This article appeared on Rage following my interview with The Star.
By KEVIN TAN and PHYLLIS HO
ONE fine day, Chee Yun Sam, a 22-year-old model, started getting a barrage of angry tweets and messages from his friends.
Apparently, Chee had posted something rather racist on his Twitter account, and a lot of people weren’t taking too kindly to it.
Only problem was – and you guessed it – he had no idea what he had supposedly posted.
Chee had become a victim of “tweetjacking”, the popular new prank that’s making stuff like wedgies and the ol’ chalk-on-the-chair trick like SO last millennium.
What happened was a friend of Chee’s managed to get his hands on his smartphone, and used Chee’s Twitter account to post a joke.
That’s how most tweetjacks happen. You “hijack” someone’s Twitter account (or Facebook) and post something embarrassing, making it seem like it came straight from the account holder.
It’s usually innocent stuff, like confessions of love for a mutual friend (or Rebecca Black, which is equally embarrassing), or probably something gross like “I smell my socks every morning”.
But unfortunately for Chee, his friends didn’t just post some innocent joke.”It wasn’t a laughing matter at all,” he said. “My friend posted something that was quite racist. And people didn’t know I was being tweetjacked! Some of them took it really seriously and were very upset.”
While we at R.AGE always love a good, harmless prank (like the time we moved Sharmila Nair’s car to a different basement level. That sure taught her not to leave her keys lying around…), it seems tweetjacking, Facebook-jacking (which goes by a rather more unsavoury term on the Internet) and all kinds of social media-jacking can quite easily get out of hand.
And given how integral social media has become to so many of our lives and careers, your next tweetjack might not turn out to be so funny after all.
Denielle Leong, 18, has been Facebook and Twitter-jacked many times by her college buddies and even her boyfriend.
“Well on Facebook you’d normally see pretty disgusting stuff like ‘I like to lick my armpits’. Or sometimes it’ll be openly praising someone who is hot. It’s very different on Twitter, for some reason,” she said.
On Twitter, her account has been hijacked by her friends several times to post some flirtatious tweets, which obviously led to some rather awkward responses from her male friends.
“Some people really do retweet and buy everything they see, even the most random things. It just shows how people online are so gullible,” she said.
But probably the main reason why social media hijacking is becoming so common, is simply because the opportunities are everywhere now. An idle smartphone at a party, a Facebook account logged-on at the college library, an iPad that isn’t password protected… They’re all hijacks waiting to happen.
Despite having been hijacked so many times, Leong admits that she doesn’t always log off her accounts after using them on laptops and computers. She might be making herself a prime target for another prank, but she says she doesn’t mind – as long as it’s nothing harmful.
Lawyer Foong Cheng Leong, 31, the Kuala Lumpur Bar Council’s IT committee co-chairman, agrees that social media-jacking is actually “harmless”.
The problem is – as it is with all pranks – some people tend to go overboard, inadvertently posting things that are too sensitive, or sometimes even unlawful. “Publishes that are unlawful include posts that are deemed as defamatory, seditious, obscene, malicious – the breaking of the law in section 233 of Communication and Multimedia act,” said Foong.
Basically that means if you post something as part of a tweetjack that breaks those laws, you – and the friend whose account you jacked – could potentially face a fine of up to RM50,000, a jail sentence of up to one year, or both.
And with the recent amendments to the Evidence Act, Foong says that social media users should protect their accounts and monitor their publishes even more carefully. “Now, all the more young people have to be aware of their publishes, because every post will hold the publisher (account owner) accountable,” he said. “Only the account owners will be considered as the publisher until proved otherwise.
“That’s when tweet-jacking can be a problem – if the tweetjacker does not own up and admit that he or she is the person who published the (unlawful) post,” he added.
But even if you aren’t breaking the law, a social media hijacking can still do a lot of damage. Imagine for instance, if your employer stumbles upon a tasteless joke on your Facebook or Twitter account.
Joshua Desmond, 26, who, funnily enough, works as a social media planner in a digital advertising firm, was the victim of one particularly tasteless tweetjacking.
“I don’t get tweetjacked very often, but it happens from time to time,” said Desmond. “The tweets are normally just for laughs.”
But then one day, the stuff got real.
A friend used Desmond’s account to make a joke about his sexuality, which most of his followers understood to be a tweetjack. But there was one friend who didn’t get the joke, and decided to tell Desmond’s parents about it.
“My dad just rang me up one day and asked me about it, and he sounded very serious,” said Desmond. “I still remember how upset he was when he called me.
“Even after I convinced them it was only a prank, they were still upset and told me not to let it happen again. It wasn’t something funny to them at all.”
Apart from the odd prank that gets really embarrassing, or the unlawful post that could get you in trouble with the law, social media hijacking could also put your personal safety at risk.
Foong advises people to keep personal information like house addresses, mobile phone numbers, and PIN numbers off social media, because if someone was able to hijack your account to make a silly joke, someone could also potentially access that information for something more malicious altogether.
In any case, it’s important to not only protect your smartphones and to always log out from your social media accounts, but also to make sure you have a safe password.
According to Foong, there is actually a rather common set of passwords which people tend to choose from.
“Many people use common passwords like ‘abc123’, and those passwords are easy to crack,” said Foong. “Believe it or not, the most common password in the world is ‘password’.”
Unfortunately, Sarenraj Rajendran, 22, an American Degree Programme student, had to learn that lesson the hard way.
One of Sarenraj’s friends somehow managed to guess his Facebook password, but that wasn’t such a big deal. Things turned ugly when he found out that Sarenraj used the same password for his Internet service account.
As a prank, the friend made all kinds of changes to his account settings, and even purchased some upgrades – additional email storage and an online anti-virus package. They were only 17 back then.
“I got to know about it when my ‘hijacker’ friend went around telling other friends, and even presented the proof of purchase to brag about what he had done.”
Social media expert David Lian, the Asia Pacific Digital Lead of PR agency Text 100, says the integration between all the different forms of social media makes these hijackings potentially much more damaging.
“These days, all your social networks are connected. Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram… Even your email addresses. If someone has access to one of your accounts, they could easily have access to all your accounts.
“They could even have access to credit card information on some of these applications,” said Lian.
The problem with us running this story, of course, is that people now know that “Tweet-jacking may not be dangerous if people know the limit. But at the end of the day, everyone should prevent themselves from the risk of the dangers of it. This really taught me to really be careful when it comes to protecting my personal social media. I can’t let things like that happen again,” said Chee.