It’s been a lousy few days to be named Jayden K Smith. Over the weekend the message went out through Facebook, with terrified users sending messages to everyone in their address books that read as follows:
“Please tell all the contacts in your messenger list not to accept Jayden K. Smith friendship request. He is a hacker and has the system connected to your Facebook account. If one of your contacts accepts it, you will also be hacked, so make sure that all your friends know it.” And hey, we’ve all seen that chilling documentary, Hackers. We know that at any moment Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller are poised to don their sunglasses, put on some loud industrial music and skateboard into the firewall of our mainframes, right?
First up: it’s garbage. You’re fine. Despite this harrowing warning, Jayden K Smith is not coming to steal your identity and get all up in your digital grill.
But that doesn’t mean this stuff is without potential harm, because most hacking isn’t done through haxxors frantically typing l33t code: it’s done through people being easily tricked by obvious scams. And on the one hand, the Jayden K Smith warning is just a silly Facebook hoax like hundreds of other Facebook hoaxes. They waste your time and make you annoy everyone you know, but unless the message you’re sending contains an attachment or a link then there’s no way to gain control of your Facebook contacts through text.
Now, it absolutely is possible to scam people on Facebook through tricking people into clicking on links other than the thing they think they’re clicking upon. This is called “clickjacking” if it sends web traffic elsewhere and, more insidiously, there’s the Facebook-specific “lifejacking” which can actually take control of your profile and post content to your wall, among other things. It’s worth being aware of this stuff. The Jayden K Smith thing, however, was pretty benign and almost certainly a prank: the fact that the person has the initials “JKS” suggests that this is, indeed, just jokes.
However, there’s a risk in sharing it since by doing so you’re doing the online equivalent of going to a tourist bazaar wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a camera around your neck: you’re loudly declaring that you’re not from around here, that you don’t know how things work, and that you’re a pigeon just begging to be taken advantage of.
There’s a reason why those spam emails you immediately delete are full of spelling and grammatical errors: they’re deliberately badly written in order to weed out the people too savvy to fall for such obvious scams and allow naive and hopeful rubes to self-select themselves to be ripped off. Unscrupulous scammers are looking for the sorts of reality-averse folks who find nothing implausible about the idea that Nigerian princes have been hearing great things about the trustworthiness of complete strangers on the other side of the planet and have therefore decided to email them out of the blue about a matter of great delicacy and mutual financial advantage.
Similarly, those “PASTE AND SHARE: Facebook will be moving to a paid model!” or “Facebook will be making all your posts public unless you paste this legal disclaimer on your wall!” are nothing but red flags waving to attract opportunistic scammers. (Just as an aside: that last one does the rounds pretty regularly and contains a hilarious piece of pretend-legalese where it, among other things, cites the Rome Statute as offering some sort of protection – which has nothing to do with copyright, privacy or user rights, since it was solely and entirely to do with the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 1998. It is useless to Facebook users, unless they plan to establish their own international criminal court, which seems ambitious).
Digital natives see these scams and shrug. However, people that cut and paste these sorts of messages are loudly screaming “I am credulous, target me!”At best, you look like a bit of a goose. At worst, you’re telling scammers you’re a potential target. So next time something looks weird and unlikely online, it’s best to check a good source – the hoax-debunking and fact-checking site Snopes.com is an especially good place to start. That being said: you know that MySpace’s Mark Zuckerberg is planning to give billions of bitcoins to everyone that accepts friend requests from Jayden K Smith, right? It’s all explained in the Rome Statute!