Historically, if you are an average individual with a customer service issue with a vast social network, your best recourse was prayer. Certainly, there is a form in the app’s support section that you can use to report being harassed, impersonated, or wrongfully suspended. However, communication from the social network itself is generally confined to unsatisfactory automated responses.
In the past, you might have viewed some of these concerns as mere inconveniences. But as social networks have become monoliths and the epidemic has pushed more of our lives online, these concerns have become more pressing. What was once perceived as low-level customer service issues now feel more like citizenship questions. If you are to be expelled from the digital realm, don’t you need anything similar to due process? And if you are assaulted by your fellow people, shouldn’t the platform provide you with something comparable to police protection?
In a complaint filed today, Ripple accused the video platform of selling advertisements and certifying accounts that promote fraudulent cryptocurrency giveaways, while disregarding complaints about them.
Ripple operates an exchange network for the digital currency XRP, which is designed for international money transfers. Scammers have constructed official-sounding accounts for Ripple and its CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, over the past few months. Some of the accounts appear to have been taken from successful YouTubers whose accounts were hacked, allowing the con artists access to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. From there, they might publish videos advertising large XRP returns for tiny initial payments, duping viewers who believed they were seeing Ripple’s channel.
Ripple says it has received over 350 complaints regarding impersonation or scamming since at least November of last year when a bogus account made headlines. Since then, Ripple has received approximately 350 complaints about impersonation or scamming. However, YouTube “ignored or otherwise failed to address” many of them, according to the report.
In one instance, it provided a hacked channel with an official verification badge. And Ripple claims that YouTube continued to accept paid ads related to the fraud even after being told about it. As a result, there was an “onslaught” of communications from individuals who feared Ripple had stolen their money or compromised their accounts. It is unclear how much money the con artists stole in total, but one account got $15,000 worth of XRP.
Every platform faces the problem of impersonation, which is why there are certified badges. The New York Times discovered 205 accounts spoofing Facebook’s two senior executives in 2018. And the bitcoin industry is practically defined by the prevalence of con artists and crooks. Monday’s theft of $25 million worth of Ethereum elicited as much attention as the discovery that a neighbor had left their window open overnight.
On social networks, fake identities and crypto frauds have been prevalent for years. In 2018, after a lengthy period of inaction, Twitter began locking the accounts of users who changed their display name to “Elon Musk” — a move that has historically signaled the beginning of a scam in which a Musk impersonator promises to give away a large amount of cryptocurrency in exchange for a small amount of money. (Never attempt! A few months later, hackers took over the official Target account and began doing the same fraud with a small variation.
For years, Garlinghouse has struggled with impersonation. In 2019, an imposter built an Instagram account designed to resemble him and started operating a fraud in his name. The Real Garlinghouse reported this to Instagram, which investigated… and 72 hours later informed him that after conducting an investigation, the firm decided that he was not being impersonated.
Garlinghouse had worked in Silicon Valley for 23 years and was ultimately able to resolve the issue by contacting an old colleague at Instagram.
Tuesday, Garlinghouse informed me, “This is not how this should work.” “Deep down, it’s practically a matter of morality. YouTube generated $15 billion in sales last year. They can’t invest more money to monitor their own platform?
Idealistically, platforms would discover and delete all of these accounts before they could defraud users of money. Short of that, platforms could respond swiftly and thoroughly to legitimate allegations of impersonation. I am unable to comment on the legal merits of Ripple’s action. However, the fact that Garlinghouse believed it to be his best alternative indicates how bad the situation has become. It only occurred after Ripple recruited cybersecurity and digital threat intelligence firm to assist with its reporting and takedown activities.
A YouTube spokeswoman stated that the firm has reporting options for abuse and that Ripple had successfully used a separate reporting site for businesses to denounce impersonation. In the final quarter of 2019, the business removed more than 3 million videos and banned 1.8 million users for breaking regulations related to fraud.
Garlinghouse, however, has begun to get physical threats from those who wrongly believed he had committed to transfer them Ripple’s XRP coin. Neither does it aid those who have lost money.
“Those who have been victimized do not have the means to pursue YouTube,” Garlinghouse added. “Those who lost, perhaps $1,000 or $10,000, are not going to sue YouTube. These individuals have come out to me for assistance. And I feel responsible for community members who are being victimized by fraud.”
In any event, the threats that everyday Internet users face are genuine. The Federal Trade Commission stated last week that scammers cost Americans $13.44 million between January 1st and April 15th. And platform content moderation efforts, which were rarely solid even in good times, are now made more difficult by a pandemic that has forced some moderators to work from home and laid off others.
Consequently, the next several months are likely to be more challenging than usual for those who find themselves caught between the gears of an indifferent technology platform. Few individuals are permitted to seek remedy for their problems through the legal system. As usual, everyone else will be left to fill out paperwork, send them into the ether, and pray.