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Facebook: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Confuse ‘Em

When I wrote my article about getting away from Facebook (which offered options for partial disengagement if the reader wasn’t ready to just walk)  I got some private pushback. People should just delete Facebook. They should just leave. Not advocating for immediate Fexit was letting my readers down.

But that overlooks how complicated and tangled Facebook can be. As I mentioned in a previous article, pictures of my granddaughter are on Facebook. And keeping to a family theme, my mother-in-law’s on Facebook. It’s not fair to ask her to learn a whole new social network. (In addition to that, she might tell me to go pound sand. No she wouldn’t. She’s awesome. Love you, Irene!)

That doesn’t mean I’m not giving Facebook the hairy eyeball.

I am trying to spend more time on Mastodon, giving more attention to Web sites instead of social networks, etc. but I’m also making my Facebook experience – a little harder for Facebook to make sense of. It wants to make money selling my data? Fine. I’m going to make my data weird. I’m going to add in random words and nonsensical posts and just generally obfuscate.  There are tools for doing this and then there are just some simple things I’m trying. I’ll cover both in this article.

Disclaimer: I have not performed exhaustive tests so I don’t know how well these methods will work to confuse Facebook. On the other hand, I don’t think the simple techniques can hurt anything either. Also it’s amusing.

Basic

If you’re my friend on Facebook, you know I tag people with posts I think might be of interest to them. I usually start with “Confidential to x with apologies if you’ve already seen it.”

Add In Some Random Words

Recently I’ve started replacing the “with apologies if you’ve already seen it” with five words I get from  http://creativitygames.net/random-word-generator/randomwords/5 . I remove words that might be interpreted wrong or which are violent (like bomb, gun, etc.) So instead of “Confidential to Fred with apologies if you’ve already seen it,” I might say “Confidential to Fred with sedative telephone carpenter scar marble.” The funniest thing is nobody has made a comment about my doing this. I suppose I’m already so weird they’re just going with it.

screenshot from 2018 04 10 19 05 38

Add In Some Random Posts

After I started playing around with adding random words to my posts, I started wondering about just doing random posts with loren ipsum-type filler. I didn’t want to use lorem ipsum — I wanted to use something that had enough “real words” to hook Facebook.

Shopify had a good article outlining 15 thematic lorem ipsum generators, including Bob Ross (which is great), Futurama, Beer, Cupcakes, etc. (There are even more suggestions in the comments. ) It’s easy to generate some ipsum and just paste it into a Facebook post. I’m not sure how much I’ll do this, whether I’ll post it directly or schedule in Buffer, etc. Note that sometimes one of these generators will create some odd text. My Futurama ipsum included the sentence “Why am I sticky and naked?” which might weird out your friends without context. I left it in because my Facebook friends are often Futurama fans and it’s a quote from my favorite episode.

Change Your Reaction

Are you an old-school Facebook user who just uses the “Like” reaction or do you use all the new reactions available? You can shake those up too. Vice has an article about a Google Chrome extension which randomizes your Facebook reactions. (You can use it on Firefox too if you’re willing to install Tampermonkey.)  It’s called Go Rando. I know that in an article about privacy it’s weird to advocate an extension which might be able to do anything, but the extension’s permissions are limited to Facebook and the extension is open source with the source code published online. I’m pretty comfortable with it.

The way it works is a little too fast for a screenshot, but basically you hover your mouse over the Like button so the reactions come up, then you click on Like and Go Rando picks a reaction for you. Make sure you’re okay with the reaction: you don’t want to have a random HaHa on a friend’s post about something bad happening.

Guerilla Likes

In an article for Wired, drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess offers up some tips for fooling Facebook. The one I really liked was liking all kinds of different pages to confuse Facebook about your interests. I added a little spin to this by going to the random words generator, generating a word, looking for that word on Facebook, and then liking pages that came up in the search result. And that’s how I came to like a band, a pub, and a record label.

screenshot from 2018 04 11 07 28 52

Do I worry about this overcrowding my timeline by doing this? Not at all. Facebook’s organic reach is so low at this point I stand a very small chance of seeing a Page’s postings even if I genuinely like it.

Next Level

What I like about the basic techniques is that anybody can use them; you don’t have to be particularly tech-savvy to use a random word generator or install a Chrome extension. But if you want to do something a little more challenging, there are other options.

Vice has an article on a script designed to “poison” your Facebook posts. From the article: “Kevin Matthew, a former systems administrator who owns a small web development company, shared a script he created that replaces existing Facebook posts with randomly-generated nonsense. With a little coding know-how, you could use this script to repeatedly mangle all your Facebook posts over a period of several months, to make the bulk of Facebook’s data on you virtually unusable (though it doesn’t do anything for the data that’s already been scraped by third-parties, like the kind Cambridge Analytica allegedly gained access to).” This is not something for beginners. Also the article notes that this might violate Facebook’s TOS, so proceed at your own risk (and download all your Facebook data first!)

Meanwhile over at Vulcan Post, the publication decided to push on an idea that Facebook was leaving the same post at the top of users’ timeline. “The sentiment behind it is almost sweet, but the result is that the same post can appear at the top of your newsfeed for days and weeks on end, if enough of your friends keep commenting on it. If you were indifferent to the post before, then this exposure therapy could lead to downright resentment. So we thought we could play with it for a little bit, based on this article by Buzzfeed.”

I like the idea of playing with Facebook’s algorithms using small groups (not large armies and not automated bots) to see how you can push back against the non-transparent methods Facebook uses to decide what to show us. As the article notes, Facebook apparently does make changes in response to activities like this. But this isn’t something you can do by yourself.

Even if you decide to stay on Facebook, that’s no reason to make it easy for Facebook to figure you out. Get random, get weird, and have a little fun.

6 replies »

  1. To me, it’s like sitting on the back porch on a warm summer evening in Keno, Oregon. I go up there for the family reunion and talk with all the cousins, at the same time getting hammered with mosquitos. It’s a trade-off. I really like catching up with my cousins. Sure, we use mosquito repellent and zappers, but every once in awhile we all get bit and a little of our blood goes to nourish another living animal. Facebook is a business first and foremost and always will be. Carry on.

  2. I highly recommend the book Feed by M. T. Anderson. It was written in 2002, but it feels like it could have been written yesterday. Two teens live in a world where a chip in your head allows access to any information at a thought. The downside is the ads. The teens decide to play with the algorithm so they themselves wouldn’t be seen as products, as the chip is free, it’s paid for by the ads. They look up random stuff, go shopping for weird unrelated things until their consumer profile is almost useless to advertisers. I listened to the audiobook which I’d recommend because the ads that were beaming into the teens heads were actually produced, so you get the jingles and everything.

  3. It’s a nice idea, but I’m doubtful it can have much effect, especially as it will always be opaque what they deduce. You might try some of the profile analysis tools to see if you really have any effect, otherwise you are really making wild guesses

    http://analyze.quizo.in/
    https://fdvt.org/
    https://dataselfie.it/

    To me it’s like thinking bandaids will keep you from getting burned in a firestorm 😦 The fact that its hard to extract your own photos from a service is kind of telling.

    There are also browser extensions that aim for this obfuscation act

    https://noiszy.com/
    https://cs.nyu.edu/trackmenot/
    https://adnauseam.io/

    All of which seems like a lot of extra effort.

    I bear no judgement of people’s choices here, I judge more the people who are making billions of dollars in profit on your activity. The sheer profit margin in Facebook, a company with no real product, should make people worried.

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