Preston hoax fools local Facebook users

February 3, 2009 — by Annie Lee and Kavya Nagarajan

Have you heard of Ashley Preston? For those of you who haven’t figured it out, Ashley Preston is not a real person but instead a social experiment conducted by the Falcon staff. She had a fake profile on Facebook that stated that she was supposedly starting school here for second semester after moving to California from Hialeah, Fla.

Preston was made up by members of the Falcon staff in early December to simulate how easily students readily distribute access to their profiles through Facebook. After only one week of being on Facebook, Preston became “friends” with about 150 students from SHS and several students from other schools, such as Los Gatos. Not only was she “friends” with these people, but she gained access to all of their photos, videos, friends and profile information, which often includes AOL instant messaging screen names and cell phone numbers.

Several of these “friends” even conversed with Preston through wall-to-wall conversation, messaging, or live online chatting. Some voluntarily offered her their phone numbers, and others invited her to hang out. Many of these students were unaware that they were simply chatting with Falcon staff members whom they see at school every day, not a blonde senior from Florida.

A few students challenged her authenticity, but this did not trigger other students to take action and block Preston from their profiles. In fact, almost all of Preston’s friends still remained friends with her even after some openly questioned her validity. As word spread, some students at school even talked about how confident they were that she was a fake, but they failed to cut Preston out of their lives. Preston still has access to these students’ profiles even though she might have been a stalker or a pedophile.

This degree of trust causes school officials to worry, and they suggest a more cautious approach.

“If you’re putting images and photos, your own content could put you in a position where you could be compromised,” said school psychologist Mark Atkinson.

This is the danger of online predators. If it is so simple for members of the Falcon to come up with a fake name and false information and find a random picture to mislead students, it stands to reason anyone could do the same thing. No one had seen Preston, or talked to her in person, but most people didn’t hesitate to let her access their profiles. Most students said they accepted her request only because they noticed that they had a lot of friends in common. However, this still means users are leaving all their personal information open to someone they may not even know.

Not only did Preston friend people, but several people also friend requested her. Within just hours of the creation of her profile, almost 15 people had added Ashley, and not all of them were from Saratoga High. For the next two weeks, she continually received around the same number of requests each day.

“I think some students see Facebook as a competition and when your goal is to use Facebook to look more popular than you are then I think by definition that’s a problem,” said Atkinson.

Ashley Preston is not the first fake person to enter the Saratoga High network, and unfortunately, she probably won’t be the last. Parents and others hope that other fakes will be just as harmless.