Is it harmful to answer "questions" on Facebook?
January 2, 2021 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Trying to settle an argument. Bob says it's perfectly fine to answer the simple questions that do the rounds on Facebook sometimes (the one in question is "Do you personally know anyone who has tested positive or died due to the corona virus?", posted by someone Bob doesn't know). Alice argues vociferously that no you shouldn't answer these, there is some kind of data mining going on and someone's looking for potential targets for future misinformation.

I am witnessing the row, unsure who's right, and can't find any evidence that either is correct. I am leaning to Alice's view, but may not be using the right search terms as I can't find any decent explanation of how this would work or evidence that there's something nefarious going on.

Help, hive mind?
posted by altolinguistic to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably what Alice is thinking of. It's not an entirely unfounded concern.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have heard that this is the case for those quizzes that go around--i.e. the "Which Firefly character are you?" is doing exactly what you describe--but that if a question is just being asked by someone who is a FB friend that you presume is actually asking, it's just the same level of data-mining that using literally any other part of Facebook or Twitter is doing.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what sort of evidence you'd need; targeting people with specific ads is Facebook's business model. If you type things into Facebook, Facebook uses that to decide what ads to give you by interpreting it. It's how they make money.

The line from the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower was "It’s like a boomerang. You send your data out, it gets analysed, and it comes back at you as targeted messaging to change your behaviour.”

Do you know somebody who's died of Covid? Say yes or no, and you get a different set of ads and articles in your feed, whichever you're more likely to click now that Facebook knows that.
posted by mhoye at 9:23 AM on January 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

A lot of those questions are actually ads. I personally don't answer them.
posted by kschang at 9:25 AM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to being data collection goldmines, they're also done as a way of justifying higher prices for paid posts, or for the later sale of the account.

Very simple example with basic math: Let's say someone makes 100 posts. 99 of them get 10 engagements. 1 of them gets 1000 engagements ("Hit like if you support first responders! Hit share if you support the military!" or my new favorite, "LinkedIn has a new feature - double click on the image to see it!"). Their average engagement rate nearly doubles as a result of one blockbuster.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:42 AM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Is someone going to steal your identity if you answer one of these questions? Probably not*. Is engagement with public posts a means of turning your answer into resellable data? Yes. Does it add information to your shadow profile to hit you with specific types of ads, "prioritize" certain types of "news" and posts injected into your algorhithm (tip: always use chronological feed but even then the algo is still exerting control on what you see)? Yep, sure does. Do you need to be doing that work for Facebook for free? Up to you ultimately.

*Anytime you engage with public content on Facebook you're bumping your name up a list of "people recently publicly active on Facebook". Bots love that list - I accidentally reply to friends' public posts a few times a year, and I spend the next several days getting a few friend requests from middle-aged white men wearing sunglasses in front of an American flag and who usually live in Afghanistan, and that's because bots need a certain number of friends before they can move about Facebook without content restrictions.

Does getting bumped on that list also elevate the risk of your name being mined for things like unemployment fraud? I have some suspicions.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:44 AM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

If an actual friend, someone I know has posted such a question, I usually answer. If the question appears in my feed because a friend has merely responded to a stranger's question, I do not. Possibilities of data mining exist, because it's Facebook, but that doesn't trouble me... but if somebody I know has a question, I'm compelled to help out by responding.
posted by Rash at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2021

Regarding that specific question, there was concern that the variants of that question going around on social media prior to the election were designed to make people think that coronavirus was not as serious as it is. I never saw any proof for the theory, however.

But in general, the people that are concerned that questions about pets are being used to get information about what your bank login question answers are tend to be paranoid, unless there's a good reason to think that you're being specifically targeted to get the information. People that are concerned that Facebook etc. are designed to get as much information about you to use to target you with ads (some of which could be deliberate misinformation) and possibly sell it to 3rd parties (some of whom might be nefarious) are right on the money.
posted by Candleman at 11:13 AM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

The specific concern— that people are trying to meme you, get you to answer questions, post a photo from 10 years ago and one today so software can learn how faces evolve— is ridiculous. Not because a computer couldn’t/wouldnt do that, but because they absolutely don’t need your meme data for that sort of thing. Being on Facebook at all gives them the data they need. People usually create viral posts or posts that ask you to answer for engagement reasons— they want a lot of people to interact with them or follow their page and get good metrics for whatever they’re pushing. (Misinformation could also be the goal.) All of this is so vague and fleeting I would not consider it anyone’s personal responsibility to avoid such things or spread theories that are wrong for harm reduction. But yes, there are usually some shady monetizations going on when you see these viral posts.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:09 PM on January 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Facebook has a specific capability for questions. They might not be unsafe. They're also pretty pointless, generate a fair bit of noise, and I just ignore them.

Web-based questionnaires certainly carry the possibility of being security risks, gathering personal data, etc. If you really want to do one, open Internet Explorer, paste in the link, do the quiz, delete cookies and history, close.
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on January 2, 2021

I saw one today that gave you a one word horoscope for 2021 if you just put in your *signature*. I didn't follow through to find out if that word was "hacked".
posted by sapere aude at 12:50 PM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you really want to do one, open Internet Explorer,

Hold up.
posted by mhoye at 4:30 PM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

« Older How to best negotiate living alone with my...   |   Mask fit for glasses AND an asymmetrical face? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.