Facebook support groups packed with predatory marketers

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/21/facebook-support-groups-packed.html


Based on how they infiltrate real-life recovery and rehab groups to prey on the vulnerable, I’m sure the Cult of $cientology and similar scams are taking the tactic to Facebook as well.


I help operate a nonprofit public health organization dealing with drug use. Every now and then I get unsolicited emails from random people asking if we can link to their website. These people always turn out to be associated with for-profit drug recovery referral services with vague mission statements and addresses at nondescript office buildings.


It’s not quite the same, but I joined a FB group for women with a rare gynecological condition and discovered that another woman, who had been in the group for a year, was a reporter who didn’t actually have the condition. She started contacting women in the group to do an interview. One woman took her up on it and was horrified by the sensationalist nature of the proposed article.


One of the many, many symptoms of an incompetent medical system.
I can’t imagine having to turn to facebook of all things for support on something so important.

This is the facebook business model: identify the suckers, and serve them advertising. As long as facebook gets a cut, I’m sure there’s no problem. If you find the business model objectionable, quit facebook. I feel very bad for people with these serious problems, but the Internet and facebook in particular are no place to be looking for help.

I wouldn’t turn to Facebook for anything if I can avoid it; but “support group” seems like the sort of basically-social-with-conversation-and-logistics-if-meeting-in-person stuff that people use Facebook for; and(while related to a medical condition) not obviously different in kind from the spectrum of peer support groups that run the gamut from people commiserating about exams and trying to find study partners on up.

If you were using a Facebook support group in lieu of treatment, yeah that would need to reflect well on the medical context(and, by all accounts American addiction treatment generally doesn’t get reflected well); but it’s pretty common for people with serious conditions, under proper medical care, to also seek social support.

The fact that the place is a test of snakes is obviously a major problem, which in practice may well make the medium unfit for purpose; but nothing about “people seek others in similar situations”, in itself, says anything of note about the surrounding medical system. Especially for stuff that is psychologically taxing but for which “function in the community” is a high priority. A fancy psychologist/psychiatrist is professionally obligated to be less evil(and I suspect they generally are, if for no other reason than that the bar of Facebook treatment spammers is so low); but they aren’t a terribly good substitute for peers.

(As one of mine asked “if your reports are of intense social anxiety, discomfort talking about yourself, and the like how is it that you can do so so readily here?” I think the objective of the line of questioning was a lead up to a “so you can apply what you have learned here in broader context, and behold the progress!”.

I answered, honestly if a trifle acidically, that I was comfortable in this context because reporting affective phenomena is as normalized and we’ll scripted as telling a standard GP what your symptoms are; that he, nothing personal, was a paid professional under professional strictures regarding confidentiality, who I could always replace if I became uncomfortable; and after a decade or so of experience the practice kind of takes over; but other than that our sessions were totally comparable to actual social situations…)

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