Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why April Fool's Day is NOT the Most Dangerous Day on the Internet

Ah, April Fool’s Day. A day of too-good-to-be true deals, too awful-to-be-true news stories, and more fake pregnancies in my social media stream than I care to shake a stick at.

It’s the one day of the year that I avoid Facebook like the plague.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good joke. I mean, I love a good food-that-looks-like-another-food joke (mashed potato cupcakes, anyone?). But on the Internet, April Fool’s feels different. To me, it’s symptomatic of a bigger problem: folks are still not skeptical enough—and every April Fool’s Day reminds me of this fact.

Watching people “fall for it” over and over again—reposting “Baby Born with Three Heads!” or signing up for any website that promises a free iPad—upsets me. And not just because it makes them look dumb.

Of course, as Caitlin Dewey mentions in this Washington Post article, most of the stuff on Facebook or Twitter that people compulsively repost or retweet is harmless. No, Denzel Washington did not die from a heart attack. And no, they have still not found that Malaysian airplane.

Sigh.

But, here’s the kicker: “On the Internet, every day is April Fool’s Day,” and everything out there is not harmless. Our need for a wary eye should not be limited to one day a year, and every web user needs to develop a habit of checking before we click suspicious links or view suspicious pages.

For example, “a number of Web sites that propagate fake stories — including Mediamass or the dubious News-Hound.org profit from display ads when their frauds go viral. Others redirect to phishing sites that attempt to draw out the gullible clicker’s e-mail address and personal information,” says Dewey.

Also, according to this recent list of the seven security trends that may affect your business, 1) phishing is only going to get worse and 2) social media spreads malware very effectively.

So please, on this day of fake engagement posts and “I won the lottery!” jokes, let me make an appeal. Treat every day on the Internet like April Fool’s Day. Ignore strange requests or commands for action or promises of reward on social media sites. Be skeptical of all emails—especially those with embedded links. Slow down, take a deep breath, and think about what you are doing before you mindlessly click, forward, repost, retweet, or otherwise spread potential malware.

Oh, and an added bonus? Your friends will thank you.

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