Two-thirds of young people first learn about major news events via Facebook - rather than from the television, newspapers or even publishing websites, according to a recent Australian study.
Facebook's shift towards becoming a major media platform has also attracted interest from cybercriminals.
Last year saw a boom in hoax news stories around the world - many of them focused on Facebook's share-happy readers, with the goal of luring site users into filling in spammy surveys or installing malware.
Facebook recently partnered with ESET to scan devices accessing the network for malware automatically.
Facebook software engineer Chetan Gowda says, ‘If the device you're using to access our services is behaving suspiciously and shows signs of a possible malware infection, a message will appear offering you an anti-malware scan for your device.’
The best way to deal with infection, of course, is not to get infected. Below are six easy ways to spot hoaxes, fake stories and ‘bad links’ shared on the network. These are stories you should NEVER trust...
Facebook hoax: don't trust ANY story where you’re asked to share before seeing it
If you are asked to share something before you’ve even seen it, step back from your browser.
No real website wants you to do this - they want the clicks or the video views. If you are being asked to share a post before you’ve seen the video/played the quiz or whatever, it’s spammy.
Chances are the ‘content’ isn’t there, and you’re delivering malware or annoying ‘surveys’ which can steal personal information to your friends.
Any ‘news’ story with mermaids or living dinosaurs
We live in a world where hoax news stories are unthinkingly covered by major news outlets - just witness the three-breasted woman of autumn this year. But while unscrupulous news agencies might make a buck out of reporting hoaxes as if true, there’s a limit. Mermaids are beyond that limit.
If you see a news story that’s SO insane it couldn’t possibly be true - ie that some fishermen have caught a dinosaur or a baby mermaid has been born, stand back.
Facebook malware often spreads as outrageous news stories - usually directing people to upgrade their video software, thus downloading malware.
Be suspicious of any out-there news story sharing on Facebook. Go outside Facebook, Google and check it - and if possible, don’t click, and don’t share.
Incredibly violent video news reports
As a general rule, real news organizations will offer you some kind of warning on any violent video - i.e Warning: Graphic Content - rather than captions teasingly promising a real-life snuff video.
This year has seen lurid news stories promising , ‘Giant snake swallows zookeeper,’ as well as celebrity news purporting to show the actual death of Will Smith.
No real news site would share footage in this way - and if it isn’t a news site, it’s almost certainly a scam site.
Clicking usually leads to a page where you’re told to update video software, which will often compromise your PC.
Outrageous news stories about Facebook itself
This is one which requires a common sense check - or a visit to Facebook’s own Common Myths about Facebook page.
Cybercriminals know that Facebook news will work well on the network, just as news outlets do - but unlike news outlets, they can make theirs up.
Facebook will never start charging users money. The site says so on its own information pages.
But hoax news stories claiming that it will circulate regularly.
Think before you click.
Have you heard of the news outlet?
Is there something suspicious about the story?
Don’t click the link - Google the story instead, or go to a site you trust.
The report about the dying girl who begs you for “Likes”
Facebook ‘Likes’ can be used to buy many things - for companies, they’re an incredibly efficient way to advertise to a target market, so they CAN often buy you a chance in a prize draw. What they cannot, ever, do is buy drugs or hospital treatment.
The many hoax news stories about dying children who just need a few more Likes to survive are often crudely copy-pasted, with the child’s name distorted. These are often people who have never existed. However heart-rending the story, it’s one to ignore.
Any page that begs you for “Likes” should be treated with suspicion. Scammers use viral pages to build up hundreds of thousands of likes, then sell the pages on to other companies. By liking a page you sign up for future content from that page - and that could take the form of spammy surveys which steal your details… or worse.
The report on the incredible ‘hack’ which will let you see who looked at your Facebook page
Download one of these, and the only person getting hacked will be you.
Cybercriminals try various tactics to get users to install either fake versions of Android’s Facebook app, or to download malware to their PC.
To tick off some of the common ones, Facebook will NEVER allow you to see who looked at your page, nor will it allow you to turn your Facebook page pink, nor will it alow you to see how many times people looked at your timeline.
If you are downloading an app or game, and it asks you to log in again, or download anything to your PC, or fill in a form or enter a competition, it is a bad app.