New #HocusPocus Facebook Prank Explained, Autumn 2019

This Halloween season, there is a Facebook prank making the rounds, which has scam potential.

People are tasked with forwarding a general message that states to the effect of, “Type the tag #hocuspocus in comments, to see if Facebook decides that you’re a witch. If successful, a green bar will appear.”

The idea is that the “green bar” will appear in place of the tag, if Facebook decides you’re a witch. However, people who don’t understand how Facebook works will play along and try it, and it will not work, because that’s not how Facebook works to begin with.

People who are in on the joke will post a green bar as an image comment, as “proof” that the trick does actually work, and people who still don’t understand will start flooding comments with attempts to make the green bar appear, which it won’t.

The scam potential is that the people who aren’t in on it, are potential scam targets because they have just outed themselves as not understanding that this won’t work in the first place, and are therefore might be gullible enough to scam otherwise if they’ll believe something as nonsensical as this prank.

Another explanation is that this is an user engagement tactic by algorithm strategists. When you comment on something, it is believed that the underlying Facebook algorithm will do 2 things: (a) recognize you as someone who comments on a post, and (b) recognize the person who posted the thing as someone who gets people to comment.

Strategists then theorize that Facebook will thenceforth increasingly show posts from that source more frequently to those people who comment so eagerly, so as to increase engagement with the platform (instead of idly scrolling past a post), and posters will post more often in order to gain more engagements per post, and their posts will increasingly be shown to people who engage with their posts, thereby increase their readership, and potentially increase their ad revenue by showing ads to those who interact so frequently with it.

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