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Digital Citizens, Friday, February 13, 2015

As you might have heard, Facebook celebrated its 11th birthday last week—and it’s come a long way since its Harvard dorm-room launch.  Approaching 1.4 billion active users—or nearly 20% of the World’s population—Facebook has changed the way we work, connect, learn, interact, and share online.  It may not have been the first social networking site, but it has definitely become the largest and most influential so far. 

A lot has changed since the site originally known as TheFacebook was first launched—especially when it comes to cyber safety and online crime.  Just as Facebook has changed in look, design, and user experience over the years, so too have the nature of the threats we face online.

Major Online Threats Then: Viruses and Spam

Back in 2004, opening an infected spam email and downloading a virus was still one of the biggest online threats digital citizens faced. Take for example the MyDoom virus, which exposed “computers running any of the latest versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system” to a massive virus.  

Still ranked as the number one most “catastrophic computer viruses” by Norton, MyDoom:

  • Appeared as a bounced email, infecting a user’s computer once the email was opened.
  • “Pilfered the new victim’s Outlook Address book,” sending infected emails to their contacts.
  • Infected over a million computers in just days and two million before it was finished.
  • Slowed Internet performance, created headaches for Internet Service Providers, and ultimately caused $38 billion in damages.
One of the fastest-spreading viruses seen at its time, MyDoom also contributed to a doubling of the number of SPAM emails from December 2003 to January 2004.  While we’ve continued to contend with both spam and viruses over the years, we’ve also benefited from more effective SPAM filters, better virus detection technology, and more prosecution of spammers under the CAN-SPAM Act
Major Online Threats Now: Identity Theft, Cyber Bullying, and Content Abuse
Cyber crime has only grown and evolved since the launch of Facebook.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that it’s become a top priority for federal law enforcement.  These days, much of the discussion about online safety focuses on theft of personal information, identity theft, protecting children from cyber bullying, and the threat of malware and hackers—many of whom use stolen content to lure unsuspecting victims.  


When it comes to many of the online crimes that are becoming all too commonplace, Facebook has an enormous role to play.  For both good and bad, Facebook has made it easier than ever to find and connect with people.  While the vast majority of interactions are perfectly harmless and friendly, there are still a number of threats that parents and children alike should know about, including:

  • Cyber bullying, harassment, and stalking
  • Phishing scams and theft of personal information
  • Identity theft and content abuse or misuse

By transforming the way we share and how we interact online, Facebook has left an indelible footprint on the digital landscape.  As it continues to grow and evolve, Facebook should remain committed to protecting its users online.  From the recent announcement that the company would be starting a new social networking site dedicated to cyber security, we’re confident they will.


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