam, speaks not necessarily to their gullibility but also to the level of faith people put into them. For instance, an Italian soccer star is reportedly looking at legal action against Facebook after discovering that somebody had put a fake profile of him up on the site and linked to some Nazi material. Impersonation and false profiles are something that Facebook and its ilk need to deal with sooner, rather than later. If their users' trust in the veracity of online profiles is lost, the social networks will lose a large part of their attraction.
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