The above is an exact cut/paste message that people are forwarding to all their friends today on Facebook — I got it multiple times, word for word..

“Hi….I actually got another friend request from you yesterday…which I ignored so you may want to check your account. Hold your finger on the message until the forward button appears…then hit forward and all the people you want to forward too….I had to do the people individually. Good Luck! PLEASE DO NOT ACCEPT A NEW ONE FROM ME AT THIS TIME.”

People are sending this even though they did not get such a request from me or anyone. Folks, seriously, this doesn’t make sense, why would you send this message to everyone you know??

The viral spam doesn’t bother me that much. Well, it actually does, but not because of the minor annoyance of the junk message popping up on my screen. What worries me is the reality that if people are so easily confused by junk viral messages that are sent around, they will also be gullible about the ability to distinguish between junk items online about important issues — stuff that really matters to the future of our democracy….

For example, just this past week, some people were forwarding obviously doctored pictures claiming to be from Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s own college yearbook — pictures intending to disparage her in order to undermine her charge against Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. One minute of research made it clear the pictures were fake, yet some were forwarding and posting.

My colleagues in the world of public policy and tech spend a great deal of time worrying about the effects of algorithms and filter bubbles and technology ethics. Addressing the tech company related issues is important. But we are forgetting about the need to help directly raise up the media literacy of the general community. We need to spend more time helping people better evaluate what they read online from each other.

So think before you forward. Do a little search, check ask someone. It’s so easy to pass on a link or forward a post. Send it to one or two friends with a question — do you think this is legitimate? Offline, we would be embarrassed if we routinely shared fake news with our peers around the water cooler — they would think we were supremely naive, gullible, or conspiracy theorists. Online, somehow, we don’t feel the same reserve, or the barrier to just click and forward is too low.

Our schools don’t seem to have the time or expertise to teach this, and the internet users of the world are too busy to take the time. What are the possible solutions? They arent simple, and so we turn to Facebook and Google to do more. But this is a problem as old as email and will not be solved by tech filtering or online platform design. It calls for education, but how to educate the broad public? I would love to hear your ideas.

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Jules Polonetsky and the FPF team will be running the inaugural Privacy War Games on Nov 12. a fews are still available.



CEO, Future of Privacy Forum, former NYC Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, NY State Legislator. CPO AOL, DoubleClick.

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Jules Polonetsky

CEO, Future of Privacy Forum, former NYC Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, NY State Legislator. CPO AOL, DoubleClick.