Sunday, 8 June 2014

Think before you share

I tend to leave politics out of my social media activities. However, some extremist groups get me seriously worried, and especially when they are using emotional manipulation and innocence to further their own aims.

I've been relieved in the last couple of days to see a gradual increase in links to articles highlighting what is really behind the group Britain First, and especially to their huge surge of 'likes' on Facebook. I won't bother to explain the situation here: at least three other sites have already saved me the trouble. Please take a few minutes to read them and understand.

Liverpool Echo

Costa Connected

Another Angry Voice

Now, while I strongly disagree with what Britain First stands for, I am (unlike them) not saying that you do not have the right to your own opinions. If their ethics and policies align with your own, liking and sharing their posts is entirely your right. (If you're on my Facebook friends lists, you'd soon be deleted, but that's another story.) As the writer of the Costa Connected article sensibly puts it:

Please do not misunderstand me, everyone’s political views are their own, and I enjoy friendship and dialogue with many people whose opinions on many matters I am fundamentally opposed to, or have little interest in. Unlike Britain First I embrace and celebrate diversity and difference, and intelligent discussion of different points of view – heaven knows the world is in a mess right now and I have no grand opinions on the best way to fix it, talking about ideas with people whose ideas challenge and push at your own is a good way of developing solutions.

I am writing this while being fortunate enough to be spending a break in a beautiful part of Spain (at a wonderful health resort called Obsidian). I have so far met a huge variety of people, all colours, several nationalities (Polish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Australian to name but a few) and, I would imagine, many faiths, backgrounds and belief systems. The diversity of this place is one of things that makes it joyful for me. We all learn from each other.


Some of the posts that Britain First have been using for manipulative purposes ("if you don't like this post it means you don't appreciate what our war heroes did for us") are, in themselves, perfectly reasonable and laudable sentiments. Take, for instance, yesterday's news about the splendid war veteran who basically did a bunk from his care home and travelled to France alone, and safely, at attend the D-day celebrations in France. Britain First has published a photograph of Bernard Jordan, urging you to 'like' and show your respect.

Now, I'd fully agree that this excellent old boy deserves appreciation and publicity for all sorts of reasons. However, gleaning 'likes' for a political group that advocates the kind of Nazi-style cleansing and fascist beliefs that Bernard Jordan and millions of others went to war to defeat somehow doesn't make a lot of sense.

Having read the articles above, you may well decide that you want nothing to do with Britain First (or any similar organisations). If so, here are the geeky, practical suggestions.

Want to share these photos anyway?  Just download them from Facebook. Right-click on the image you want to save, choose Save Image As, and drop it into somewhere on your own computer that you'll find it again. Then add it to a post of your own in the normal way. Whether it's a picture of a wandering war veteran, a poppy for Remembrance, one of the Royals, our beautiful countryside or whatever: you can share these images to your heart's content without promoting the policies of the original poster. Like this.

Want to block all postings from Britain First? When you next see a posting, click on the drop-down arrow top right (of the posting, that is, not of the whole screen); there's an option to 'block Britain First'. (You can do this with any page, group or individual who really annoys you for whatever reason!)


As I said earlier, this is not about removing freedom of choice - quite the reverse. It's about being aware of what underlies this use of social media. Again quoting the Costa Connected article:

On these pages we frequently take the time out to celebrate the genuinely positive things which come from social media, such as the force for good that was Stephen Sutton and the unanticipated impact of the no-make-up-selfie movement. Every now and then, however, we have to comment on the darker side, the way that the democratisation of publishing and communication is exploited in the service of what can only be described as evil.

Facebook (together with other social media) is powerful. It's fun, it's informative, it's useful, it's entertaining, it makes communication easy between friends, and it can be a great force for good. But any powerful force can operate for good or ill, and in the world of the easy click-and-share, the darker side can spread through innocence and ignorance far faster than through activism.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Don't wanna play

Stop sending me game requests! I don't play!

OK, so here's the latest one doing the rounds on Facebook. The above photo is being shared in a desperate attempt, it seems, to persuade people NOT to send 'game requests'.

No, it's not a hoax, or spam; but sharing this is highly unlikely to make the difference you desire. You can do a couple of simple things that will be much more effective.

First, don't assume that your friends are inviting you individually to share these games and will therefore be horribly offended if you don't. For the most part, they will be going out as a block invite to all friends - and as such, a refusal will not (in this case) offend, as the inviter is unlikely to even notice.

Secondly, like most other things on Facebook, you can 'block' them. At first this may seem tiresome. However, take it from me: I block almost every invitation I receive, with the result that I now receive virtually no invitations at all. Farmville, Bejewelled Blitz, Candy Crush Saga... in fact, when I look at the list, I can see that I've been a boring old fart about quite a lot of them (about 80, at the last count). Most of them come up time and time again, so once you've blocked it - you don't see it again. Easy.

So how to block? Two ways.

First, when you receive an invitation, don't simply dismiss it.

  • Click on the Games link under Apps (left hand toolbar)
  • Click on Requests (ditto)
  • Click on the drop-down arrow top right of the offending request
  • You're given a choice to block all invites from that person, or to block the app itself
  • Choose and click


Secondly: take the initiative.

  • Click on the small 'cog' icon at the top right of the page
  • Click on Settings
  • Click on Blocking (on the left)
  • Scroll down to Block Apps
  • Type the name of the app you want to block
  • Press the Enter key
  • Your chosen blocked app will appear in (guess what) your list of blocked apps

Job done.

So what's wrong with the image above? Well, nothing really; except that in many cases your friends won't even be particularly aware that you're being included in their mass mailings, and as such it's unlikely to affect their decision-making processes (!).

Oh, and one more thing. Click on the photo itself when you see it shared on Facebook, and you'll see it's been 'shared' over 100,000 times. Maybe I'm being cynical, but that's an awful lot of high-ranking activity for the page that first published it. And we know about like-whores, don't we? Don't we?!!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Enough already

OK, so I'm a boring old... person. But I'm getting a mite tired of seeing "I got... [insert Muppet character, place to live, musicals]" on my timeline.

I laughed at the first few. Joined in with one or two. Giggled at a few friends' results (my husband getting Oklahoma - which he hates - as his musical was worth a smile).

But this morning, I lost patience. Of the first ten postings on my timeline, FIVE were the results of one or other of these quizzes. Yup, half my news for the day. And they all came from a site called Buzzfeed.

It's not a virus ("going viral" being, of course, something totally different). Yes, it's making great use of other people's material, and yes, what it posts is often pretty trite, but that's not a crime. It is a highly successful corporate initiative, making, it would appear, serious amounts of money for the folks behind it (as does Facebook), and good on them for that. It's no more (or less) offensive in the 'information' it provides than a lightweight magazine or freebie newspaper. This article gives a bit more detail.

However, my main problem is that it's drowning my timeline.

I like Facebook. But I like it for knowing what my friends (and yes, they are real friends) are genuinely doing and thinking. I like it to keep me informed about local events and about what old colleagues are doing now and about triumphs and challenges. I like it for learning and inspiring and understanding and introducing. And I'd prefer my newsfeed not to be flooded with results of quizzes that are, broadly speaking, entirely pointless. I'd sooner know about your new family member, whether feline, canine or human, than which animal your personality type (might) identify you with.

So: I've hidden the Buzzfeed postings. You can do this very easily with any application (or person): click on the down arrow top right of any posting, and you'll get a set of options. They vary depending on whether it's posted by a page, an application or a person, but the gist is the same: you can block. In this particular case, I was able to choose "Hide all posts from Buzzfeed".

NB: If I ever feel that I'm seriously missing out on vital 'buzz' and want to welcome the posts back, it's easy. Hover over the pencil icon next to the Newsfeed link on the left of the page, choose Edit, and find the item you've 'banned', and click on the x to remove it from the list.

Finally: you can do this with any page, person or app. Let's say that you happen to be one of my friends on Facebook and you get tired of seeing what I post ("not another 'photo of the day', please..."), but you don't want to actually unfriend me: the same procedures apply. Just hide my posts from your timeline, but you can always drop by my profile if you are curious about whether I'm still being annoying at a later date.

Oh, and if you're interested: my musical was A Chorus Line. You know, the one with a bolshy character called Cassie who muscles in where she's not wanted? That one.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Skype voicemail scam

Boring, boring, boring. No, not Skype. Skype is good, and useful, and free, and fabulous when you want to talk to your sister in Spain for an hour without worrying about the cost. What's boring is the latest scam going around.

Have you received an email recently telling you that you've got a Skype voicemail - and to 'open the attached file' to listen to it?

This is an automated email, please don’t reply.

Voice Message Notification

You received a new message from Skype voicemail service.

Message Details: Time of Call: Wed, 27 Nov 2013 16:59:10 +0200

Length of Call: 37sec

Listen to the message in the attached file.

Take a closer look. The email address it's coming from, for a start. Mine was sent by Looks like an authentic Skype Customer services address, doesn't it? Not.

Don't even go there. Firstly, it's a zip file (clue: anything can be hidden in a zip file, which includes malware, so always view these with extreme caution to start with).

Secondly, Skype voicemail messages are only ever delivered through Skype itself; if you get a notification that you've a voicemail, it will be in the form of an alert to log on to your Skype account and listen to it there. If you want to check, do just that: log on to your Skype account in the usual way. If there's a legit voicemail for you, it will be waiting for you there. But there won't be: Skype wouldn't be sending it as an attachment.

Actually, almost any message that tells you to 'open the attached file' for further information has the potential to be dodgy. The bank? Ebay? PayPal? Facebook? All these will direct you to log on to your own private account, and any genuine requests or messages will be found there.

Oh, and what's that you say? You don't even have a voicemail facility set up on your Skype account? Well, there's a surprise.

Delete, delete, delete.

And tell your friends to do the same.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fake 'burglary' accusation

I was rather startled this morning to receive the following email in my capacity as President of apdo-uk - the Association that supports, promotes and develops our industry of professional organising and decluttering.

Name: Kathie
Email address:
Organisation: Kathie

Hello, I am writing in an unusual case ... Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!!

I didn't have serious concerns about it, for several reasons. Firstly, apdo-uk is not an employer at all, but an Association, and we have clear disclaimers all over our site: it's the clients' responsibility to check the appropriateness and credentials of any of our members they wish to work with. Secondly, the email refers to a man, and out of 105 current members just five of them are men. They picked an organisation with entirely the wrong demographic for this message.

And then, of course, there's the overall style of the email. Poor grammar, excessive exclamation marks... the hallmark of a spammer.

I replied briefly in any case, pointing out the above, and also that I'd need explicit details before investigating any of our members further. However, a quick trawl on Google afterwards proved my suspicions. The (probably fictitious) Kathie Kearns has sent many such emails, especially to folks in the hospitality industry, as I found on this online noticeboard. [This particular gmail address appears also on several lists of noted spammers.]

The question was: why? The email I received contained no links nor attachments. If it was spam in the real sense, one of those would surely have been present. However, looking at the reports on the above forum from other folks that have been spammed, this idiot proves to be exceptionally bad at their job: in my email, they've missed out the link (to a site called Everifies, ostensibly providing online checks on businesses). I don't suggest clicking on it - although according to the forum, the website has now been taken down in any case.

I'm posting this to flag up the situation in the hope that my article will also appear in Google searches for key phrases or for this email address, if anybody else, like me, is suspicious. However, as one poster on the forum put it, "with 40 branches around the country it had me going for a minute". It would be very easy for a member of a large corporation to take the accusation seriously, and to follow a link to a site that may well have had malware.

Honestly. Even the quality of spammers is deteriorating!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Fame at Sainsbury's

... or in their magazine, anyway.

Way back in April I had a correspondence with a journalist, who'd asked me to help with an article she was writing about procrastination. I provided what she wanted, and then forgot all about it.

Six months later, my mother phones me and says "You're in my Sainsbury's magazine..." And lo and behold, there I am. A nice little quote ('my bit' is on the right hand side of the second page), a link to my website, and a link to at the foot of the article - the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers, of which I have the dubious privilege to be President, covering over 100 similarly helpful folks all over the UK.

So I'm very well chuffed.

Click on the images below for a readable version.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Private by default?

I know that there's a lot of banging on about privacy, or the lack thereof, on Facebook. However, there's one small thing that may have slipped your notice.

Your original 'default setting' was probably to publish your posts to 'friends only', which is sensible. (You'll find the 'default setting' under the 'cog' icon, along to the right of your name on the upper toolbar, under Privacy & Settings.) However: do you realise that if you change the privacy of an individual post, you then change that setting for the next time you use it?

Let's say that you've been happily publishing updates to 'friends', and then along comes one that you want to share to a wider audience - perhaps you want to advertise an event you're involved in and don't mind who sees it. More likely, you've 'shared' a public post - one of those 'thoughts for the day', charity appeals or attractive or funny images - which comes as 'public' to start with. When you share it, you keep that public status - and change your own default status to public, too.

It's very easy to tell what the status is that you're using. Look at your last post, and look at the icon at the right-hand end of the post. Here are a couple of mine.

I've got a cold right now (a particularly nasty one). Hence my silly post. It's shared with friends: that's the little two-person icon on the right, after the date and location of the posting. (Not that there's anything very security-sensitive about the fact that I'm feeling like death warmed up at the moment, but it's only really meant as a flippant remark for those on my friends list.)

This one's a bit different. It's a sharing of a video that I found funny. I have no problem at all with the post being seen by friends, friends-of-friends, or total strangers. So the privacy setting after the date is the little globe: public.

The point here is that after I'd shared, to a public audience, the silly Cockatiel video, my default setting for posts became public. So when I published my next update I needed to remember to change it back to Friends. Like this.

Why on earth you'd want to publish a post as 'only me' - in other words, nobody else could see it - I really can't imagine. However, the other settings all have their uses. 'Custom' gives you the choice to include or exclude specific people, and Public and Friends are what they say.

Have a check back on your Timeline and see what is posted as Public and what is shared with Friends. You can also view your Timeline as a non-friend would see it. Go back to the Privacy settings mentioned earlier, choose Timeline and Tagging Settings, and click on View As under 'Who can see things on my timeline?' It will display as a non-friend would see it. This gives you the chance to change anything that's not as it should be.

Going forward, it's easy enough to control as long as you keep your wits about you: every time you post, look for the little icon and make sure it says what you want it to say.