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USF professor goes viral for comments on friend requests

SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

USF Muma College of Business professor Grandon Gill got his 15 minutes of fame when he shared insight into a recent social media trend with several news organizations. Gill’s comments on social media safety, originating from a WTSP-Channel 10 article, were featured on KFSM News and finally ended up in the Tampa Bay Times within 12 hours.

“Are you getting odd friend requests on Facebook lately?” WTSP 10 News asked users in a post on Facebook.

After reportedly receiving “literally … hundreds of comments,” it decided to reach out to an expert — Gill — to explain why “people from all over the world, including from Middle Eastern countries, are asking to be your friend.”

Gill said WTSP 10 reached out to him on whether or not Facebook requests from Middle Eastern citizens after the Paris bombings should raise concern.

He said he is unaware of any concrete examples of terrorists using Facebook to plan attacks and finds the possibility “pretty unlikely.” 

“My own conclusion was that what was going on had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing, it’s just people were sensitized to it as a result of the bombing,” he said. “There have been comments about this type of inquiry … for the last four or five years, so it isn’t really anything new and I don’t necessarily think it’s anything sinister.”

Random and unsolicited Facebook friend requests are cited as a concern in online discussions as early as 2008 — just four years after Facebook’s inception.

WTSP 10 News asked Gill to comment on friend requests as a broad topic. The information systems professor encouraged using caution about what information you post and who you become friends with, as accepting unrecognized friend requests can open up an opportunity for someone with malicious intent. 

“People are very sensitized to … issues right now … so what you need to do is you need to separate what is actually a baseline activity that we’re sensitive to (with) something (that is) a real phenomenon,” Gill said.

One reporter asked him if he felt the unrequited requests were a “new and unique problem.” 

“My answer was no, I don’t,” Gill said.

He said the problem of these Facebook friend requests was ongoing and there was little to no evidence showing a spike in these requests after the Paris attacks. Furthermore, he said he doubted the value of his time in the spotlight.

“I think … the reason I got so much press is (because) it was a fairly slow news day, because I wasn’t really offering any information that you couldn’t have gathered on your own (on) the web,” Gill said. “There really didn’t seem to be any good intelligence, and if there was good intelligence, I’m not sure that a college professor would be the best person to ask about it.”