Fake Social Media: The Dangers, Cons, and Corruption and Top 5 Recommendations to Protect Yourself on Social Media Platforms

Early this month, Elon Musk backed out of a 44 Billion dollar deal to buy Twitter because of “a continual disagreement over the number of spam accounts on the platform”. According to this article in the NY Times, the deal was made on a whim in the first place and Twitter will most likely fight him in court to keep it. Twitter claimed to have 217 million active users by the end of 2021, and Musk was supposed to pay $54.20 per share to own it. Even if his personal love of using the platform got him into the talk, it only makes sense for Musk to look into it more before seriously spending that much on it.

I think this hesitation is an opportunity to expose a much bigger issue at play on all social media platforms.

Con Artists and Human Traffickers on Social Media

I’ve written about this before with some of my own experiences with romance scams, but the biggest problem with social media now is the unknown percentage of it that is either a bot or a physical person lying about who they are. When someone lies for financial gain, they can say beautiful heartfelt things but the truth is that they became heartless long before they met you.

My experience was with a lot of stolen valor and romance scams. First, there was the Army Ranger who really stole my heart with his incredible honor, respectful words, and military service. Then it was dozens of fake accounts on dating websites like POF. I thought it would be better on Christian dating sites, but it wasn’t; even the sites themselves were corrupt. So I gave up on online dating and tried to make meaningful relationships in person. That is hard to do when everyone you meet just wants to keep you in the friend zone. Then, as my business grew, so did the number of strangers reaching out to me online for business. LinkedIn and Instagram accounts propositioned me for business investments and partnerships. If it wasn’t a multi-level marketing deal with a 4-digit buy-in, it was something similar investing in Crypto-currency.

Beverly Weeks of Cry Freedom Ministries says that human trafficking starts with stalking prey online as friends. Whole relationships are formed over a cyber connection before they ever meet in person and, when they do, sexual favors become a requirement of the interaction. Today, people I don’t know like my posts online and follow me on social media. Many of them go forward and message me compliments about how I look. Many people now don’t feel safe to even entertain comments on social media from strangers. I didn’t want to close that door myself, so I let myself say hello back. What ensued was probably the most hurtful experience of my dating past online.

An Example of Social Media Manipulation

John Fedrick Williams was a single father–an E7 Gunnery Sargeant in the Marines deployed to Yemen. He messaged me through Instagram then Google Hangouts/Google Chat.

We talked about everything. We talked about “our daughter” and made plans that moved very quickly. He sent me pictures and videos; I made him special graphics. He proposed to me; I tried on and bought a wedding dress!

When I received a large sum of money, it seemed only natural to tell him about it.

One day when John was talking to me, enemy gunfire rained in on him. He survived, but it scared him so badly that he became convinced that he would die if he went on the next mission–to pursue the invaders. I tried to talk and pray him away from his fears, but he became obsessed with applying for leave. He had his daughter’s babysitter reach out to me via email and vouch for his character, and he sent me bank information to pay for his leave. The account showed that he had over a million dollars in the bank but no access to it. When that bank payment fell through, he asked me to pay. When I refused, I was told I was “leaving him to die” and how could I do that to “our family”. When I still didn’t budge, he called me (on my VOIP number). I heard his voice and knew it wasn’t the same person I had fallen for in all the pictures and videos. I ended it cold right then, but I still missed him. Even knowing he was a lie, I wanted to have him in my life.

Why People Lie Online

Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in that spiral. They feel ignored, and they long to be loved, so they accept attention wherever they can get it. Social media fills that void.

You can be whoever you want to be online!

Life is glamourous and rich there. You can follow your favorite celebrities and be a part of their lives as they share on social media. You can dream about vacations and nice things. You can post your best moments, your best angles, and always look put together and your best online.

No one talks about the times they ugly cry to songs on their Spotify or grunge all day in pajamas and junk food with last night’s makeup on and their hair in a bun.

Even with no bad intentions for the world around us, we all lie a little on social media because of the way we want to be perceived in the world. The difference is that some people make a living out of telling lies and using others.

Legitimate money can be made online through advertisement and marketing, but that all depends on having a product to sell that is worth buying. What happens when the product is an emotional connection? That’s when certain people steal identities, pretend to be someone else, and get others to send them money and/or pay for stuff for them.

The High-Value Haves

A high-value have, in my definition, is someone that generates a lot of attention and potential revenue through their online presence. According to a recent statistic, over 50% of celebrities are active online, and that data is strategic for fan engagement. Social media helps celebrities continue to have the support they need to do what they do–but it also makes them targets for people wanting to catch some portion of their success. Entrepreneur Magazine did an article that suggested 1-in-4 people create fake accounts online. Some of that was for reasons not connected at all to identity theft, but still sad nonetheless.

I followed a page for one of my favorite recording artists, Brandon Lake. I was surprised when he messaged me back personally! The awe and excitement of talking with him wore off, however, when he asked me where North Carolina is. The real Brandon Lake is a worship pastor in Charleston, South Carolina–directly south of North Carolina.

Another group of high-value haves on social media is public service workers and military service members. There is just something attractive–even trustworthy–about a person in a uniform. Real public service workers work as volunteers or low-paid civil servants. Real service members don’t make a lot of money until they move up in rank–and that takes years of service. In both cases, these people serve faithfully for wages that make some of them still qualify for food stamps. Scammers take images of service members and public workers and create accounts claiming to be them. They bank on the patriotic heart of an American to support them in dollars when they ask for it.

One person I met had all his images taken from Instagram and used to create over six different accounts in his name across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He kept reporting them, but they kept showing up.

For more about how to love and protect yourself online in the military, read this article.

Final Thoughts and My Top 5 Recommendations

If you are a high-value have, your best bet is to avoid social media platforms altogether.

Social media is useful for inspiring ideas and staying connected with loved ones, but it is constantly putting your identity at risk because it is not carefully monitored.

Between April and June of last year, Facebook reported removing 1.7 billion fake accounts–and that was just one site and not even half a year! Scam accounts are out of hand and, many times, they are barely acknowledged when they are reported by the victims directly.

I recommend the following if you choose to stay on social media:

  1. Limit what you share to only be the stuff you wouldn’t mind even your enemies knowing about you
  2. Set your shares to private
  3. Reduce or cut off completely the number of stranger messages you respond to
  4. Search your own name periodically to identify and report fake versions of you
  5. Migrate to Daily Testify if you are Christian and want a safer place to socialize online

I hope this helps you all stay safer out there.

Thanks for reading! Please share this post with all your friends on social media.

New Location Celebrates Growth and Community at Southern Ground Coffee Shop, Mount Olive, NC

When you walk into the new location of the Southern Ground Coffee Shop at 1037 N. Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, you immediately notice it is not your normal commercial experience. Farmhouse style home decor, handmade hardwood tables, a corner booth filled with pillows, and plush, earth tone couches and chairs welcome you. Girls behind a long colonial blue beadboard counter with coffee beans epoxied into the top greet you by name and take your order. These girls are more than baristas; they are family to the owners, Amy and Robbie Brogden. The personalized care they put into their service is a trademark quality of the location. They don’t just know their regulars by name, they know what they want to drink and what temperature they want to drink it.

The Journey Here

Before we can celebrate where Southern Ground is today, we need to tell the story of where they have been. Owners Amy and Robbie Brogden did not see coffee in their future when they met and started dating 8 years ago. Amy was a successful independent woman in the securities industry in Wilmington. Robbie was a father with four teenagers and his own construction business in Mount Olive. Though they saw the potential for partnership in each other, they took their time getting to know each other before they were ready for marriage. When they did marry, Amy took a position in insurance sales in Duplin county. Amy’s manager encouraged her to increase her sales by working from a local coffee shop and letting the busyness lead conversations and potential sales to her. The problem was that there were no coffee shops in Mount Olive. That need birthed the idea for Southern Ground.

When Amy told her husband about the advice from her manager and the idea of a coffee shop, he took her driving around the town of Mount Olive. Coming from a family with deep roots in the community and over fifty years of knowledge serving it himself, Robbie knew that the right location for a business like that would be near Interstate 117 and the University of Mount Olive. With no business plan and no money in the bank to fund it, they found the perfect location, made the decision to act on it, and did every sort of odd job they could to pay for it.

Robbie and Amy Brogden, owners of Southern Ground Coffee Shop.

My husband is the kind of person that you don’t tell something to unless you really want it. He is an encourager and will move heaven and earth to make that thing come true for you even if it means he has to work hard, long hours to do it. His confidence empowers me. We are a team, and when we work together, the dream happens.

Amy Brogden

I’m not scared to take a chance. If you don’t play the game, you know you’re going to lose. I make a decision and live in the reality of it, not the fairytale.

Robbie Brogden

Faith in Business

Both Amy and Robbie Brogden were raised in Christian homes, and that faith is the root of their business. Southern Ground is not overtly religious nor does it hound guests with the Bible, but neither are they ashamed of who they are and hiding it. Most of the girls serving are Christians as well as the owners, and they are kind and respectful to everyone. They genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; nevertheless, what you see is what you get with them. They won’t sugar-coat things or change who they are to please others. Southern Ground knows they won’t be liked by everybody, and that’s okay.

The Brogdens are also hard-workers with giver mindsets. Often working 80-100 hour weeks, they give most of what they make to the community because it is what they feel they are supposed to do. They are not perfect people. “I disappoint God everyday,” Amy says. “I am so not worthy. But He knows we are trying hard, and He is honoring that not just for us, but for the others that come in here.”

How Covid Affected Their Business

While Covid-19 caused many small businesses to close their doors, Southern Ground found its start in it. Campus closures and quarantine caused less traffic to come in from the university and businesses, but something surprising happened to fill the gap: Google. People began to intentionally Google search for them because they wanted to support a local small business. From this traffic, a loyal following developed, and many of those people still patron the business today.

Supernatural favor protected and blessed Southern Ground because God wanted them to be there. Far more than a cup of coffee, they are a place of service and ministry to the community. At Southern Ground, students congregate and study, small groups meet, and families hold celebrations. Southern Ground is a launching place for fellowship and wholesome, healing community. The impact of their business has only just begun.

Supporting Small Business

When they were just starting out, Amy had to learn everything she could about coffee. She researched the business and learned how to operate her business well. Amy and the girls on her team were mentored by other established coffee shops. They learned how to properly make and serve gourmet coffee and smoothie drinks, play with the ingredients, and make their own recipes. Those recipes are featured on their menu today, and Amy is now mentoring two women wanting to open two coffee shops in eastern North Carolina.

Southern Ground supports many small businesses and an example of this is in the fact that they source everything they can locally. “We are a small business and couldn’t make it without the small businesses supporting us,” says owner, Amy Brogden.

Southern Ground takes pride in the uncompromised quality of their products. Their coffee is exclusively sourced from a North Carolina roaster, Cactus Creek. Part of their partnership includes a proprietary blend, Southern Sunrise, that can only be purchased at Southern Ground Coffee Shop. The milk used is sourced locally from Simply Natural. Cinnamon rolls and other pastries come from local bakers, many of whom are in-home makers. Supplies used to remodel their shop came from local hardware stores including Jones True Value. Even their social media presence supports a local business, Daily Testify.

The First Location

The first location at 997-E Henderson Street, Mount Olive, was a beautiful hole in the wall that opened in 2020 and holds a lot of fond memories. Everyone at Southern Ground recalls times when the whole shop–every guest and employee–contributed to the same conversation. They loved that sense of community engagement, and they hope the new location will see more not less of it.

The first location was the place where standards of excellence in customer service and branding were established. In this place, Southern Ground Coffee Shop became known as a home away from home with Farmhouse Style similar to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper and Magnolia Network. The commitment to make everything welcoming even extended to the bathrooms.

Advice for Business

Both Amy and Robbie agree that being in business for yourself is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. The step of faith that started their business is still a step of faith today; all the profits from Southern Ground’s first location were put back into the business.

We knew God wanted us to open the shop because He kept putting the right people in our path to make it happen just when we needed them to be there.

When God does that, you have to go; don’t question it. It is a day-by-day step of faith and trust in Him. You figure it out along the way.

Amy Brogden

What’s New

The new location more than doubled the space for Southern Ground from 1200 sq. ft. to over 2600 sq. ft. That extra room brings some exciting new perks along with favorites from the old shop.

For example, the large round Magnolia Co. clock iconic from the first location fills part of the back wall while a new stone fireplace and magnolia log mantle fill the other.

A large black and white conference room sits tucked behind a warm rust wall to the left of the fireplace featuring the signature dry-erase board from the old location.

A new white board gives the shop the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of their patrons. Guests are welcomed to sign it and share where they are from.

A drive-thru window welcomes guests to get service on the go without leaving their vehicles.

What’s Coming Soon

  • Artists from the Art Department at the University of Mount Olive are currently working with Southern Ground to put a mural on the side of the building.
  • A copper framed hood behind the counter welcomes a stove to expand the menu. Later this fall, Southern Ground plans to add soup, sandwiches, and salads to their gourmet coffee and smoothie menu.
  • Online ordering will soon make it possible to offer quicker service.

For the latest updates on Southern Ground, check out their social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Daily Testify.

Make plans to stop by the shop on Breazeale Avenue. They are closed on Sundays but open 7am-7pm Monday thru Friday and 8am-7pm on Saturday.