Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rick Steves: "Travel changes people"

Lucy and I have gone on short-term mission trips to Mexico, Liberia and Bolivia. Lucy has also gone to Brazil, Ethiopia, Zambia and Uganda—I was not able to go on the latter excursions because of my job. We’ve also traveled to Italy more than a dozen times, and once lived there for as long as 10 months. How can I explain our travel fascination and the satisfaction and feelings of growth and that we feel?
Lucy--the elephant whisperer--in Zambia..

In preparing for a coming tour of Southern Italy with Rick Steves tour company, I read a passage in one of his travel guides that eloquently discusses both benefits of travel while also giving advice about how to get the most out of each experience. I like what he said so much that I will repeat it here verbatim. Thanks for advice, Rick!

"If your trip is low on magic moments, kick yourself and make things happen. If you don’t enjoy a place, maybe you don’t know enough about it. Seek the truth. Recognize tourist traps. Give a culture the benefit of your open mind. See things as different but not better or worse. Any culture has much to share.

"Of course, travel, like the world, is a series of hills and valleys. Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. If something’s not to your liking, change your liking. Travel is addictive. It can make you a happier American as well as a citizen of the world. Our Earth is home to six and a half billion equally important people. It’s humbling to travel and find that people don’t envy Americans. Europeans like us, but, with all due respect, they wouldn’t trade passports.

"Globe-trotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Regrettably, there are forces in our society that want you dumbed down for their convenience. Don’t let it happen. Thoughtful travel engages you with the world—more important than ever these days. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life. Rather than fear the diversity on this planet, travelers celebrate it. Many travelers toss aside their hometown blinders. Their prized souvenirs are the strands of different cultures they decide to knit into their own character."

Taken from Rick Steves’ Rome, 2009, page 16.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ironically Facebook has de-activated me for pretending to be myself while reporting other fake accounts

Facebook has de-activated my account because I was pretending to be myself, which “goes against the Facebook Community Standards.” That sounds a little weird, but that’s exactly what has happened.

My downfall started earlier this year, when a Facebook user from France contacted me to tell me that someone with an account using the name Robert Spadoni (my middle name) befriended her, using some of my photos in his profile. Robert convinced her that he was a trustworthy family man, she said, and then he defrauded her out of a lot money on a fake art deal. She realized that I had nothing to do with the scam, but she said she wanted to make me aware of what had happened and hoped that I could help her get the scammer’s Facebook account shut down.

I wrote to Facebook, and the reply said I should contact “Robert Spadoni” and ask him to stop using my photos. Nothing in the reply spoke to the woman’s claim to have been scammed. “Robert” gave a very short reply saying he would remove my photos. I didn’t elaborate on the French woman’s claims because I didn’t think it would help, and she really hadn't given me any details on how the scam had worked. But it did prompt me to do a Facebook search for other people who might be using my name or photos.

I found 11 profiles using my full name, Paul Robert Spadoni, and all of them had every indication of being fake. They had few or no friends, they had either no photos or few photos in their albums, and most had no posts or comments. They did have profile photos and list occupations, but a quick check showed that the organizations they worked for did not actually exist. Two of them were supposedly in the U.S. Army. They showed head and shoulders shots of nice looking men in a military uniform. I did an image search of the men and found that one was actually Aaron Ramos, who is described in a youtube video 
as “the most abused U.S. Soldier on the Internet about stolen identity and abused pic.” The poor guy has had his photos used in hundreds of fake accounts that attempt to befriend and then defraud people. The other is Harold Greene, a general who was killed in the war in Afganistan in 2014.

I assumed that the person or persons who created all the accounts eventually intended to use them in the same way that a scammer had used the Robert Spadoni account but just hadn’t gotten around to adding more photos and soliciting friends. Finally about two weeks ago, I had some free time while sitting in front of my computer and decided to report nine of the accounts using my name. I left out the two that had no profile photos or job data.
I received the following auto reply from Facebook:
"Hi Paul,
We'll let you know when we've reviewed the profile you reported for pretending to be someone they're not. If it goes against one of our Community Standards, we'll remove it or follow up with them.
Thanks, The Facebook Team"

Three of the fake accounts have been removed, but six are still there, including the ones with the photos of Aaron Ramos and Harold Greene. Then, two days later, I tried to log in to my Facebook account and received this message: “Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else. If you think we made a mistake, please reply to this message with a government-issued ID so we can confirm that this is your account.”

I laughed at the irony and sent a scan of my passport and driver’s license, thinking that all would soon be cleared up. Three days later I received a reply: “Thanks for sending your ID. To complete this ID verification, we need you to reply to this email and attach a photo of yourself holding your government-issued ID. Please make sure that we can clearly see your face in both the photo and the ID. Thanks in advance for your understanding of this security policy. Luca, Community Operations”

I took a selfie while I held up my drivers license and sent it to Facebook. Four days have passed without a response. I’ve now been off Facebook for nearly two weeks, and I do miss seeing new photos of my grandkids, neighbor Sherrie’s sunset photos and other status updates from friends. I can’t communicate with some of my friends in Italy because we use Facebook to message each other. A couple of times Lucy has said something like, “Oh, did you see that so-and-so had her baby,” or “You saw that post about the Smiths in Italy, right?” Then she sees my scowl: “Oh, that’s right, you’re not on Facebook any more. I forgot.”

I suppose Facebook has more important things to do than look at my messages and restore my account, since they have some 2 billion active users. I’ve also read that Facebook itself estimates that 83 million of its accounts are fake. But I have to wonder why they took the time to de-activate my account, which had hundreds of family photos, status updates and comments from friends. And why they would allow a profile that uses a photo that is already famous for being used fraudulently. I know Facebook is a sophisticated service with complex algorithms lying below the surface to govern how it works, but even if it operates pretty much on auto pilot, you’d think the actual pilots would look up once in a while to see that its real customers and fans don’t get run over.

Update: After 17 days, my account was restored, with no explanation or apologies. The fake accounts are still there.