Facebook's support forum is overrun with scammers trying to defraud desperate users. The company has ignored it for months.
Facebook's user help forum has been overrun with scammers for months. There are hundreds upon hundreds of spam replies redirecting users to a hoax Facebook "helpline," drowning out almost all legitimate posts. Business Insider called one and was instructed to purchase a $100 gift card for tech support. Many of the posts are as much as five months old, indicating a huge failure of moderation by Facebook. The issue means that some of Facebook's least technically literate and most vulnerable users risk being re-victimized by scammers all over again while looking for help after being hacked and other issues. Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Facebook's support forums have been completely overrun by scammers. The Silicon Valley social networking giant operates a "Help Community" forum that allows users to pose technical questions to other Facebook users and get help with account issues — but for months now it has been swamped in a deluge of bots pretending to represent the social network in attempts to scam users in need of help, Business Insider has found. There are seemingly thousands of posts redirecting users to a phony Facebook helpline phone number, with more comments appearing seemingly every minute, putting some of Facebook's most vulnerable users at greater risk and raising serious questions about the social network's ability to moderate its own services. After more than two years of scrutiny around Facebook and its content moderation efforts, the anarchy within the official user help forums illustrates how entire categories of dangerous content are still slipping through the cracks and threatening the social network's 2 billion users. In an emailed statement, Facebook spokesperson Drew Pusateri said the company was working to tackle the issue. "In the last several years we've dramatically expanded our automated and human content moderation efforts on our platforms, in an effort to combat issues like election interference, child exploitation, and terrorist content. We haven't done enough to apply these improvements to combatting spam in our Help Community, and we know we need to do better," he wrote.
Facebook users having technical difficulties are generally first directed to the Help Center, a portal featuring a series of frequently asked questions relating to common issues with the social network and people's accounts — "What names are allowed on Facebook?", "Where can I find my Facebook settings?", and so on. But for people who can't find an easy answer to the issue ailing them, they're invited to visit Help Community, a forum-style message board that promises to allow users to "get help from other people on Facebook with similar questions." Its homepage features "top questions" that are particularly popular, like a complaint by a hacked user and a query about how to use search. But there is currently little in the way of helpful answers. Every popular thread has hundreds of replies directing users to an array of phony phone numbers claiming to be a helpline for the social network, drowning out almost all legitimate comments. And the only replies to many new threads are more spam comments directing users to call phony helplines. Some of these spam helpline messages are as much as five months old, indicating a failure by Facebook to effectively moderate its help board for months.
Business Insider called one of the listed phone numbers claiming we'd been hacked, and got through to someone who said they worked for Facebook and called themselves "Misha." They asked for information about our Facebook account, including name, email address, and date of birth, and asked us to buy a $100 pre-paid card from Walmart to expedite their attempts to fix our technical problems. They also said a "technician" would call us back to help further. We didn't provide our phone number so it's not clear what additional info this "technician" would have asked for, but it seems possible they might have asked for our Facebook password as well.
When we called another of the numbers, we got a series of automated, spammy "offer" messages, including promises of a free $100 shopping certificate (that required a $1.95 upfront payment), alleged savings on car insurance, addiction services, and messages targeting people with poor eyesight. Some of the other phone numbers failed to pick up. Facebook's failure to moderate the Community Help board is particularly notable given its widely touted investments into safety and security initiatives over the last few years following repeated scandals over content on its platform. The company has more than 35,000 people working on safety and security initiatives, including content moderation, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly observed that the company spends more on safety and security annually than its entire company revenues at the time of its 2011 IPO. It's not clear why Facebook's automated spam filters or human moderators failed to catch the comments, which are often highly repetitive. A Facebook spokesperson said that the forum is currently moderated by a small team, and that the company was working to improve the issue.
The people who turn to the Facebook Community Help forum are also some of the company's most vulnerable users. The topic of many of the requests for help in Community Help are fairly technically basic — how to unfriend people, how to see a post, an issue with a photo tag, and so on — indicating that the users are likely inexperienced internet users, and as such most at risk of being scammed. The lack of an official Facebook phone helpline is already a source of constant frustration for many less technically literate Facebook users (journalists who write about the company are frequently called by confused Facebook users looking for answers). Compounded with Facebook's moderation failures, this has created a perfect storm for scammers to step in. Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at (+1) 650-636-6268 using a non-work device, email at email@example.com, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.) Read more:
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