'Facebook Drug Task Force’ hoax cranks up the paranoia

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured

Smoke. Image courtesy of ShutterstockMarijuana users around the world heaved a sigh of relief and went back to ordering pizza delivery after it was revealed that the "Facebook Drug Task Force" (FDTF) and its new militarized corporate police force were a hoax.

The satirical news site National Report posted a story on Monday saying that starting 1 October, Facebook would begin monitoring all postings and messages so as to arrest users who buy and sell narcotics using the site.

On Wednesday, a subsequent story described how Facebook's corporate police had been armed with federal armaments and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, received in return for sharing the company's "crime database" with the feds.

As the Wednesday story told it, the FDTF had arrested two men who were being held in the "first corporately held jail cell on the grounds of Facebook Headquarters" in Menlo Park, Calif.

But wait. Wasn't this supposed to start on 1 October?

Yes, but Facebook wanted to "catch the offenders off-guard", said an "arresting officer", "Facebook Police Officer Jesse Fitzmaurice".

The Metro reported that "thousands" of weed enthusiasts were "feeling quite gullible" for falling for the gag stories, though I could only turn up a few messages that hadn't yet been deleted by those with egg on their faces.

Here's one such:

@xkrustmnx

I hope Zuckerberg ready for people to stop using Facebook all together with this FDTF shit

@xkrustmnx and anybody else who fell for the FDTF satire mustn't have noticed the enormous school of red herrings swimming around in these stories.

For one thing, both stories offered up a phone number that was purportedly a 24-hour hotline to answer questions or comments about the drug task force.

Anybody who actually called it would find themselves connected to the Westboro Baptist Church: a US church known for its strenuous anti-gay activism, including plans to stage a protest at the funeral for deceased actor Robin Williams because he portrayed a gay man in "The Birdcage".

Another red herring: quoting a supposed Drug Enforcement Agent, "Paul Horner", who doesn't know the term "online":

I'm thrilled. We're going to get all the drug pushers and dope addicts off Facebook once and for all. The marijuana junkies think they can socialize on the line with their fellow druggies, well, not on my watch. We're gonna read their messages, we're gonna build cases against them, and we're gonna put 'em all in prison. It's going to be beautiful.

Of course, the biggest red herring of all - more like a red humpback - was that, apropros of nothing in the article, the first story ended by referring to an announcement Facebook made this week about adding "Satire" tags to users' postings.

This part isn't a satire. It's really real.

The satire tags would mark stories from sites such as The Onion, Clickhole, Empire News and, of course, National Report itself, hopefully alerting the masses of gullible people who share them, thinking that they're real.

I noticed yet another hoax that sprang out of the National Report's earlier hoaxes.

Somebody on Facebook calling themselves the PC Doctor rightly called the FDTF story a hoax and presented a subsequent hoax:

PC Doctor FB

NO ONE CAN MONITOR ANY FORM OF COMMUNICATIONS OF YOURS (EMAIL, VOICEMAIL, TELEPHONE, CHAT, VOIP, FACEBOOK, YAHOO, ETC.) WITHOUT A COURT ORDER. EVEN FACEBOOK THEMSELVES CANNOT DO SO AS IT IS A VIOLATION OF YOUR RIGHTS.

‪#‎pcdoctoronline‬

The PC Doctor's hoax was a little dangerous, given that there are people who actually might believe that there are no entities who monitor communications without a warrant.

It's bad enough that so many people use laughably lame passwords or don't use them at all, thus leaving themselves open to things like wardriving kitties mapping where you can get free Wi-Fi in the neighborhood.

Of course, the past Snowdenized year has seen plenty of stories about surveillance without warrants.

When it comes to automatically scanning messages and postings, recent headlines have included both Microsoft and Google having detected child abuse images in email, with arrests resulting.

For its part, Facebook was praised in 2012 when it used its little-known data monitoring technology to spot a suspicious conversation about sex between a man in his early thirties and a 13-year-old girl from Florida.

Can Facebook pick up on messages about drugs?

Of course, if it so chooses.

Is it planning to do so at any time?

Who knows? It's not doing it now, at any rate.

This is how a spokesman described the FDTF story, according to The Metro:

Spectacularly false.

Spectacular, indeed. Pass the brownies!

Images of smoke courtesy of Shutterstock.

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One Response to 'Facebook Drug Task Force’ hoax cranks up the paranoia

  1. ejhonda · 65 days ago

    I miss most of the good hoaxes and only read about them once they've been outed. I need more gullible friends.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.