How do you really know that Facebook message came from who you think it came from? Perhaps it’s a sockpuppet account designed to stir up political division, or simply someone impersonating a friend to try and entice you to send over some cash.
Now, Facebook is testing a feature that provides additional information about direct messages from unknown contacts, including whether an account was recently created and what sort of phone number it used to log in.
“We are testing a way to provide people with more context on folks they may not have connected with previously,” Dalya Browne from Facebook’s Messenger team told Motherboard in an email.
Erin Gallagher, a multimedia artist, provided Motherboard with a screenshot of the new messenger warning. It says that the person sending a direct message logged into Messenger using a phone number from Russia; that the account was recently created; and that the unsolicited user is different from a Facebook friend with the same name. The last point would presumably be helpful for identifying accounts that may be trying to impersonate other users.
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Facebook has faced a wave of misinformation campaigns. In one case, in the lead up to the 2016 election, workers for the so-called Russian troll factory enticed Americans through Facebook to launch anti-immigrant protests. Facebook’s tested features may allow users to better identify whether an account approaching them is fraudulent or not, assuming the scammer hasn’t taken certain protections, such as registering a phone number in a different country than their own, and using older, more fleshed out accounts, to cover their tracks.
“This is just a small test,” Browne told Motherboard.