This isn’t a “Green Christian” post today, it’s something which has been bugging me for a few months now, ever since I joined a particular Facebook group for Christians, and has recently shown me that it’s very easy for people to infiltrate a group, get their “nice” images shared, and then, if these are characters who have an alternative, long term game plan, can wreak havoc amongst the group members and their lives.
Infuriating Group “Noise”
Day after day I would visit the group (a certain fan group for a Christian broadcaster in the UK) and see pink / purple Bible verse memes being shared by the same person, night and day. And within one minute, another person would comment “Amen…”, followed a few mins later by another one asking God to bless England, and about ten more minutes later, another person would post an “Amen” image, similar in style to the original poster’s Bible verse meme. The avatars of these members would have either Union Flag / French flag overlays / England flags. And so the cycle of posting and three comments would continue, at all times of day and night.
These images, designed to be sweet and shareable were duly shared by members of the group, with the occasional “Amen!”, “Praise Jesus” from other members of the group. Sometimes 70+ shares would be accrued by the image.
It was infuriating at times, as good discussions were being buried in an avalanche of garish coloured sweet Bible verses. Now there’s nothing wrong with posting Bible verse memes and lots of Christians on Facebook feel they can share their faith online to their friends via them. However, when the sheer number of these begins to drown out conversation, you wonder if there really is something else going on under the bonnet of these activities.
At this point, I realised these were “bots”, automated Facebook members who were merely computer algorithms posting out these images and the subsequent comments underneath. Yes they had real Facebook accounts that the computers were logging into, but… they were being controlled automatically. Designed to attract “Likes” and “Shares”, these bots were spamming the group, but the clever thing is – they were using Bible verses, so that people in the group would happily share them out amongst their friends.
I decided to look up the particular four “bot” members – all of which had removed the ability to befriend them online. I discovered that one was using a pseudonym in that his Facebook URL and his name did not tally – not itself a bad thing I hasten to add, merely curious. He “Liked” a number of pro-Britain pages – again not fishy in itself, but bear with me… One of the four members of this posting and commenting collective had this particular set of “Likes” associated with them:
“How very interesting!” I thought… Especially as I had posted a link during the day about the murder of Jo Cox being associated with someone who had yelled “Britain First” and that BF was a group with quite overtly racist tones. This subsequently raised a call from one member that I was an atheist, my father was the devil and that the post was divisive and needed to be removed. The posting was removed by the admins.
Curiouser and curiouser
But something bothered me further. Why on earth would you want to post all these kinds of memes and get lots of people sharing them? “Maybe there are pure intentions?” I graciously thought. So I went to the Facebook page source of the memes itself, and discovered this:
“Hold on!” – the Facebook Page for “Christians” – take a look at the “LIKED BY THIS PAGE” section on the right hand column. Notice anything unusual? Yes – this Facebook page, for Christians, actually likes Britain First. The owner (and it is a man who is the “General manager” of the page) appears to like an openly racist and divisive group in the UK.
It seems the colour schemes and background images of the shared Bible verse memes created and pumped out by this page are particularly feminine, possibly deliberately so to be attractive to and shared by more female members of the group.
What purpose could possibly be going on here? Something stirred in my spirit, like the warning bells after a hot curry, and I looked at their “Likes” stats (at time of posting):
98 000 followers. That’s a heck of a lot of people who have signed up to this group, receiving multiple memes from this page as they believe they’re sharing the good news with people on their own Facebook walls.
I though “What if there was something else going on?” Something darker. Something which would appear as an angel of light, yet be a wolf under sheepskin… Why would you want to share out so many images – to millions of people? To give God the glory as the Page says? Well, I could be gracious and think – yes, indeed, although the images are garish (IMHO) they do have Bible verses on them. But, two members of the bot group being fans of Britain First, and then the creator of the group also liking the Britain First page, and an adverse reaction to anything negative said about Britain First within the main Christian Facebook group? In previous experience when one gets a bad reaction like that, it is because light has been shone into darkness and the darkness does not like being exposed – something didn’t ring true about the tone of the outcry which troubled me.
Suddenly it dawned on me…
Occasionally I’d share an image I’d created onto my Facebook wall, with an accompanying short piece of text. It would get shared about by my friends, but then I’d spot a typo and correct it. The updated text would also update on their wall.
What would happen if I changed the image I’d shared out? So, with the help of a couple of friends, we tried it out. First I shared an Apple, that was re-shared by someone else. Then I changed it to a banana, and sure enough, the image on my friends walls also changed. This was most disconcerting, for the change I made in the image did not show up in any notifications, only being noticed when my friends walls were refreshed. And then people started interacting, saying the shared Apple (now a Banana) was “Alt-fruit”.
Because of the way Facebook works, to save database storage space, only the originally posted image is located on their servers. Anyone who shares this image will be sharing a link back to the original image. If the image is changed by the original poster, everyone who has shared it links now to the changed image.
Nefarious Uses for Facebook Image Shares
A simple, yet fun way of operating in this fluid reality of shared images, is to “Rick Roll” your friends. Share an image, then change it to an image of Rick Astley after it’s been shared a few times. A childish, yet still quite fun prank (well, it is to me anyway!)
But – imagine with me a scenario where hundreds of thousands of users have willingly shared a page / group’s good and wholesome memes, and they decide at one point, one fell swoop, to change all their originally shared images to something darker, something possibly illegal, something which could potentially ruin your reputation because of the now changed images (and text) on your wall which you’ve happily shared. This would happen very, very quickly, and there would be no notifications in Facebook to say this had happened. The only notice you’d get is if you spotted it yourself, or your friends questioned why you were sharing stuff that was dangerous. Or worse, imagine you’d not checked in regularly, and went for days with dangerous material on your site… This may even end up with you losing your job and being questioned by the police – if the new material is illegal.
For group owners who let these kind of bots post into your groups, imagine the reaction when your group’s posts from these are changed to something nasty. That’s a lot of people who are going to leave your group in disgust, and you could potentially be liable for anything illegal in your group.
Beware what you share!
Wouldn’t it be a wonderfully diabolical plan – hundreds of thousands of Christians were happily sharing out Bible verses in the hope of sharing their faith when suddenly, the shared postings turn into darker, more embarrassing images and text, which is completely against the ideals of the Christian faith?
This doesn’t have to be just for Christians to be aware of though, anyone who is blindly sharing out Facebook posts from pages and groups should be aware that those same posts can at some point be changed automatically on their wall by the original poster and seen by all their friends (including colleagues and possibly the boss).
A Simple Fix
All that would be needed to do would be for Facebook to notify users when a shared post had changed. Then, you could go through the notifications and shares, checking they’re not anything you disagree with / isn’t illegal. If it is, it would be easy to report the posts and get the original group / page / links removed.
In a “post-truth” world, are we seeing discordant groups which have lain low for a while, building up a loyal fan base of sharers, suddenly becoming
In summing up – be very, very careful about what you share on Facebook. Check out the group / page that’s producing the material. What are the things they like / the admins of the group like? Are they things you personally find offensive, or are they in alignment with your own worldview?
Please Note: I’m not saying that this is the intention of the particular character and his bots, but just saying that one needs to be aware that images you share and are shared in your groups can be changed, and so try and stay safe online by checking out if the original poster is legitimate, or have links to discordant groups.
If you’re not aware of Britain First, please check out this link (click here)