Saturday, July 23, 2011

How not to get hit by scam links on Facebook

I've seen a recent surge* in the most unlikely posts from the most unlikely people on my Facebook friends list, offering such varied things as free KFC, sub-epidermal spiders, newsreaders' breasts, and videos of fathers dropping their daughters. All of these links have one thing in common: They don't offer what they say they're offering. Instead, they automatically make a post on your Facebook wall, luring people on your friends list into clicking them and thus spreading themselves.

I'm struggling to see a point to this, as the links themselves don't seem to be designed to install any kind of virus or malware on the clicker's system, nor do they (appear to) allow a third party access to their Facebook account. Maybe it registers a click or an ad-read somewhere, and someone's getting a couple of pence for every thousand or so views. Whatever the reason, these links are an invasion, however small, of our privacy and we all have a duty to stop their spread. As with real-world viruses, the best way to play your part in stopping your friends and family from being affected by them is to inoculate yourself against them.

Thankfully, in the world of Facebook scam links, this is easy to do:


"Yes, durr," you're thinking. But in all seriousness, how hard is this to achieve? Most of the links I see cropping up on my Facebook wall that turn out to be scams are blindingly obvious as such, so I don't click on them. However, it is also blindingly obvious that there are many people out there who don't find them blindingly obvious, so here are some things to look out for / do / not do when someone posts a link on Facebook (or anywhere else, for that matter):
  • Don't click blindly: get the old grey cells working first:
  • Does it look like something that that person would post? If it's grandma Mabel, is she really likely to be posting to all and sundry a link to a video showing a weathergirl's wardrobe malfunction?
  • Read the status text accompanying the link. Is this written in the poster's usual style? If your grammatically fastidious buddy posts a link accompanied by "your guna love this!!!!11!", that's a dead giveaway.
  • Have the links been posted by a number of your friends already? This is especially important if the friends doing the posting are not known by you to be connected in any way.
  • If in any doubt, don't click. If you're desperate to see breasts, spiders, accidents, stupid things and gore, there's a wealth of material available on relatively safe sites just an internet search engine away.

But I've already clicked. What do I do!?

As I've already said, these links appear to be largely harmless to the clicker- they're just designed to spread themselves for some reason, possibly farming link clicks for monetary gain. So don't worry too much. In order to protect your friends and family, however, you need to remove the offending post from your news feed.

To do this, go to your profile (click on your name in the top left-hand corner of the Facebook website when you're logged in), locate the post in your news feed and hover over it with your mouse. A grey "x" will appear to the upper right of the post. Click this and choose "remove post". It'll ask you if you're sure; say yes.

* As I type, three of the five posts I can see on my Facebook news feed are fairly obvious scam links.