Beware the Fake Facebook Event

This isn’t quite election hacking or democracy subversion, but I have a few really pissed off friends at the latest Facebook hack showing up in our feeds.

Many of you may have noticed that In-N-Out Burger was coming to NYC:

Over 40,000 people were willing to indicate they were “Going” or “Interested”. The eternal Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out debate seemed to be escalating, the West Coast chain was coming to Danny Meyer’s home turf.

Of course, the post is fake. The page, NYC PopUps, which posted the info was just created and only has posted this event. An In-N-Out rep confirmed there is no such event:

This struck me as I had noticed something similar a few months back, with another food experience I’ve been salivating for, the coming Anthony Bourdain Food Hall. A number of my friends had responded that they were ‘Going’ to the grand opening of the venue. I was a bit confused, as Bourdain had been explicit about having no opening date planned, and I should’ve seen this in some food publication. Anyways, I still instantly clicked ‘Going’ and my dream of realizing Singaporean quality Chicken Rice in New York City seemed to be in my near future.

Of course there is that little detail — “May 1, 2019”. When you go to the Event page, the group hosting the page kindly informs you:

The date is still not finalized, so stay updated by clicking Like on The NYC Daily Event List . We will keep you informed as more details present themselves, as it may take as long as 2019.

I guess you could call this a creative growth hack. They have nearly 100,000 people who have indicated they are Going or Interested, meaning they will receive updates from the page.

What is fascinating to me is these Event hacks, while generally harmless, leverage a number of the same tactics as the fake news that plagues the platform. They focus in on an “emotionally charged” topic — in this case In-N-Out burger in NYC (trust me, this does carry emotional weight for New Yorkers, whether positive or negative), or a topic as eagerly as anticipated as Bourdain’s Food Hall. They require a very low barrier of interaction, i.e. the ability to indicate “Interested” is zero commitment. Just present me with something mildly interesting, and I will interact. Once those interactions pile up, the further the Event spreads, and the cycle continues.

These fake (or misleading) Events are an annoyance and yet another reminder to double-check anything you interact with on Facebook, especially when it seems too good to be true. The scary part is how easily the tactic could be turned into a divisive #FakeNews style hack. Plug in any sensationalist, tribalist event and you can get it to spread the same as an article. There has already been evidence of Russian money funding anti-immigration event promotion via Facebook. Those were real events, are fake events the next wave of spammy, potentially dangerous Facebook content?

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