Recently, I was honoured when I got a “Friend” request on Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg. I took a look and, sure enough, I’d seen his face a million times in social media. Then, I took a second look and sounded out the name. It was Zuck Markyburg. Hey ….
I was in a rush – so I decided to leave the request hanging and went off to the sessions at the CSTA Conference. The conference is a big educational and social event; consequently lots of pictures were posted online. One included me with some friends and Zuck had noted that he saw me in one of the pictures but that I hadn’t accepted his friend request yet.
In times like this, I like to get expert advice. I checked to see that there were, indeed 28 of my friends who were friends with Zuck.
As it happens, I was in the same physical space at the same physical time with Alfred Thompson and asked about Zuck. Based on his advice, I accepted the friendship relationship and now have the opportunity to interview Zuck for the blog.
Doug: We haven’t met in person and yet through your Facebook timeline, I have this feeling that we have.
Zuck: Doug, you and I have been on the Internets for quite some time, although your experience with computers and education pre-date mine. I have followed your posts with interest, and believe it or not, we have been in the same building on more than one occasion. I have been in the audience and heard you speak, and have been able to observe your work when it has been shared online in video form. Sometimes I have had the pleasure of participating in online sessions with you via an “over-the-shoulder” opportunity as a colleague of mine has logged in with their account and I’ve offered questions or comments that they have graciously shared on my behalf. So while you cannot claim to having met Zuck Markyburg “face-to-face,” I would certainly say that I KNOW YOU — your face, your contributions, and your enthusiasm for learning.
Doug: I’ll admit to being surprised at your friendship invitation. I did check out those you’re friends with and, at the time of this writing, note that there are 90 friends. Scrolling up and down reveals some names of folks that I’ve long respected in education. How many of these have you met face to face?
Zuck: Oh, that’s a great question! I have certainly met at least several of the folks who follow me F2F, and can claim to having met a good number more. That is one of the great things about Facebook, you can be Friends with people you haven’t even met yet — but they have the potential to become life-long colleagues, professional acquaintances, or even real friends.
Doug: You have to admit, your name should give someone pause to think about accepting friendship requests.
Zuck: Well, I believe that my name is nice and distinct from any other name on Facebook? It was certainly available when I created my gmail account! Also, I THINK that my engineers have some kind of rule in place that prevents two people from using the same name, or if not (because there ARE real people who have the same name), that there is some other way by which people can tell one another apart? Like if every other detail were the same (photo, history, etc.) but the names were different, then people wouldn’t get confused, would they? I mean, people should know who their friends are, or failing that, who they want to appear to be friends with?
Doug: How should a person validate a friendship request?
Zuck: One of the great services that we provide with Facebook is to give potential Friends a sense of “how close to them” a potential Friend is.
If I see a friend request from someone and Facebook tells me that we have 28 friends in common (like you and I have), then I see that as a good measure — 28 people who are already on my Friend list have this person on my Friend list. If I trust my Friends, then chances are this potential new Friend is a good Friend even if I haven’t personally met them. On the other hand, if I get a Friend request from someone with whom I only have one or two friends in common, then I’m going to be a bit more careful — and take a close look at who that “common friend” is — is it someone I have actually met and/or trust?
Doug: There is a phenomenon known as catfishing
and you can never be too careful.
Zuck: It’s interesting that you bring up that little wrinkle! I’ve been on a little mission for the last little while (three months to the day, I believe!) in trying to help raise awareness of this vile scourge of a problem. My good friends Alec Couros, Alan Levine, and Dean Shareski have all been writing lengthy posts and articles in an attempt to draw attention to the damaging act of being mis-portrayed online (and specifically, on Facebook) by someone else for the purpose of establishing trust and then conning people out of their money. All three of these fine individuals have encountered fake Facebook profiles that use their personal image to establish connections with unknowing individuals — and they have been contacted by a number of poor souls who claim to having had long conversations with someone who has used the image of Alec, Alan, or Dean — but who has turned out to be a scammer.
Can you imagine how you would feel to know that someone has been using your image or personal details to mis-represent on Facebook?
I’ve even written a book on this very subject — and the 2nd edition was just recently released:
Doug: Alrighty, then. There are people who have been catfished and reeled in by these catfish accounts. A good article about this appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Saskatchewan professor starts website to help catfish victims find answers. How prevalent are these sort of attempts at catfishing?
Zuck: I’ve done little informal research using Google, and have discovered statistics that say that there are a lot of fake accounts on Facebook, like 83 million.
That’s a lot of fake accounts (and that statistic might be a bit dated, I don’t know when it was measured), but if you put it into the perspective of today’s approximately 1.7 billion Facebook accounts, then it’s only on the order of about 5% — so based on that alone, it’s only about a 1 in 20 chance that any given Facebook account you Friend is fake one.
Doug: More importantly, how many of these are successful?
Zuck: Well, I dunno. I mean, it would be nice if I were able to give you a better idea of how many accounts are successfully scamming folks out of money. As a business model, perhaps it is something I should have a team look into? (Or if I already have, maybe I’m not saying?) But I don’t have any hard facts to share on this. But there are lots of great anecdotal case studies out there that you could read up on.
Doug: All Social Media services have terms and conditions for their use. Facebook, for example, has section #4 that clearly describes information about Registration and Account Security. https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms It’s surprisingly readable. Doesn’t that protect people?
Zuck: Sure! We are covered in the event that someone get scammed using our service, because our Terms of Service clearly outline the limits to our liability in making our service available to folks. An awful lot of our Terms of Service are written in such a way as to put the onus on the account holder. As long as they read and agree to our rules, Facebook will remain a happy place.
Doug: Interestingly, the terms don’t require that you use your real photo in your profile. Should it be or is it part of the service that you can pick any image that you wish? Often people use a service to modify a picture to help support a particular cause.
Zuck: Exactly! The ability for an account holder to advance their cause using our platform is important to us. Let’s say someone wanted to advance their cause using MY picture — I’m all for it, being the public figure that I am! If folks can use my image to communicate their message and put words in my mouth that others will see as having come from me, then it’s up to me to put a stop to it, which, as the Boss of Facebook, I would do if I were aware of it and wanted to, or if I were aware of it and was able to, and I would certainly make it just as easy for me to stop someone from using me as I have made it easy for someone to start being me.
Doug: It seems to me that there’s a real problem with fake accounts. Through the process of sharing, there are personal items that you may want to keep within a certain group. By the time you spot a phoney account, all your information may be siphoned off. How do you avoid that?
Zuck: That’s a good question. I like the “circles” model that Google+ established, that kind of allows you to see different groups as representing different areas of interest or different levels of trust. I wish we at Facebook had thought of that, because it might make it easier for folks to decide what to share, and with whom. But we do have a lot of rules and choices that people can make in our user settings, like “Security,” “Privacy,” “Timeline and Tagging,” and “Blocking,” so that they can always go back and update their settings whenever we add new ones.
Doug: Is there a difference between “catfishing” and “fraud”?
Zuck: In a Venn diagram, I would put catfishing as one circle and fraud as one circle and there would be a great big intersection part.
Doug: Another aspect to this are laws from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Social media can be/is global. What laws would apply if you’re wronged – yours or the hosts?
Zuck: I’d have to defer this question to our legal team. But maybe we have one of those riders in our ToS that say things need to be resolved in California so our California lawyers can make the big bucks? I dunno. But for folks who are wronged all the way around the world using our Facebook platform, I sure am sorry. The Uber people have an insurance thing set up, so that’s good for them.
Doug: For those who use social media to learn and connect with others, how important is it to be able to validate sources?
Zuck: It’s easier these days to find an answer than it was in the old days. Two seconds on your smartphone using Google in your PJs on the couch and you can have the performance history of that new star acting in your latest NetFlix binge. It used to be you had to take a morning at the public library going through Encyclopedia Brittanica to find out stuff that happened years ago and that had been vetted by real historians and stuff. On the other hand, folks today can write their own Wikipedia entries, so we all need to use social media and the Internet with an open, critical eye.
Doug: Can you learn from someone you don’t know?
Zuck: Let’s change the question to “Can you learn from someone you haven’t met?” — and then I’ll answer, “Of course!” As for your original question, perhaps we come to know folks, over time, regardless of the medium through which we communicate? How many folks have you met F2F after meeting them online, for which the F2F meeting only served to strengthen the knowing?
Doug: Dr. Alec Couros has written a great deal about this topic. See this blog post for a great deal of helpful content.
He has strong words about this “However, there has been little to no response, and it is my strong belief that these corporations, in their lack of action against this growing problem, have now become complicit in these illegal activities.”
Do you agree with his assertion?
Zuck: Yes, I think Alec has been making very valid points for some time. I have attempted to help to get him in touch with the proper folks at Facebook, but I have had limited success. After all, I’m only the Boss of Facebook. We did announce a MOOC with Alec, Alan, and Dean last month that got lots of Likes, but it failed to go viral.
Doug: What action would be most appropriate in the case of this “growing problem”? How quickly would you expect a service to act on a reported infraction?
Zuck: I would expect that the CEO of Facebook would have a team of top folks working to address this problem, and that he would make public statements about the progress of this team. I would also expect that reported infractions be replied to in such a way that the individual receives a case number and contact to follow up with.
Doug: Social Media has always been a strong platform for developing learning connections in education. Is this changing? Do we need to rethink how we use it?
Zuck: I think we need to continually question what is working and what we need to change. Just because something worked once, doesn’t mean we stick with it forever. As social media becomes more pervasive, we need to review the characteristics of a platform that make it successful — brevity, asynchronous, open, etc. — or detailed, synchronous, closed, etc, and revisit our needs and the needs of our learners. We don’t just go with something because it is a “flavour of the month,” or easy to implement. On the other hand, we do try out platforms and tools as they emerge and are prepared for a new one to come along that will take the place of a previous favourite.
Doug: You get the last word here. What words of advice would you like readers to leave with?
Zuck: Make Friends! Treat folks with respect. Be aware of what you post online. Consider advocating for improvements for social media and/or learning platforms that you use when you see areas of concern or potential improvements. Work together with your Friends and your friends to make the world a better place.
And add Zuck Markyburg as your Friend on Facebook! (We really do need to hold Facebook more accountable and get some action on this!)