A Philosopher's Blog

Dating I: Spotting Fake Profiles

Posted in Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 8, 2016

After my long-term, long-distance relationship came to an amicable (albeit unexpected) end, I was thrown back into the dumpster fire that is dating. Since this is the 21st century, I signed up for Match.com. This was against my usual good judgment, but breakups are like politics: they make people stupid.

As I expected, the process of online dating is largely a matter of avoiding scams. These range from attempts to lure people to porn sites to more elaborate dating scams. Simple scammers rarely email, they try to lure people with the free winks, free likes and by making you a favorite. For this essay, I’ll focus on the simplest of scamming techniques, the fake profile. While I will not cover all the ways to spot one, I will offer what I hope will be some useful advice from the perspective of philosophy. I’ll begin the top of the profile.

Match and other sites have users create a profile name, such as Lovecatsmorethanmen88 (which might be a real profile, if so I apologize).  While fake profiles can have names that are indistinguishable from the real ones, there are two main giveaways. The first is a name that is a phone number, such as txtme86753089. The second is a name that tries to give an email address, such as scam_gmal. While some real users might try to save a few bucks this way, that is presumably very rare.

The photos also serve as a good indicator for scams. If a person has a single photo of a beautiful person, there is a good chance it is a fake. After all, everyone has a smart phone and can take unlimited pictures.  Loading many photos takes time and scammers presumably need to crank out fake profiles. That said, there are real users who have just one picture—so the one photo clue is not decisive.

Unusually provocative photos are also an indicator that the profile is a fake, but this is not a guarantee—presumably real users are not averse to using some raw sex appeal.

A rather obvious indicator is the use of stock photos taken from the web. In some cases, the faker makes it easy by leaving the “watermarks” in place. For less obvious cases, you can right click in Chrome and do a Google image search. While this does not work all the time, it can reveal some obvious fakes. This can also help with photos stolen from people—a common practice on dating sites.

An extremely obvious indicator is a photo with text saying something like “text me 8675309” or “email me at scammster@scam.com.”  As with the profile name, some real users might do this; but it is most likely a scam.

Photos of an extremely beautiful person might indicate a scam—scammers do not use ugly photos as their bait. However, there are presumably some real profiles of people who are really beautiful. While it might hurt your ego, it is worth matching up the beauty of the person who has winked at you with your own appearance (and income, of course).

It is also smart to look for inconsistencies between the picture and the profile: check to see if the age, body type and so on match up. For example, a photo of a hot 20 something on a profile for a 40-year-old is likely to be a scam. That said, some people look awesome for their age…and people often post photos that are 5-10 years old (which is another form of deceit).

The text of a profile is also a good indicator of whether it is a scam or not. The scammers creating fake profiles are not going to spend a long time crafting a profile—they will only have a little text. The text also tends to be full of spelling and grammatical errors. They also often include an email address. For example, here is the text from what is almost certainly a fake profile:

 

I am looking for man who is serious in relations and reliable, words from his lips are materialized and his acts are saying more about his attitude to life. I can give my shoulder in rainy day and it’s normal for me. write please my e mail Remeda1997 gma. Mutual support, sharing bad and funny moments and looking on one page – the best what can hold both love birds ever! Age difference is not matter for me!

 

However, short profile texts are also common in legitimate profiles as is bad spelling and poor grammar. However, they will tend to be less obviously awkward in the use of the language. Scam profiles often have a certain feel to them—for example, they tend to promise (in awkward wording) all sorts of wonderful things (like “looking on one page”).  They also tend to be a bit too accepting (“Age difference is not matter for me!”). More sophisticated scammers probably copy and paste from real profiles, which makes them harder to spot.

Another indicator is a profile that has not been completed. As noted above, simple scammers favor quantity over quality and spending too much time completing a profile is not an effective use of their time (or, more likely, the time of their minions). This is, however, not decisive: real users sometimes leave their profiles incomplete.

There has also been some analysis of how scammers complete profiles: 83% claim to be Catholic, 63% claim to be widowers, 37% claim graduate degrees, 54% claim doctorates, and 36% claim to be native Americans. 25% claim to work as engineers and 23% claim to be self-employed.  These are, of course, not decisive—but it does provide some interesting insight into the approach to scamming. It is also important to note that this analysis was done by a specific site—there are bound to be differences between sites. As such, you should not assume that Mohawk Catholic widower with a PhD in electrical engineering is a faker. But it is worth considering if there are other signs.

If you get a wink, like or have your profile favorited by suspicious profile, the easiest and smartest response is to not respond or, at the very least, wait a while. Fake profiles are sometimes removed by the service (I have seen this happen many times myself). An actual person who is interested will probably email. While it should be needless to say, you should never send a text or email to a profile that tries to sneak in a phone number or address—those are almost certainly fake profiles. If you do get an email that immediately asks you to send a text or email outside the service, then it is likely a scam.

Yes, online dating is awful and probably best avoided.

 

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Tearing Down

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on August 5, 2016

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Politics has always been a nasty business, but the fact that examples of historic awfulness can be easily found does not excuse the current viciousness. After all, appealing to tradition (reasoning that something is acceptable because it has been done a long time) and appealing to common practice (reasoning that something being commonly done makes it acceptable) are both fallacies.

One manifestation of the nastiness of politics is when it does not suffice to merely regard an opponent as wrong, they must be torn down and cast as morally wicked. To be fair, there are cases in which people really are both wrong and morally wicked. As such, my concern is with cases in which the tearing down is not warranted.

I certainly understand the psychological appeal of this approach. It is natural to regard opponents as holding on to their views because they are bad people—in contrast to the moral purity that grounds one’s own important beliefs. In some cases, there is a real conflict between good and evil. For example, those who oppose slavery are morally better than those who practice the enslavement of their fellow human beings. However, most political disputes are disagreements in which all sides are a blend of right and wrong—both factually and morally. For example, the various views about the proper size of government tend to be blended in this way. Unfortunately, political ideology can become part of a person’s core identity—thus making any differing view appear as a vicious assault on the person themselves. A challenge to their very identity that could only come from the vilest of knaves. Politicians and pundits also intentionally stoke these fires, hoping to exploit irrationality and ungrounded righteous rage to ensure their election and to get their way.

While academic philosophy is not a bastion of pure objective rationality, one of the most important lessons I have learned in my career is that a person can disagree with me about an important issue, yet still be a fine human being. Or, at the very least, not a bad person. In some cases, this is easy to do because I do not have a strong commitment to my position. For example, while I do not buy into Plato’s theory of forms, I have no real emotional investment in opposing it. In other cases, such as moral disputes, it is rather more difficult. Even in cases in which I have very strong commitments, I have learned to pause and consider the merits of my opponent’s position while also taking care to distinguish the philosophical position taken from the person who takes it. I also take care to regard their criticisms of my view as being against my view and not against me as a person. This allows me to debate the issue without it becoming a personal matter that threatens my core identity. It also helps that I know that simply attacking the person making a claim is just some form of an ad hominem fallacy.

It might be objected that this sort of approach to disputes is bloodless and unmanly—that one should engage with passion and perhaps, as Trump would say, want to hit someone. The easy reply is that while there is a time and a place for punching, the point of a dispute over an issue is to resolve it in a rational manner. A person can also be passionate without being uncivil and vicious. Unfortunately, vicious attacks are part of the political toolkit.

One recent and reprehensible example involves the attacks on Ghazala and Khizr Khan, the parents of Captain HumayunKhan (who was killed in Iraq in 2004). Khizr Khan spoke out against Donald Trump’s anti Muslim rhetoric and asserted that Trump did not understand the Constitution. While Trump had every right to address the criticisms raised against him, he took his usual approach of trying to tear down a critic. Trump’s engagement with the family led to bipartisan responses, including an extensive response from John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Trump, against the rules of basic decency, continued to launch attacks on Khan.

Since I have a diverse group of friends, I was not surprised when I saw posts appearing on Facebook attacking Khan. One set of posts linked to Shoebat.com’s claim that Khan “is a Muslim brotherhood agent who wants to advance sharia law and bring Muslims into the United States.” As should come as no surprise, Snopes quickly debunked this claim.

Breitbart.com also leaped into the fray asserting that Khan “financially benefits from unfettered pay-to-play Muslim migration into America.” The site also claimed that Khan had deleted his law firm’s website. On the one hand, it is certainly legitimate journalism to investigate speakers at the national convention. After all, undue bias legitimately damages credibility and it is certainly good to know about any relevant misdeeds lurking in a person’s past. On the other hand, endeavoring to tear a person down and thus “refute” their criticism is simply an exercise in the ad hominem fallacy. This is bad reasoning in which an attack on a person is taken to thus refute their claims. Even if Khan ran a “pay to play” system and even if he backed Sharia law, his criticisms of Donald Trump stand or fall on their own merits—and they clearly have merit.  There is also the moral awfulness in trying to tear down a Gold Star family. As many have pointed out, such an attack would normally be beyond the pale. Trump, however, operates far beyond this territory. What is one of the worst aspects of this is that although he draws criticism even from the Republican leadership, his support remains strong. He is, perhaps, changing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in a way that might endure beyond his campaign—a change for the worse.

It might be objected that a politician must reply to critics, otherwise the attacks will stand. While this is a reasonable point, the reply made matters. It is one thing to respond to the criticisms by countering their content, quite another to launch a personal attack against a Gold Star family.

It could also be objected that engaging in a rational discussion of the actual issues is too difficult and would not be understood by the public. They can only handle emotional appeals and simplistic notions. Moral distinctions are irrelevant and decency is obsolete. Hence, the public discourse must be conducted at a low level—Trump gets this and is acting accordingly. My only reply is that I hope, but cannot prove, that this is not the case.

 

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Fear of Immigrants & Refugees

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 3, 2016

English: Immigrants entering the United States...

Though the United States prides itself as being a nation of immigrants and the home of the brave, base appeals to the fear of immigrants and refugees has become a stock political tool. The use of this tool is, of course, neither new nor limited to the United States.

To be fair, there is some legitimacy to the fear expressed towards allowing in immigrants and refugees. This is because almost any large group of people will contain a certain percentage of potential murderers, rapists, thieves and terrorists. As such, allowing a significant number of people into a country will almost certainly result in some increase in misdeeds. Thus, it is not untrue to say that allowing in immigrants and refugees would increase the dangers faced by the citizens of a country.

While demagogues and pundits generally do not operate on the basis of consistently applied principles, restricting immigrants and refugees can be justified by using a principle. In this case, the principle would be that people should be banned from entering a country if their arrival would result in an increase in the dangers faced by the current citizens of that country. Since allowing a significant number of refugees and immigrants would almost certainly allow in at least some who would do harm, then this principle justifies such restrictions. While this does allow for a principled basis for restriction, it runs into an interesting problem if it is applied consistently. This sort of consistency problem is a common one—which is why demagogues and pundits generally loath and avoid consistency. This specific consistency problem is as follows.

Every country faces waves of immigrants that arrive unregulated and unchecked. While most of them are not a threat, a percentage of them engage in harmful acts ranging from minor thefts to mass shootings. Oddly enough, no politician has the courage to propose restrictions on these invaders and many actually encourage the arrival of more of these potential threats. I am, of course, speaking of immigrants from the womb. Each new generation includes a certain percentage of potential murderers, rapists, thieves and terrorists and thus presents a clear and present danger to the current citizens of the country. Using the same reasoning that justifies keeping out immigrants and refugees (that a certain percentage could present a threat), these invaders should be kept out of the country.

This suggestion should, of course, be greeted with snorts of derision and mockery: it would be absurd to impose a ban on such arrivals merely because some small percentage will become dangerous to the current citizens. The challenge is to reject restrictions on births despite the risk of allowing new potential criminals and terrorists to enter the country while insisting harsh restrictions or bans on immigrants and refugees on the basis of the slight risk they present is acceptable.

The most obvious approach is to point out that the potential rapists and terrorists who are born here are children of existing citizens and thus different from refugees and immigrants from other countries. This seems a bit unfair—where a person is born is entirely a matter of chance and is completely unearned. We do not, after all, earn or select our parents. Thus, restricting immigrants and refugees because some small percentage will present a threat while allowing unrestricted reproduction that will produce people that will present a threat seems to be grounded only in the vagaries of chance. If there is great concern about the threat presented by incoming people, then that threat must be addressed using the same standards on the pain of inconsistency.

It could be countered that immigrants and refugees present a greater threat: the percentage of murders, rapists and terrorists is higher among the vetted and reviewed immigrants than among Americans born here. However, this is clearly not the case. This should come as no surprise, given that the immigrants and refugees are vetted and checked very thoroughly by the United States. It is true, of course, that the system is not perfect—so some will slip through.

I might, at this point, be accused of wanting to impose restrictions on reproduction. This is not the case. My point is, rather, to show that the idea of putting harsh restrictions or imposing complete bans on immigrants and refugees because some tiny percentage might turn out to cause harm is as absurd as restricting or banning reproduction becomes some children will certainly grow up to be criminals or terrorists. This is not to say that there should not be screening of immigrants and refugees; there should be. After all, we generate so many domestic criminals and terrorists that it is sensible to try to avoid needlessly and carelessly importing more.

 

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Public Lands & Privatization

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 1, 2016

Thanks to people such as Teddy Roosevelt, the United States has vast areas of public lands—including the famous national parks. While most Americans have a positive view of these public lands, there has long been a push to privatize them. While the very few who would benefit from privatization have a compelling interest in ending public lands, I will show that the vast majority of citizens should strongly support keeping public lands public.

One somewhat abstract argument in favor of public lands is that they provide the basis for common ownership of the country even for those who do not own their own private land. As citizens, they have a stake and a share in the public lands. While people might not feel this ownership, it seems to be an important part of being a citizen of a democratic state. In monarchies of the past (and present) and dictatorships of the present, the common folk do not own the lands—rather, they belong to the monarch or tyrant. In contrast, public lands seem to be a rather important part of a democratic state—if only as a symbol of democracy.

It could be countered that a democracy does not require public lands—after all, they have existed without them and there is no necessary link between democracy and public lands. This is certainly a reasonable point: a democratic United States could exist in which there are no public lands; merely private lands and government property such as military bases, schools and courthouses. There might even be no real change in the attitudes of most people. As such, I must concede that the stake argument, though appealing, is perhaps too abstract to have significant strength.

A second, and stronger argument, is that public lands are needed to preserve nature. While individuals live but a short while and easily change their minds, land that is protected by enduring law can be persevered for as long as the state stands. This preservation of nature has value in many ways. One is that people have a psychological need for nature. For those who favor evolution, we evolved to be a part of this world. For those who accept the divine, it can be contended that we need to look upon the handiwork of the creator and preserving His work is to show respect for God.

I can also point to the obvious fact that the natural areas of the world serve as the life support for our planet. To use the obvious analogy, to allow some passengers of a spaceship to rip apart and sell the life support systems would be clearly stupid and wrong. While they would make a short term profit, they would do so at the expense of everyone. There is also the matter of future generations: to ruin the land for decades or centuries for short term profits would seem to be a crime against the future.

I noted above that there are a very few that would benefit from privatizing public lands. They and their supporters typically argue that privatization would take the land back from the government and thus restore freedom and put the decision making back into the hands of the people.

While this sort of rhetoric has considerable appeal, it is fundamentally a lie. This is because the transition from public ownership to private ownership would mean control over the land with no input from you or I and all access to the formerly public land would be at the discretion of the owner. In the case of public land, the citizens have a role in the control of the land through voting and the political process. If I do not like how the land is being used or the restrictions placed on its use, I can take action to get the laws and rules changed. However, if the land is privately owned, then I no longer have any real influence or control. While it is true that the very few owners would have greater control and freedom under private ownership, the vast majority of people would have no control or influence under private ownership. So, when people use the freedom argument, they mean to give freedom to the very, very few and take it away from the vast majority.

There is also the argument that privatizing public lands would result in profits and economic growth, so they should be privatized. This argument is certainly compelling—at least for the tiny fraction of people who would profit from the privatization. While some of the wealth would “trickle down”, the vast majority of people would gain nothing and would, in fact, lose access to those lands. Privatization would mean that the least who have the most would get even more, while the most who have the least would be losers. This would be great for the privileged few, but awful for the rest of us.

 

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