A week ago, I decided to read one of those numerous emails that I keep receiving from the infamous banker in Nigeria. Almost everyone is aware of these emails, and I guess the first one I received was around 15 years ago.
The context is quite simple. There is a sum of $26m lying in an account in Nigeria, which our banker friend (angel that he is) desperately wants to transfer to “your” account. No, it’s not even illegal. The money belongs to a friend of that friend, who died (conveniently) in mysterious circumstances, and if that’s any worth, didn’t leave any trace of his dependents contact details. The banker, in his ultimate wisdom, waited for a few months for any heir to show up, before deciding to take things in his own hands. How he found “you” is no one’s business. What’s important is that in a very legal transaction, he will transfer the entire money to your account, then will come over to your country, kill you if he can, or as he puts it, just take a 14.5% cut. Why 14.5%, and not 15%, he never explains. Of course the banker will never come to your country to begin with. All he needs is your name, profile, account details and assessment of how stupid you are.
In 1997 when I probably saw such email for the first time, I knew instantly what a devious scam this is. Of course at that time some people who had just started using internet may have fallen for such things. 15 years later, what I wonder is that maybe some people are still falling for such things in today’s world. If it wasn’t so, such emails would have faded away a long time ago. The supply only exists if there’s a demand.
Social media, like anything else, can be dangerous in the hands of immature. Due to its inherent nature however, we cannot make laws on who gets to use internet or be on social media.
The nature of spams has evolved with the evolution of social media. We all know that facebook is a gold mine for someone interested in collecting profiles (name, address, email, even some personal data) of thousands of people. Just create a banner with a highly unimaginative quote, such as “Life is not xyz, it is a combination of abc and d, e, f, so drop g, h & I, focus on j, k & l, while forgiving m, n and o, and forgetting p, q, r, to do s, t, u & v, not to forget w”. Of course, the banner ends with the instruction, “SHARE it with everyone you know, and you know, we will try to get to them as well, if they share it with every one they know”.
My favourite one is that Chinese feng shui, which happens only once in 857 years (although it did happen 12 times in last 4 years). If you don’t forward that to people you know, then only they know what people you know will think about it.
Now I am not saying that all such quotes or shares are of spam nature. Some are, some aren’t. However I do take anything with a bland quote followed by the instructions “SHARE it with everyone you know”, with a pinch of salt. Why people need databases? well, for any number of reasons. Marketing. Profiling. Research. Most of the reasons are not meant to harm you. However, some are. The aftermath of recent elections in Pakistan is one of such victims.
While I empathise with all those whose voting right was robbed, and I do agree that some rigging happened (quite blatantly) in the elections (by multiple parities in multiple regions), I am surprised at how social media is used for personal or political benefits here. Here are a few examples:
A websites has been asking you to enter your name, NIC number and some other details if you voted for a certain party. So that “they can count how many people actually voted for the party”. Any sane internet user would know how stupid this idea is. The said party immediately clarified that it has nothing to do with this website. However within a short span of time, thousands of people “registered” their data on that site, only to hand over their profile to God knows who and for what use.
Fake accounts of celebrities (including journalists such as Javed Chowdhary or Salim Safi) are being created, where they “appear to be highlighting” election rigging. Yesterday, some of these celebrities had to come live on TV to tell everyone that these accounts don’t belong to them. It’s very easy to distinguish between a real & a fake account. Just some research and Googling is needed. However a naïve internet user wouldn’t go that far.
Fake statistics and references e.g. “according to EC, 37% of people with higher education voted for party xyx”. Again it’s very easy to know fake here. EC has no way to find out who voted for whom. However such stats get shared far too often, God knows why.
Fake stories (a lot of them) e.g. “my aunt voted in xyz polling station and she saw this and that……..” It seems that everyone’s aunt witnessed some serious rigging wherever she went to vote. Maybe aunts have a very keen observation. I don’t know.
Strong “anti violence” statements calling for some serious violence. Internet is full of these, these days. FB pages such as “I hate xyx, the master of abc” and “@$%^&*” (cant name the pages names here, as nothing decent will come out of it). Enough said.
There are many other examples. And thousands of people are falling for such things. Probably some of them may also be corresponding with that Nigerian banker, who may have promised to ensure their vote is casted in the next elections. After all, what cannot be done when you have $26m lying in your personal account.
Note: The above was just a rambling that came to my mind while flicking through facebook. Do not shy away from using social media. I myself am a heavy user of facebook. Just telling you to be a bit more cautious the next time you read a story, or statistics, and more importantly when someone asks for any information, or asks you to share their material for no obvious reason.
Note 2: Please share this message with everyone you know, otherwise Chinese good luck will go to someone else. Probably to someone in China.