If you use Facebook at all, you will have seen some random questions occasionally. You have also, probably, answered a few of them. I once answered the question about how far I live from my birthplace, and the one about how many grandparents I can name. Mostly, though, I have resisted the temptation.
These questions trouble me because I never know where they originate from. I only know that for any given question, someone on my list of friends has responded to it. Otherwise, their source is a mystery, and I am suspicious.
My Facebook news feed is mostly made up of updates and photos from friends and family. I sometimes hide news, politics, and religion posts, and similarly do away with any advertising that is repetitious or annoying for any reason. Occasionally there is a crossover between people’s lives and the news, such as when there is a catastrophic weather event, but most of the time I can keep the message stream free of anything that might make me angry, or fearful, or irritated, or frustrated.
Those leading questions, though, catch me out too often. I may be happily scrolling through the day’s posts when one of those questions pops up and intrigues me. Today’s question was, “If you were given an envelope with the time and date of your death inside, would you open it?” Why do I feel the need to answer an off-the-wall question posed by someone I do not know? There must be some psychological reason for it, and it probably has to do with people-pleasing, or being obedient, or fear of rejection, or something like that. Regardless, when I see a question, I want to answer it.
There is no earthly reason why anyone would want to name a pet after the last meal I ate, or use my name spelled backwards for anything. So, those questions must be serving some other purpose, and my spidey-sense tells me that purpose is probably not in my best interests.
Someone I know thought that the question-posers were probably seeking clues to his password, and so he answered every question with the word “Password.” That was a cute response, but it had the side effect of putting those questions into the news feed of everyone on his Friends list, thus spreading the specious questions even further.
It seems more likely that the questions are scraping data from the respondent’s Facebook page to add to the ever-growing cache of personal information that is being stored about us somewhere in the cloud. After Brexit in the U.K. and the 2016 election in the U.S. we discovered that Russia and Cambridge Analytica had been interfering by planting false and/or misleading posts on Facebook. Since then, I have become mistrustful of any post that is not clearly from someone I know.
The purpose of those random posts was not only to misinform but also to gather data to form psychographic analyses. They sometimes did this by inviting readers to respond to quizzes. Psychographics are the attitudes, interests, personality, values, and tastes of a particular group of people, and they are being used to influence our behaviours. I strongly suspect that the random questions on my Facebook feed are a part of that effort.
I know that Mark Zuckerberg has promised to do something about this, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. If the question doesn’t come from someone I know, I’m not answering it, but I have a question of my own to ask the questioners: “Why are you asking me this?” And I would really like to know the answer.