A new study has found that people who habitually use Facebook are more susceptible to being victims of online scams.
For his study, Arun Vishwanath, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication at the University at Buffalo–State University of New York, subjected 150 college students to real “phishing” attacks (attempts to acquire sensitive information such as social security numbers, credit cards and the like) on Facebook.
At the beginning of the semester students were asked to participate in an online survey on general technology use. Buried among these questions were measures for their Facebook usage habits, according to the researcher.
Six weeks after the survey, the participants were located on Facebook and sent a friend request from a phony Facebook account. Two weeks later, an information request was sent to them from that profile, asking for their student ID number, email username, and date of birth.
Vishwanath found that Facebook users who had large social networks, used Facebook more frequently than their peers, and those who were unable to control their impulsive use of the site were much more likely to inadvertently accept the friend request and hand over their personal information when phished.
Facebook, by design, promotes repeated interaction with its platform, the researcher noted. It encourages users to keep posting updates and checking in on other people’s feeds, he said. In many ways, it fosters habit formation, he added.
The study found that people who tend to spend too much time on Facebook, when coupled with an inability to regulate their behavior, are particularly vulnerable to social media phishing.
Social media phishing is the attack mode of choice among cyber criminals and has been implicated in crimes ranging from home invasion to cyber bullying, illegal impersonation, and espionage, according to the researcher.
“Habitual Facebook use is an understudied issue and as such there are no interventions aimed at correcting it. We need to develop techniques to identify individuals who posses this problem early on, and we now know its behavioral and personality markers,” said Vishwanath.
“We need to next develop remedial interventions that target such individuals and help them develop better cyber hygiene. This would not only help them, but it will also protect all of us from phishing attacks, since the Pew Center has estimated that the average Facebook user can reach anywhere from 70,000-150,000 other people through their friends networks.”
The study was published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.