Knox students often receive Facebook friend requests from incoming freshmen. As it turns out, these would-be friends are not always actually incoming freshmen.
After a little investigation, seniors Katie Wrenn and Lotte Vonk and junior Sona Diallo discovered that one of their new friends was neither a new student nor a student at Knox.
“A bunch of Knox students were talking about it on Twitter, and he had just added me the day before, and I went back to his profile … and I was like, yeah, he does kind of look fake,” Vonk said. “I dragged his picture into the image search box on Google, and I found like 100,000 hits, and he turned out to be some gay model from the Philippines.”
The profile, whose name is listed as Aaron Rudolphs, soon began to reveal other questionable information.
“It didn’t make sense: he was a surfer from Florida,” Wrenn said. “The Atlantic Ocean doesn’t really have waves that you can surf … they don’t have a high enough tide.”
There is, however, a good deal of content on Rudolphs’ Facebook page that could fool most users. Although the account was just created on August 10, Rudolphs has updated his education and religious views and added a few books that he likes. But there is still something strange about his profile: his education is scattered from Ohio to South Carolina; he identifies as Christian instead of referring to a denomination; and he only lists “The Hunger Games” and similar books under his “likes.”
The content that he has written and posted to Facebook is similarly unusual. On Sept. 8, the Saturday before Knox students began classes, he updated his status to “School :/.” Rudolphs has also filled out his “About Me” section, stating, “Couple things about myself huh? well, I surf, I sing, I love reading. Alright, the last one may be a bit dorky, but I’m me, and I love who I am. Take it as you will.”
Despite the nature of Rudolph’s profile, he still has 269 friends, and nearly all of them are Knox students, former Knox students and alumni.
“I don’t know if everyone is aware that it isn’t a person,” Diallo said. “I think they just looked at [his profile], saw Knox and were like, ‘Okay,’ and forgot about it after that.”
Although Wrenn, Vonk and Diallo are aware that Rudolphs is not who he says he is and have publicized the information on Facebook, there is no way to be certain of his true identity. Rudolphs may not be contacted via email or cell phone, as he does not list that information on his profile. Attempting to contact him via Facebook is a hit-or-miss operation. Although he has commented on posts made on his wall by Knox students and attempted to contact Diallo, he could not be reached for comment.
Of his potential identities, some of them are harmless. He could be “someone who’s really bored or really, really curious about other people’s lives,” Vonk said. “If you look at the kind of people this fake person friended, they friended everyone. So maybe it’s someone who [is from a] completely different social group or excluded.”
Similarly, someone may have created the page for the purpose of “self-entertainment,” Wrenn said. “My hypothesis was that the fake Facebook profile was probably someone who was already here who just wanted a good laugh.”
Regardless, the person posting as Rudolphs has access to all of the information that his friends share with all of their friends, and he may not be using it wisely.
“Facebook is a really easy way to find out a lot about someone without really talking to them,” Diallo said. “People have their numbers on their Facebook, or their email address, their first and last name. They know what school you go to, they know where you live, where you’re from originally … Maybe [Rudolphs is] trying to get information. Those spam emails, they don’t work anymore because no one pays attention.”
Although Facebook makes it possible for its users to report fake accounts via the Computer Help Center, this may not always be the most effective means of eliminating these accounts.
“I’m pretty sure [Facebook] get millions of reports a day. You have to go through each one and make sure the profile you’re deleting actually has to be deleted,” Diallo said. “But then who’s to stop someone from creating an email address in Google and then creating another Facebook? Anyone can have it.”
Facebook could not be reached for comment about their handling of fake accounts.
Should Facebook users wish to take their own preventative measures against fake profiles, they may encounter some difficulties in keeping track of their information and how it is shared.
“Unless you’re actively looking at your privacy settings when Facebook is changing and updating, which is all the time, you’re going to probably miss some of these smaller things, like what people can see when someone posts on your wall,” Wrenn said.
However, many users — Knox students included — may not even attempt to protect their information.
“I think it’s being naïve if they don’t even think about it, that people would actually take information from them,” Wrenn said. “I have noticed that some Knox students just seem to be a little more trusting than others. Leaving your backpack places, leaving your computer places — everyone says that it’s safe to do that at Knox. But that’s not necessarily a good thing to develop [as a] habit, because in the real world, people are willing to take your stuff.”
Despite the trusting nature of Knox’s bubble, it is still a bubble. “We know everyone, so it’s more obvious when someone does not exist,” Vonk said.