Saturday, 6 December 2014

Don't believe the internet

The internet is fantastic, it really is. But you can’t trust it.

I genuinely don’t know what proportion of the contents of the internet can be relied upon to be truthful but the sad fact is that a major proportion of it is untrustworthy, unreliable and partisan. Surf the web for a day and you’ll find a bewildering array of web sites whose only purpose is to sell you products and ideas that are deceptive, nonsensical and often stupid.

It’s no surprise to me that Eurextrade, our late, unlamented Ponzi scheme operated via the internet. The web offered a very good way for the hoodlums running the scheme to hide who they really were and what they were doing with the money. It took me a long time to establish their links with organized crime but those links were certainly there.

The internet is also used by less threatening but certainly suspicious people like the curious “JT Foxx” who graced Botswana with his presence a couple of months ago. “Foxx” the supposed business guru and motivational speaker intrigues me. Not because of what he says but because it’s almost impossible to find out any real facts about him. This is about the only description I can find of him, a story that appears all over the Internet:
“J.T. Foxx started investing with nothing more than a rusted out Ford pick-up truck, $974 dollars and 1 cheap suit. Now just 6 years later, he has acquired over 500 properties, closed over $40 million in real estate deals, started several multi-million dollar companies, became one the most sought out speaker and recognized as one of the top coaches in the world - all by mastering the Art of partnering, branding & marketing.”
But that’s it. I can’t find any actual evidence to support this. In fact, if you trawl through the various sites that have been set up specifically to market his services you find a darker side. You find a variety of complaints, suggestionsthat he does nothing more than talk and even records of legal threats against him for sexual harassment. You also get a picture of a person who has entirely invented himself. You get a picture of someone who, if this is true, seems to be a bit of a creep.

When you actually go to see him speak all you apparently get is a lot of talk and a lot of demands for truly staggering amounts of money for him to provide you with “coaching” services. One person attending his meeting in Gaborone told me that in order to be “coached” by Foxx he was asked to spend a massive P300,000. In return he’d get 24, 30-minute Skype-based coaching sessions over a 6-month period from someone who has no obvious history of ever having run a business other than as a speaker, mentor and “coach”. All very suspicious.

Then there are the hoaxes that abound on the internet, in particular the home of the hoax news story: Facebook.

Perhaps the most common hoax you’ll see is a post that offers an app that can show you who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. It’s usually something like "See who views your profile!" and has a link that you’re invited to click.

Here’s a simple truth. There is no app, no service, no web page, no thing at all that can allow you to see who’s been looking at your Facebook profile. They simply don’t exist and every one of the links you see, in fact connects to services that will require your permission to share your contacts and posts and might even link to sites that will infect your computer with viruses or a range of other type of “malware”. Clicking on these links is simply dangerous and you should never do so. If a friend likes such a link you need to warn them of the danger.

Then there are the gruesome, antisocial hoaxes. In September a post circulated around Facebook with a headline saying that the Center for Disease Control in the USA had said “Ebola vaccine only works on white people”. This, as I’m sure you can guess, was nothing more than a nasty, spiteful, hate-filled lie. The CDC had said no such thing and in fact the story came from a deeply unfunny “news” story on a fake news site on the Internet. Unfortunately that didn’t stop a number of newspapers in the region passing it on as if it was real. Even though they retracted the story in following editions, who knows how many people saw the story but missed the retraction.

Just a few days ago another Facebook hoax began circulating again. This encouraged people to post a message about privacy. It began:
“Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I do declare the following: on this day, 28th November 2014, in response to the new Facebook guidelines and under articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data, drawings, paintings, photos, texts etc... published on my profile since the day I opened my account.”
That was just the beginning, it went on for several more paragraphs of pseudo-legal speak. However this is more nonsense. This happens ever few months when Facebook change their rules on privacy. On every occasion various people who seem to think that Facebook is Big Brother scheming to enslave us (but who remain on Facebook nevertheless) start rumor-mongering and spreading silliness. It’s simply not true and anyway, even if it was true, Facebook isn’t compulsory and access to it isn’t a human right. It’s also entirely free. If you don’t like it then leave.

In fact if you don’t like what the internet offers then feel free to leave. Just switch your computer, iPad or phone off. It’s your choice.

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