Facebook Is Still Broken …

I received this email a few minutes ago (and a few hours after I noticed that my Facebook account was down).


For the fourth time, Facebook has disabled my account because the company doesn’t believe I am who I say I am.

Yes, apparently I’m the one with the fake account.

Not “Obrien Gary Neil” or “Michael Walter” or “Nelson Colbert” or “Trofimov Sergei” or “Anne Landman” or “Dounas Mounir” or “Kyle W. Norman” or one of the hundreds of other fake accounts that I have reported to Facebook for using my images to scam vulnerable women across the globe. No. Once again, Facebook has decided to disable my account for using a fake name.

Despite the fact that I’ve already had to submit my government-issued ID to Facebook in each previous case.

Despite the fact that my account is nearly a decade old and linked to 2000+ Facebook friends.

Despite the fact that I’ve had countless media interviews about the problem.

If it can happen to me, it could certainly happen to you.

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but I really need your help. Please share so that we can get Facebook’s attention. The reporting system is badly flawed, and as I’ve written previously, Facebook really needs to get it fixed.

Romance Scams Continue And I Really Need Your Help

If you follow me closely, you know that I’ve been discussing romance scams (also known as “catfishing”) for several years now. In short, a romance scam is where criminals will harvest photos from social media and dating site profiles and then use these photos to set up fake profiles on these same sites to enter into online relationships with individuals for the purpose of defrauding victims out of money. A more technical definition of the term romance scam is provided below.

A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims’ money, bank accounts,credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf. (Wikipedia)

For at least eight years, scammers have been using my photos, and the photos of my family, to commit these crimes. I hear from new victims on a daily basis as they frequently find the “real” me through my previous writings on the topic. Unfortunately, many victims find out too late, often after they have already sent significant amounts of money to these scammers and/or have developed a significant emotional attachment. These are deeply complex crimes that rely on a victim’s capacity for love, trust, and good will for the execution of fraud.

Today, I read a victim’s report on a Facebook group that is dedicated to raising awareness of these scammers. The post is worth the read in itself as it highlights some of the tactics used in these cases. Relevant in this case is that the victim pointed to several social media profiles that were created with my photos and the photos of my family. I’ve included screenshots of these fake profiles below with some added context.

First, there is the fake profile using my photos and the name Alex Gallart. The use of a similar first name is notable as past victims have told me that once they found my real identity they would approach the scammers with evidence of me actually being “Alec Couros”. In turn, the scammers would simply say that they use slightly different names or surnames for whatever purpose (e.g., mother’s name, professional name, etc.). In many cases, this additional lie seems to be taken up as plausible.


Then there’s photos of my real brother George whose fake name is John Williams in this case. Scammers will set up networks of fake profiles and communicate to victims from each of these to validate the key profile’s identity.


Then, why not throw in photos of my real daughter as well? In this case, the scammers use the fake name of Clara Gallant to set up yet another profile. Alec Gallart seems to be more authentic with each additional connection.


Wait. Not real enough for you? How about we add photos of my real mother in yet another fake profile. As we know, grandmas will never lie to you.


But I guess that wasn’t enough. A family’s set of fake profiles is pretty convincing, but the scammers felt that they needed to go the extra mile to make Alec Gallart even more convincing. The scamers thought it would be great to exploit my father’s death (he passed away in 2013) by including this photo of my children at his burial mound.


And they also included this photo of my mother remembering my father’s death via Facebook.

_1__Maria_Gallart 2

So there you go. The more complex the social network becomes, the more convincing the scam will be.

So, this is where I need your help. This happens to me every single day. But it’s not just happening to me. It’s also happening to thousands of others on a daily basis. But, Facebook and other social networks just simply do not acknowledge that this problem exists. For instance, there is no specific way to report these accounts as romance scammers in Facebook’s reporting tool. In fact, as you can see by my friend Alan’s experience, these fake accounts will often be deemed as following Facebook’s community standards!

Back in August, Facebook announced 1 billion daily users. I am sure that number pleases their investor’s but I wonder how valid that claim is considering I’ve personally reported many hundreds of fake accounts and there are logically thousands more that I do not know of. Multiply my reality by the thousands of other people’s profile photos that are being used and I begin to feel that Facebook is intentionally not addressing this reality due to their significance.

But even if these accounts don’t really put a dint into the one billion user reality, there are serious implications here for the identities and well being of their current and future users. A social media site needs to feel safe if one is to connect, share, and communicate with other users, especially with those that we do not know so well. Facebook needs to do something about this problem, but I am convinced that they won’t act unless there is some heat on this issue.

So please, share this post widely. I want Facebook to acknowledge this problem. But more so, I want this issue to get to someone at Facebook that can help address this problem through the revamp of their reporting service and through a number of possible mechanisms to detect the scammers before they can hurt people. I’ve got ideas on how this can be done, but I need to be connected to someone who can address these changes.

If you want to know more about these romance scams, I’ve written several other posts and created several Youtube screencasts. See below. And, thanks for any help you can provide.

The Real Alec Couros

Facebook’s Identity Authentication Is Broken

Update: Within 24 hours of writing this post, Facebook restored my account. I am happy for this but the problem for Facebook’s identity authentication still exists. It is my hope that engaged thinkers around network identities will continue to put forth potential solutions to these emerging and difficult problems.

You may have read my previous posts about scammers using my personal photos to construct fake identities for the purpose of entering into online romantic relationships with women and defrauding them out of money or goods. If not, here’s the original post which outlines the problem and here is the followup.

Over the better part of seven years, I have notified and reported hundreds of fake profiles, some that have been made up of my name and photos, and others comprised of my photos and alternate names. These profiles have shown up on sites such as Twitter, VK.com, Match.com, Christian Mingle, and most prominently, Facebook. At any given time, there are at least three fake Alec Couros’ on Twitter or Facebook, and likely dozens if not hundreds of others that I do not know about. It has been a frustrating game of wack-a-mole. The other discouraging piece is that many women (at least one per week on average) continue to report to me that they have been scammed, or nearly scammed, by these criminals. In many cases, even when there isn’t a loss of money, there is certainly a high incidence of heartbreak and hurt.

And, while I have successfully had Facebook take down hundreds of profiles, apparently they no longer believe that I am Alec Couros. My Facebook account has been suspended as seen by the notice shared below.


I’ve submitted my government ID with the hope that this will be resolved soon. However, this is incredibly frustrating. My assumption was that a Facebook account that is 7+ years old with over 2000 friends and hundreds of posts would have had some weight in terms of authenticity. I assume also that my profile has been taken down by one of the very scammers that I have been reporting, likely from an account that is fairly new (less than a few months old) and connected to a limited number of friends.

But mostly, I’m really frustrated because the response from Facebook on romance scamming has been entirely absent. Through messages sent through reporting dozens of these fake profiles, I have been regularly, and perhaps naively, offering Facebook my services (for free) to better help them envision a way that they can fix their reporting and authentication system. I am more than happy to pay my way to get to Facebook HQ (or wherever I need to be) to sit down with people and help them fix this. And while, part of this is selfish (I want this 7+ year problem solved once and for all), I really do want to fix this for others.

As an addendum to this post, I want to share my reasons for even wanting a Facebook account. I know that there are countless reasons to quit Facebook altogether. I have thought about closing it down many times. However, I have continued to use Facebook for three main purposes:

  1. I enjoy it. Still. I connect with people there that I do not connect with in any other place. And I enjoy what they have to share. Although there is much content that can be annoying, I feel that Facebook still connects me to people I know well, and people that I want to know more about, in ways that other spaces do not easily allow.
  2. My timeline is meaningful. I regularly look back through my timeline to see what I have posted, and it gives me a sense of who I am and who I have become. Interactions that I’ve had with friends in Facebook still make me laugh and make me cry. My message history, for instance, includes conversations I’ve had with hundreds of people, including my dad. I don’t want to lose those meaningful artefacts.
  3. I’ve used it to verify who I am. Due to the fact that my profile was long-standing and well-connected, the profile seemed from the outside as being more authentic. Thus, this was the place where many of the romance scam victims felt safe to come forward and trust that I am who I say I am. In this way, Facebook helped me protect my identity. While, I’d rather have my identify authenticated through other personally-controlled spaces (like this blog), for many of these victims, my Facebook profile felt like a familiar and trustworthy space.

So, I don’t do this often, but could I ask you to share this post? Certainly, I want my profile restored, and perhaps I’ll only have to wait a few days for this to happen. But more so, I want to help Facebook recognize, remedy, and acknowledge this huge problem that they have with romance scams. Facebook’s identity authentication is broken and it needs to be fixed. And daily, people are being hurt and scammed because of this problem.

Thanks for listening,

The ‘real’ Alec Couros

“It’s Not Going Away”

My brother George recently wrote the post “Denying Our World” where he recalls a compelling narrative that causes him to reflect upon what it means to live ‘online’ and our associated imperative as educators to teach to this reality. In the comments of this post, ‘Kirsten T.” pushes back with a thoughtful response, and in part states:

I find the argument “It’s not going away” to be neither substantive, nor compelling. It echos to me the feet stamping of educators who say “I’ve always done it this way”.

I’ve used a form of the “it’s not going away” argument in past conversations and presentations, but its meaning for me seems very different than what is described by Kirsten. Since there seems to be discrepancies of understanding, I feel that the statement is worth exploring and further articulating. So what do I mean when I say “it’s not going away”?

First of all, what is the “it” that I am referring to? “It” is a transformed reality where access to new tools, abundant content, and vast networks simultaneously provide countless new affordances and associated challenges. “It” describes:

I could go on …

And what do I mean by “… is not going away”?

Change is constant, so obviously, our current conditions will not remain exactly the same. Rather, there are likely three possible futures related to these new affordances (this is a simplified argument but for real substance, check out Downes’ “Ten Futures“)

  1. Things regress, people get bored with media, and we go back to some pre-telephony version of society. I think this reality may include roller-rinks, dance-halls, and lots and lots of bowling. Actually, bowling may be a bit too high-tech especially if there are those digital scoreboards. In any case, I’m pretty sure this reality isn’t going to happen so there is not much need for further speculation.
  2. Governments, against the will of the majority, sign secret treaties that seriously threaten future innovation and the openness of the Internet. This is a horrifying reality, and unfortunately not very far-fetched. However, online protests to ensure and protect our Internet freedoms have been unprecedented in size and scope. The Internet allows citizens to have their voices heard, and collectively, people have successfully influenced ill-informed government legislation. And, an open and free Internet is the key to our own self-determination.
  3. Things move ahead; new tools are created, more content becomes available, and networks continue to be used to form and sustain important aspects of our relationships (including those of teaching and learning). And the implications of these technologies will continue to shape our world. Think, for instance, of what the impact of this “breakthrough” in spoken-word translation could have on our lives. We will soon have the ability to have accurate, automated live translation of our words into just about any language spoken. What does that mean for second-language learning? What does that mean for opening up our world to different forms of cultural knowledge? What does that mean for creating a more global, and peaceful society? And that is just *one* new technology.

We live in complex, media-rich, connected environments. As adults, we have built these spaces for our kids and set them up in situations where I’ve heard members of our generation exclaim, “I’m sure glad Youtube or Facebook didn’t exist when I was a kid!” But these do exist. And no one – no one – really understands the full implications of what these devices and spaces have on the future of our children. So what are our *obligations* in all of this as administrators, parents, and educators? Do we selfishly ignore “it” because it feels uncomfortable and complex? Or do we roll-up our sleeves, embrace this discomfort, and live up to our ethical responsibilities for our kids?

We don’t need to have all of the answers. But we need to model what it means to try.

Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2)

Last December, I announced my contribution to Part I of the Technology & Social Media (Special Issue) of in education journal. I am now pleased to announce that Part II of this Special Issue is now available, featuring nine academic articles and an edited book review. Acknowledgments are made in the Editorial, but I do want to thank, once again, all of those individuals (e.g., editors, reviewers, authors, readers) who helped make this issue a success.

Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2), 2010, 16(1)


Tweet & A Poke: Camosun Keynote

I was fortunate and honoured to have given the keynote address at Camosun College’s 2009 Walls Optional conference in Victoria, BC. The presentation provided a brief overview of the changing nature of knowledge, the rise of social networks, and the impact of emerging technologies/media on teaching & learning. Below, i have included the recorded video feed, the slide deck via Slideshare, and a link to the original Keynote file. Note that the Keynote file is very large (over 300MB) as it includes video files. Also, this file includes my speaker notes which were written as personal prompts and not as the actual, given dialogue.

Full video of the presentation is available here.

Slide deck (via SlideShare).

Full presentation available here in Keynote.app format.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the presentation, or any of the content discussed. And thanks to the good people at Camosun College, the individuals I met at the #VictoriaTweetup the night before, and those that drove in from outside of Victoria for the event. It was a pleasure to meet you all!

Update: A Blip.tv version of the video is now available.

Danah Boyd on Social Networks

Discover Magazine recently interviewed Danah Boyd, a well known PhD candidate who has been studying social networks. The interview is described as “a look at how kids use technology, where mobile phones are going, and the Facebook vs. Myspace smackdown.” Click the photo to watch the interview.

Danah Boyd on Social Networks

For many, there will not be much new information on social networks here. However, for those who have missed the piece on the beginnings of formalized social network services and how kids are connecting online, there are some interesting points made here.

How To Opt Out Of Facebook Beacon

In case you’ve been sleeping, and don’t know what Facebook Beacon is:

Beacon is a part of Facebook’s Ads system that sends data from external websites to Facebook, ostensibly for the purpose of allowing targeted advertisements, and allowing users to share their activities with their friends. Beacon was launched on November 6, 2007 with forty-four partner websites.

Here’s a very short Jingcast of how Facebook may let you opt out of this service.

Note: “It is as yet unclear whether or not opting out of the Beacon program stops third party websites from collecting information from Facebook entirely.” (Source)

MySpace & Google Form Partnernship

Further to the OpenSocial announcement I mentioned yesterday, it seems that Google and Myspace have formed a partnership through this venture.

Although Microsoft Corp. beat Google in the bidding for a minority stake in MySpace rival Facebook, Google “may have just come out of nowhere and checkmated Facebook in the social networking power struggle,” blogged Michael Arrington, who operates the technology blog TechCrunch. Microsoft announced last week that it was investing $240 million in Facebook as part of a strategic alliance.

Maybe I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it seems a bit unlikely that Google “may have just come out of nowhere”. Perhaps Google got M$ to overbid a Facebook partnership, expected the result and had this deal in the back pocket all along. Hmmmmm. No matter how you look at it, it’s just another reason not to mess with Google.

Open Social: Social Applications Across Platforms

Open Social is launching tomorrow, and it’s being announced all over the web and via twitter.

In a nutshell, Open Social is an open web API that can be supported by two kinds of developers:

    “Containers” — social networking systems like Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Friendster, and…
    “Apps” — applications that want to be embedded within containers — for example, the kinds of applications built by iLike, Flixster, Rockyou, and Slide.

Open Social is very similar to the Facebook Platform announced a few months back, however, Open Social is a standard that can work across all adopting services.

My favorite part:

Open Social — by making this exact same kind of opportunity available to any other social network or container and every app developer and site on the web, in an open and compatible way — will prevent Facebook from having any kind of long-term proprietary developer lock-in. Developers will easily write to both Facebook and Open Social, and have every reason to do so — in fact, 100+ million reasons to do so.

When proprietary standards are threatened, I am a very happy guy.