Where seasoned digital citizens fear to tread
Younger users of Facebook are likely to be at more risk from online scams. They undertake more hazardous activities, are less concerned about being exploited and trust the platform provider to protect them.
Lockdown during a pandemic tends to increase the amount of time consumers spend on social media and their physical isolation from family and friends. This affords opportunities to con artists. Which? commissioned research in June and July to investigate the attitudes and behaviours of Facebook users.
Some attitudes and online behaviours have been shown to increase the chances of being exposed to scams and of engaging with them. This article addresses the question of whether some of them are more vulnerable to scams than others.
Which? facilitated an online community of fifty Facebook users in June and Populus fielded an online survey of 2,080 adults in July. About 85% of the survey respondents were active on Facebook and the views of this group were re-weighted to represent those of all adult users of the platform.
Of all of the personal characteristics recorded in the survey, age was found to have most power to explain those attitudes and behaviours that have been identified as being likely to increase the chances of being exposed to scams and of engaging with them. The chart highlights the effect of consumer age on two attitudes (Trust and lack of concern) and three behaviours (Frequency of Facebook use, buying advertised products and buying or selling on Marketplace).
For instance, when asked whether they trusted Facebook to protect them from exposure to harmful online content, 37% of the 18-44 year-olds chose either "A great deal" or "A fair amount" (with a 95% confidence interval of 34% to 40%); only 21% of the older respondents selected one of these responses (confidence interval 19% to 24%). For each of the other measures statistically significant differences were observed, with the younger respondents expressing riskier attitudes and reporting more hazardous behaviours.
Their more frequent use of Facebook for commercial activities implies that younger users may be exposed to cons more often; their belief that Facebook has processes in place that will protect them and their relative lack of concern about being swindled imply that they may be more likely to engage with scams if presented with them.
In October, Which? published a policy report on protecting social media users from online harm. It calls for social media platforms to be given a legal responsibility for preventing scam content from appearing on their sites.
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