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MH370 Disappearance Triggers Fake Social Media Accounts Growth

Apr 8 2014, 1:34am CDT | by , in News | Technology News

MH370 Disappearance Triggers Fake Social Media Accounts Growth
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MH370 Disappearance Triggers Fake Social Media Accounts Growth

With its route change, absence of radar signals from the plane, and the inscrutable actions of its pilots, the Malaysian Airline MH370 disappearance story reads like a thriller novel.

Much like most such novels, the disappearance has attracted its fair share of controversy, conspiracy theories, and, not surprisingly, fake accounts. According to Nexgate, a social media security and compliance firm, the number of social media accounts related to the airline multiplied to more than 680 from roughly 50 accounts. This figure includes accounts across several popular social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.

According to Devin Redmond, chief executive officer at Nexgate, the open environment provided by social media can be exploited for bad activities such as fraud, phishing or abusive behavior.

Based on Nexgate’s analysis, three types of accounts have cropped up in the wake of MH370 disappearance. The first type seeks to spread malware by inserting links into tweets, posts, or the comments section of Facebook posts. The second type of account has been created to tarnish the brand and air grievances against Malaysia Airlines. Such accounts post material that is offensive or critical of the airline. The third type of account claims to solicit donations on behalf of victims of the tragedy. In this case, the intention is to get your credit card information.

“The primary objective is really around exploitation using phishing, fraud, social engineering, and malware,” says David Meizlik, vice president of marketing at Nexgate. “The ‘bad guy’ sells to build an initial audience and then waits to exploit that audience,” he says.

The Bad Guys’ Agenda

The “bad guys” certainly seem to have succeeded with their former objective.

A cursory search for MH370 on Twitter reveals a number of accounts in the search results. Not all of them are fake, however; several well-known journalists have appended MH370 to their Twitter bio or name to provide updates on the topic.

However, fake accounts have garnered a sizeable following on the promise of delivering news related to the airline’s disappearance. For example, this fake Twitter account has 669 followers even though it does not provide any updates pertaining to the airline. Similarly, this Facebook account related to the airline has a number of unrelated comments that include links to these sites. There are also differences in the modus operandi of these accounts between social media platforms. For example, the Twitter accounts take advantage of trending hash tags to spread their links. On the other hand, Facebook pages spread their agenda through comments on posts to make their pages seem authentic.

There are a couple of reasons for the proliferation of accounts related to public events. For one, the return on investment or ROI for spam is excellent. Bots, which are used to create fake social media accounts, have great sales potential. The crowded interface of most social media platforms, which resembles a stream of tweets or Facebook posts, further increases the potential for discovery.

Then, there is the economics of social media accounts. Fake social media accounts would be an annoying distraction, if there wasn’t significant monetary value attached to these accounts.

Tips To Protect Yourself From Fake Accounts

Redmond from Nexgate lists several tips to protect yourself from fake social media accounts. For starters, he recommends using verified sources or accounts to gather or read news about the tragedy. Verified accounts can be identified by their content and, also, special check marks adopted by both Facebook and Twitter.

However, if you do fall prey to the fake account misinformation campaign, Redmond recommends blocking such accounts from your page or account.

“Do not share personal or payment information with anyone online, and make donations only to organizations that you know are legitimate,” says Redmond.

 

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
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