Beyond the Firewall: Tricksters and Players

Recently, I had to wake my predator instinct up and go on a house hunt to find a place to live in Leiden. No traditional method bore fruit, so I had to continue my journey in digital waters more treacherous and wilder than house listing websites (complete list). Long story short, I logged into the wild Zuckerbergian jungle of Facebook after 10 years of inactivity and this is how it went.

I readied my weapons and entered the “magic starrycode” at the gate. As soon as I logged in, distractions surfaced to sway me from my mission. Child celebrity glow ups, deep sea discoveries, relatable Monday memes… Under normal circumstances, I would have scrolled brainlessly but as a young adult, sometimes I get an inexplicable urge to be responsible.

Among many others with similar names, I joined “Leiden Housing No Scammers” Facebook group. Once infiltrated, I sent out applications and messaged several people. Eventually, I got a phone number of a landlord. I reached out on Whatsapp and we started having a conversation. Felt like a panda reaching for bamboo just when I realised I was on the edge of getting bamboozled. The post that I had replied now had several comments under it: “scam”, “hoax”, “beware!”

Later I realised this was a common thing in these groups and that by now, people recognised and could tell scammers from real people. The frequency of scams led to the formation of a community that is fully aware and tries to warn others by commenting, reposting or calling out scams. In another instance, the post was so obviously a scam that the comment section was turned off. In an hour, the post got tens of reactions of “angry faces”. Mhmm, nothing sweeter than public humiliation of wrongdoers.

I should confess, after a while I even got happy to see scammers, so I could see the community calling them out. Victims made individual posts about their experiences and gave tips to avoid scams. Although my situation was hopeless with no houses to be found, I still felt human as I explored seas of posts alongside fellow users who did not want to get scammed as much as I did.

Now, if you ask how it went with the real people, I got left on read more times than in my entire dating life. Finally, I got in touch with a landlord and a contractor. Never saw them until after moving in, everything was handled through Whatsapp. The process was actually smooth except the contractor went on vacation and disappeared for a week without notice in the middle of my move-in. I only found that out because I saw his Whatsapp status in another country. Social media can be informative like that…

I wanted to tell this personal anecdote to introduce a more pressing thought I had. Social media can be used like a marketplace where people can call out, humiliate or expose others that did them wrong. Apart from serving justice, it is also a safe place to communicate thoughts, experiences and feelings after these injustices take place. In this sense, it opens accessible channels for fast spread of information and for the correction of misinformation. Nevertheless, I wonder if it overall slows everyone and everything down, because we need to filter through so much scam, made up facts, conspiracies and tricksters. This goes not only for Facebook housing groups, but for any website, ad, coin, video, pyramid scheme, etc. By now, I have heard maybe hundreds of different ways of scamming and the number of victims only goes up. Cyber crimes are harder to be handled by authorities and not everyone is informed enough to protect themselves, let alone others.

If I were a little bit more naive, I could have gotten scammed very easily. Just thinking about that makes me so irritated that imagine getting actually scammed. To those who already got frustrated reading this, I would recommend Coffeezilla and Scammer Payback on Youtube for watching scammers get what they deserve. Let karma shine on us all.