Social media and dating apps have a serious identity problem – TechCrunch
It’s time for social media and dating apps to face the music and fraud, deception and misinformation on their platforms once and for all.
In the beginning, social media and dating apps were small corners of the internet with only a handful of users. Today, Facebook and Twitter are so important that they influence elections, make or break vaccination campaigns and move markets.
Dating apps like Tinder and Bumble aren’t far behind, with millions upon millions of people using their services to meet their partner “forever”.
But the fun and the games are over now. You have chosen profit over trust and security. You’ve created a gateway for identity theft and online fraud.
Today we all have a friend who has been “caught” on Bumble or Tinder; we all have family members who have been the victims of online scams on twitter and facebook. Every day we hear of new cases of malicious actors stealing identities – or creating fake ones – to commit fraud, spread disinformation for political and commercial purposes, or promote hate speech.
In most industries, users with false identities only impact the business. But when trust is broken on dating platforms and social media, it hurts users and society in general. And the financial, psychological – and sometimes physical – impact on a person is real.
So who is responsible for stopping or combating this increase in fraud? Clearly, not the platforms themselves. Although some claim to act.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, Facebook dismantled 1.3 billion fake accounts. Enough? Not even close. The point is, social platforms and dating apps today are doing the bare minimum to prevent fraud. While basic AI and human moderators help, they are outnumbered by the large number of users.
Facebook says it has 35,000 people checking the content; it’s a legion, but that equates to about one moderator per 82,000 accounts. And as bad actors get more sophisticated day by day, using deepfakes and evolving criminal techniques such as synthetic fraud, their scale continues to increase. Even savvy online users fall prey to these inconveniences.
Social and dating platforms have come under fire for taking slow action to tackle the problem, but what can be done?
Cat fishing is serious business
It’s not hard to imagine this scenario: you meet someone online and start a conversation. The person says the right things, asks the right questions. The relationship starts to feel “real” and you start to feel a kinship. Before you know it, it escalates; all your guards are down and you become immune to the red flags. You go so far as to call it love.
You and your new partner plan to finally meet in person. They claim they have no money for the trip. You send the money with confidence and love, only for that person to become a ghost soon after.
While some cat fishing incidents resolve on their own with minimal damage, others – like the example above – can lead to financial extortion and criminal activity. Reported losses from romance scams hit a record $ 304 million in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The actual losses in this underreported area are however likely to be exponentially higher, and more so when you count the “gray areas” and begging online. Still, most dating apps don’t offer a way to verify identities. Some popular apps – like Tinder —Make identity verification voluntary; others, well, offer nothing. Who wants to put friction in the path of a new subscriber?
But voluntary verification only scratches the surface. These companies must do more to block access to anonymous and spoofed identities. Given the damage they inflict on companies and their customers, we as a society must demand that they step up their efforts.
On social media, identity verification can be a double-edged sword
Romantic scams aren’t specific to dating apps; about a third actually start on social media. But there are plenty of other reasons to verify your identity on social media. Consumers might want to know if they engage with the real Oprah Winfrey or Ariana Grande or a parody account; Winfrey and Grande probably also want this distinction to be apparent.
More seriously, the pressure is mounting for social networks to control online attackers by verifying identities. In England, the #TrackaTroll movement has grown, mainly thanks to the efforts of British reality TV star Katie Price. Almost 700,000 signed his petition lobbying for Harvey’s Law, named after her disabled son, who has been heavily targeted by anonymous online abusers.
However, many strongly oppose the requirement of identity verification on social media. Usually, they point out that the requirement for verification can endanger victims of domestic violence and dissidents in countries with repressive regimes that seek out and harm political opponents. Additionally, identity verification would not deter many of those who spread misinformation about politics or vaccines because they want to be identified to build their audience and personal brand.
Today, Facebook and Twitter offer a “verification” review process that assigns genuine accounts a blue check mark. But it is far from infallible. Twitter recently suspended its “verification” program because it incorrectly verified a number of fake accounts.
Facebook has done more. The social network has long imposed conditional identity verification, for example, if a user is locked out of their account. They also base identity requirements on posted content, where certain behaviors, words, and images trigger poster blocking, awaiting verification and human review.
The identity arms race
When bad actors create fake identities on dating apps and social media to defraud and harm others, it undermines public trust and undoubtedly impacts the revenue of those platforms. Social media platforms struggle on a daily basis to balance their business goals of maximizing usage with protecting user privacy – or face increased regulation and loss of consumer confidence.
It is vital to protect the identities of thieves and hackers who abuse them. Imagine a fake Twitter or Facebook account pretending to be you, spreading hateful speech. Without a way to disprove your involvement, you could lose your job or worse.
What choices will platforms make to protect their users – and their own brand? Their decisions have focused on politics and income protection rather than technology. Balancing confidence-building measures with privacy concerns and their need for revenue is the great strategic dilemma they must resolve. Either way, it is their responsibility to create a safe space for its users.
Social networks and dating platforms must take greater responsibility when it comes to protecting users from fraud and bad actors online.