Two well-meaning Facebook vigilantes are in a battle against scam accounts, and Facebook’s response seems to be “Yeah, good job. Now keep doing it.”
Kathy Kostrub-Waters and Bryan Denny are spending some of their precious free time finding fake accounts on the site — not the kind created by Russian trolls during the fake news blitz a few years ago, but the kind that use stolen photos to convince lonely hearts to send money to people they’ve never met.
Kostrub-Waters and Denny told Buzzfeed they regularly present Facebook with their findings, and each time are disappointed to find Facebook hasn’t changed their approach. Says Denny: “The reality is this isn’t my job or Kathy’s. So I get really tired of ‘Hey, thanks for the work — keep it up.’ I’m like no, damnit, it’s your job to do this.”
Part of the problem seems to be much of Facebook’s work on fake accounts — at least where they don’t pertain to Russian fake news farms — is reactive rather than active. It relies on people reporting accounts. And keep in mind these have been a problem for almost as long as Facebook’s existed.
Denny, a retired member of the Armed Forces, is apparently a popular target for scammers, who steal photos of his attractive mug and use them to construct fake profiles on dating sites and — you guessed it — Facebook. He told Task & Purpose he found hundreds of Facebook profiles bearing his photo and those of his son, and estimates his identity has been used to swindle people out of thousands of dollars. “It’s hard to capture how confusing and disturbing it is to scroll through an endless stream of profiles bearing your face and name. The first time you see it, you’re just blown away.”
Think that’s scary by itself? Now consider Facebook’s intention to start a dating site.
As you might expect, victims of the kinds of romance scams that use Denny’s picture are vehemently against that idea. Various people from groups dedicated to finding and warning others about scam profiles, speaking with Huffington Post, called that idea “madness” and “a train wreck waiting to happen.”
But Facebook is moving forward with the idea. It’s apparently going to remain up to Denny, Kostrub-Waters, and the people of these dating scam warning groups to report fake profiles until the point Facebook comes up with some way of proactively hunting them down. If I may use a fictional entity to make my point, Facebook’s staff kind of reminds me of the Gotham City Police Department. Yes, enforcing the rules is their job, but why would they take over what Batman’s doing when Batman’s doing it better than they are…and for free?
That’s not a knock at either Kostrub-Waters or Denny or anyone else. I wouldn’t blame them for throwing the towel in and letting Facebook handle the scam accounts. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg even admitted in his Congressional testimony that “this is an area, content policy enforcement, that we need to do a lot better on over time.”
Facebook, for its part, is attempting to make some pages more secure with things like mandatory two-factor authentication — but that’s only for pages with large followings. It’s dead easy to make a new profile, and all it takes is for one person to buy the lie to get the ball rolling.