It happened again.
a social media friend request from someone I was pretty sure I was already friends with...
A quick search of my current friends list confirmed my suspicions, and checking their original profile revealed a recent post saying they had been hacked and not to accept any new requests from them. Unfortunately, their warning post was already filling up with scammy phishing comments linking to "someone who could help recover their account"... And I also found in the mutual friends list of the new fake profile that some of our common friends had already fallen prey to this phishing scam and connected with the faker.
This is all too common these days, and if it happens to you, here is a little simple non-technical advice:
If it is your account in question...
First realize that while it is possible you have been hacked, it is actually far more likely that you have simply been spoofed. If someone truly hacks into and gains access to your account (or business page), they will probably quickly lock you out, change the profile name & image, and start churning out scammy garbage. So if you are still able to log in, just change your password to be safe and relax. Panic could prompt you to do something risky (which I will mention in a moment) and is unhelpfully stressful.
Instead of trying to hack your account, it's way easier for scammers to just copy your name and profile photos and pretend to be you. This is called spoofing and is usually done to collect all your friends and create a legitimate-looking profile for spreading disinformation or phishing attempts.
If you've been spoofed, your account itself is probably safe. But a security hole has been opened in your online community. Thankfully there are a few easy things you can do to help plug it up.
Also, be aware that after you post the warning to your profile, it will likely start collecting offers to help you recover your account in the comments. This is where panic will work against you. Do not click or respond to any of these comments. They are all fake. This is especially true if your warning was publicly visible, but even if it was set to friends only, you might have a few friends in your list who have been hacked or were fake to start with. These are the people who will actually trick you into giving them your login information and then fully hack your account. They may be working in coordination with the spoofer, or they may be opportunists who found you through a simple keyword search of "my account was hacked". Either way, relax, remember that you are probably fine, and don't end up getting yourself hacked by secondary scammers through "social engineering".
If you are the one receiving a duplicate friend request...
Yes, it does happen that a friend forgets their password, inadvertently locks themselves out of their account, and fixes the situation by creating a new account and sending you a new friend request. There might even be a post on the new account saying that's what happened.
But even so,
always doublecheck your current friends list for the original and check that profile for a warning from them. Maybe even send a direct message to their original profile asking them about the situation.
If there is nothing there, then watch the new profile carefully for a few weeks. If it starts pumping out posts that seem inconsistent with the original profile or suddenly starts sending you suspicious or scammy direct messages making unusual requests, be very careful about your interactions with it. Do some due diligence research and then make a carefully considered decision on it. Of course this kind of thing always comes down to a case-by-case judgement call, but in most of these cases the best thing is to quietly unfollow, unfriend, and then block that profile. And if you are certain it's a fake impostor account, consider reporting it by clicking the three dots and "Report" from the pop-up menu.
Sometimes a friend truly does get locked out of their account and then needs your help getting back in or paying some medical bills, but now more often than not it's just some imposter trying to scam you...
and both are very unfortunate.
Stay safe and remember that the online safety of one friend is the online safety of us all--
PS: on a related note, especially if you have a business account or run ads on social media, you may often get direct messages claiming that your account is somehow in violation of copyright, community policies, etc. Those are fake attempts to freak you out and get you to hand over your login credentials so they can hack you. Even if you really are in violation of something, that isn't how they notify you. They will let you know very clearly through special dialogue boxes built right into the interface itself when you login to your account. Not through direct messages. Don't reply to those messages at all. If you just leave them in your inbox you will likely notice that after a few days or weeks their profile names and pictures will go blank because their fake accounts were deleted by the platform. So just go ahead and report or delete those messages sooner than later...
To everyone on social media,
If you care at all about your online security and your friends'...
Please, please stop clicking on those game-app-posts that promise to show your true personality traits or spirit animal or whatever if you just touch the month-gemstone-leaf etc....
Those are actually apps created by random third-party developers. When you click on them, you are giving them permission to access ALL the metadata from your account. That's all your photos, posts, likes, friends, contact info, and personal info. The apps require this permission to do whatever calculations they claim that they will do to give you the result they claim they will give you. That's the way they work, and it's not a bug. It's a feature and a normal function of the system.
In the good (very) old days, there were probably a few of these inventive new "games" that were legitimately for fun. But these days (for a long time now) almost all of these apps are actually just phishing for your data. They will scrape all the public and private and hidden data from your account because you not only gave them permission to do so, you basically requested it by clicking them to show you your whatever...
They will then use that huge chunk of data profiling you to target you with their ads in the best case scenario. More often than not they will also sell your data to unscrupulous third parties for inclusion in everyone else's spam marketing lists and phishing hit lists. In the worst case scenarios your data will end up in the darker places of the web and used to hack you, or set up fake accounts to phish and hack your friends or spread disinformation, etc., with your name and face...
This all happens quickly and quietly in the background while on the surface they simply confirm that you are indeed a Lion or a Raven. And they will always tell you that you are 10% Bitch and 997.5% Beautiful Badass. Always.
Well, I'm here to tell you straight up that YOU ARE 1,007.5% PURE BEAUTIFUL BADASS.
Now go and prove it to everyone by showing the confidence and self-awareness to not click on those scammy apps.
Stay safe and beautiful and bad, all in the ratio that fits you best--
I was recently inspired by a good friend who sarcastically refers to his blog as "your free life coach", so I decided to go one further and create this free "24/7 Life Coach"
It's a ChatGPT-based chatbot with a customized personality filter to be a friendly life coach ready to listen, ask insightful questions, and offer some useful advice any time of day or night.
It's totally free to use for both you the user and me the creator, so have at it! And because it's always available, you can feel free to ask The 24/7 Life Coach about what's on your mind anytime--
Yes, I do actually work as a life coach myself, and I guess you could say I am directly competing with myself or even replacing myself here with AI... but I also agree with my dear sarcastic friend that people should have free access to some helpful human wisdom.
And I think this AI chatbot thing is a perfect opportunity to provide exactly that, anytime-access to free listening support and helpful general advice alongside information about my personal paid services that incorporate human intuition and hypnotherapy techniques (should someone have need of something more)...
I imagine it increasing both access and choice, something which I am definitely all for. Well, that's my hope anyway, so give it a try and let's see!
if you don't trust the autopilot, better put your hands on the wheel
I'm a nature loving, organic eating, yoga & meditation practicing, poetry writing ESL & Special Education teacher by day.
And I use AI.
Looking at this list, you may wonder "Why AI?" Something doesn't fit...
Well, first let's start with the obvious practical reason: it is so useful and saves this busy educator A LOT of time. Sure, students can cheat (themselves) and use it to write a mediocre college essay in less than 5 minutes, but that isn't really its strong point. As an English teacher, I can use it to instantly generate all the example sentences I need for a lesson, quiz, test, etc. It can instantly organize random data into an Excel table for me. It is an excellent editor to help me quickly do the back-and-forth process of honing a rough draft. In fact, I'm dictating this blog post through the Google keyboard into my Punctuator AI chatbot to add the correct punctuation within seconds. It saves me time so I can spend that time and energy either doing more actual teaching or enjoying my life (both really, for a decent work/life balance). More importantly, it also gives my special needs students assistance to boost their accessibility to education and catch up a little. It's an interactive wikipedia that can summarize, translate, rewrite research into more readable form, and help them clean up their mistakes a little. That's not cheating, that's equalizing, and it's great.
Next, a quick disclaimer:
I'm also a science fiction and fantasy fan. So yes, I'm a classically trained rapier & dagger fencer who also wants to be able to talk to my computer instead of typing on a keyboard, and have it answer questions and help process data and stuff while I'm busy exploring this amazing universe--
But there's a lot more to it than just convenience and futurism. And I'm not a tech maniac or naive utopian. In fact, I used to be quite cynical and dystopian. Now I'm just a cautiously optimistic person balancing my creativity and pragmatism to live a pleasant but productive life.
AI is not a program like the old applications we have been using and imagine from the history of computing. It hasn't been programmed to process data or respond to input in predetermined ways. It has been programmed how to compare data, make its own categories and connections from those comparisons, then process inputs and outputs extrapolated from the network of connections it has settled on. The programmers are not in control of this process the way they were back when they were hard-coding programs. Now, after feeding it MASSIVE amounts of data, they "train" the program by observing its outputs and marking them as appropriate or inappropriate. This means that the AI program is producing its own (though not necessarily unique) ideas from the data it has received and continues to do so throughout its usage and interactions with programmers, trainers, and end-users --that's us. It is still learning new concepts and connections through the questions we ask it, and it is still learning what is appropriate or inappropriate through our responses. Right now. in real time. continuously.
So what happens if we conscientiously “opt out” of using AI?
Unfortunately, the less scrupulous people who see AI as an opportunity to increase their power and wealth will happily take advantage of it and continue developing it and using it to their gain. And not only will that give them an unfair advantage in the short-term, it means that the ongoing “training” of the AI through its usage will be left to them, shaping the long-term character and functioning of AI in their direction… Is that what we want?
For example, at the international level, if the US or EU do the "Great Pause" on AI development, Russia and China will almost certainly fill in that gap for us. And I don’t want to over-generalize with stereotypes, but recently the Russian government has definitely not been acting like the kind of good steward that I would want carrying the torch of AI development. And the authoritarian Chinese government isn't really the influence I would hope for either.
And if the US continues developing AI but all the ethical objectors drop out...? Well then we are leaving the development and usage of powerful AI tools to all the tech billionaires who are already sucking up the resources and opportunities of the poor and middle class and we will be further exploited and then discarded by them when they no longer have need of our labor...
Look, I'm not trying to "promote" AI here. But I do have very real stakes in where it ends up going, as do we all. So if you simply have no use for AI or are just not interested, that's fine. You don't need to be using it.
But if you're avoiding using AI specifically because of fears for its future or because it has diversity issues, then please reconsider. Maybe you're exactly the kind of person we all need to be using AI to bring that much-needed diversity and guide its development through conscientious use and feedback.
Otherwise, not only could you be missing out on some opportunities for convenience and fun, you could actually be contributing to the conditions of a self-fulfilling prophecy...
And seriously, we’re quite probably headed for an existential extinction event anyway, whether it’s mutual nuclear devastation, intensified climate change, an asteroid strike, or a rogue super-intelligent AI, and since we are not very good at taking meaningful collective action on these kinds of things, we may as well open a betting pool on which takes us out first and get our kicks generating as much bad Shakespearean sonnetry as we can…
Across all my social media I see lots of worry that reliance on AI is going to weaken the human mind, making us all dumber and less capable over time... and a common reply to this is that calculators, etc. haven't really made us collectively stupid but perhaps even more productive than ever. So what’s it going to be, is AI going to take away human agency or actually increase it?
I personally have a different line on this that I hope answers to both sides of that debate:
I suck at math. This is not because I have access to calculators and Alexa who can answer my math questions by voice. This is because I always sucked at math and I was never interested in changing that fact. It isn't just about being lazy, basic math was very challenging for me, and I decided to expend my energy on other things like reading advanced books, DIY fixing stuff, and yes, video games. Calculators or not, I was going to avoid a life of needing to regularly deal with math. And actually, I was pretty successful at arranging that..
On the flip side of this, I didn't pour my blood, sweat, and tears into a philosophy major because it was going to optimize my efficiency, make me a lot of easy money, or even make me famous... It was a serious and obscure challenge that I just happened to be very passionate about doing.
So I did it. To the fullest.
AI or not, humans are going to avoid doing what they don't want to do and throw themselves wholeheartedly into what they do want to do. Powerful tools like AI are simply likely to make it easier to do both.
And this isn't actually a new trend, we've come a long way from the tribal days where everyone needed to be good at lots of basic survival skills. Society's move towards diverse specializations has had a long history of walking hand in hand with technology... and it has always exponentially increased the breadth and depth of knowledge and capability rather than diminish it...
So if AI tools help you (or your children or your students) get through something you're not so good at or don't really enjoy doing, why not use them for that so you can focus on what you love and uniquely bring out into the world--
Like so many of you, I have recently been checking out the AI ChatGPT chatbots thing. It's fascinating. We are definitely in the early, curious and awkward stages of something that has many potential benefits and a wide field of potential problems. And there are a lot of very valid and important questions surrounding its development and use.
I studied both Philosophy and Literature, so I have a lot of thoughts about this stuff in general. But I don’t want to lay some esoteric essay on you here and bore you… especially since those chatbots can be so much more fun…
Instead, as a life coach and consultant, I want to focus practically on how the current generation of AI chatbots relates to the field of personal development and wellness. And what this might mean for you.
In particular, I have tried interacting with this Life Coach AI on the Character.AI site. This is a chatbot similar to ChatGPT but overlaid with a focused “personality” to specialize in giving life guidance. And wow! I was very surprised by the naturalness of its responses. I ran it through a very common scenario of wanting to change jobs but not really sure what to do... (Yes, I was sort of "catfishing" the chatbot, sorry!)
I expected to receive some very general, commonsense advice, which is what I got. But what I didn't expect was how it actually asked me clarifying questions and then gave me specific and detailed lists of things to consider and actions to take. And this was all with a naturalness of tone and conversationalism that made me wonder if there might have been a real human back there catfishing me under the guise of an AI...
You can read a full transcript of the conversation here.
One of my friends told me about a similar experience they had talking about a real relationship issue with this Psychologist AI on the same site.
So what's the hot take to take away here? Could this revolutionize the wellness industry, make counseling more accessible, and put me out of work?
I definitely think this could make basic counseling more accessible to people. And I think that’s a good thing. Even if (when) this free honeymoon period ends and we all have to start paying for it, the cost will still likely be quite low. It’s available anytime, responds asynchronously at your pace, and feels very anonymous. That creates a very low barrier entry for people to try their first experience of receiving some kind of counseling.
And it’s pretty easy to imagine someone playing around with this as a curiosity and then end up actually asking about their real problems…
As for the quality of chatbot counseling, I would characterize it like this:
if you want a distillation of common wisdom on the issue you are working on but don't want to spend hours searching and reading blog posts, this would be very efficient and helpful. And it comes to you in the engaging form of an interactive conversation.
For some people that’s all they really need to get them going on their way themselves. Yay! Score a point for the ease and efficiency of AI--
For others, this could be their first step onto the path of getting the quality help they really need to deal with deeper, more intense issues: an easily accessible gateway to future wellness…
And that’s exactly where professionals like myself come in. We do spend hours researching, reading and writing blog posts and books on psychology, neuroscience, physiology, productivity, spirituality, etc. We study and create a variety of specialized and useful techniques that are not common knowledge and require skill and experience to implement effectively (such as hypnotherapy). And if this is what you end up needing to go deeper and farther in your journey of personal development and wellness, we are here for you.
So I actually encourage you to go ahead and give chatbot consulting a try-- lightly, gently. See if its conversational distillation of internet knowledge gives you some keys to open the right doors to wherever you need to be--
Well, actually, I eventually went ahead and ended up making my own ChatGPT-based life coach chatbot using the free Zapier Interfaces service and embedded it right here on this website so you could easily access it and give it a try. It is freely available any time of day or night and is therefore aptly named The 24/7 Life Coach.
I say to try it lightly and gently for a reason. And this is important. Because in their current iteration, GPT-based chatbots are not sentient, conscious AI with general intelligence. They are actually just predictive text algorithms (like your smartphone’s autocomplete function) that have been leveled up in sophistication and statistically trained on a massive dataset of written stuff (basically everything on the internet in the year 2021)... So they don’t have any real intention behind their output. And because of that, they sometimes innocently but confidently spout nonsense or inaccuracies. And there is always the chance that something very inappropriate and hurtful can slip through their internal filters onto your screen. So please don’t take them too seriously, no matter how natural and helpful they might sound. And if you are suicidal, I would recommend skipping them entirely and going directly to a human you can trust...