What a fake news crisis taught me about the importance of online privacy

fake newsWith countless emerging technologies, the creation of fake news is easier than ever before. Distorting reality by creating fake video, audio, or imagery is the new way of weaponizing social media platforms.

A few months ago, my Facebook and Twitter inbox was full of messages from friends who individually sent me the same link. I clicked on it, and my heart skipped a beat out of fear of it being bad news.

It was. There was a photo of me, and in a bold font, it said: “Muslims Demand Pork-Free Menus.”

fake news

My first instinct was to laugh. Who would be naive enough to believe this fake news?

Turns out, I was the naive one. I scrolled down to the comments section and saw the magnitude of the fake news. Users from across the nation wrote derogatory and stereotypical comments about my identity and my religion.

That’s when it hit me. Just about anyone can be a victim of fake news. An unidentified person online stole an image of me and used it to make up a story about me demanding pork free menus in the United States. Effectively, my identity had been stolen, my online privacy violated—all to anger a population of people who feed off stories about hate.

The issue got worse when the link was shared on Twitter. I began receiving hate messages and even hacking attempts. It was at this point I was glad I had Hotspot Shield to keep me anonymous online and secure my devices. Without it, I could have been a victim of far more than fake news.

I took it upon myself to comment on every Facebook post, blog post, and tweet, thinking that I could get rid of it on my own. I reported many accounts who posted the fake news on Facebook and Twitter. I figured they’d handle it quickly and remove the link offline in a matter of hours.

Well, that did not happen—and the horrible messages continued.

It took nearly 6 months for the initial post to be removed by Facebook and for the tweets to be deleted by Twitter. To this day, though, personal bloggers still have the post up and are racking up hateful commentary in the comments section.

Fake news is dangerous beyond simply making up stories and trying to pass them as truth. From my experience, I can tell you that it is capable of mentally and emotionally harming people. That post was shared hundreds of times, and the magnitude of the comments was overwhelming. For days I was depressed and felt the injustice and cruelty of unknown users who access the internet to distort and spread hate online.  

In all likelihood, the fake news post could not have been avoided on my end. But, in some ways, I got lucky as I was protected against the hacking attempts. I knew that I needed to secure my identity and shield my computer from hackers who wanted to do more harm than what was already done.

But stealing a photo of me online? That’s something that can happen to anyone. To help mitigate the chances of becoming a victim, you should take your online privacy seriouslySpreading misinformation and fake news online is something the majority of us want to avoid. Next time, before you comment or hit share, double check the source and the validity of the content. And make sure you do everything in your power to protect your online identity.

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