BEHAVIOR
July 29, 2016

Frape — A Prank or Something More Sinister?

How would you feel if a friend logged on as you and posted content to your social media account?

Fraping. Even the word sounds serious, coming from a combination of Facebook and rape. One Irish judge found it serious enough to issue a 2,000 euro fine to a man who fraped an ex-girlfriend's Facebook page, making derogatory posts on it after stealing her phone.

But many young adults see fraping as no worse than many of the phone pranks of yesteryear, if done to a friend and not done maliciously. To understand the spirit involved, think of a post by Miley Cyrus explaining the importance of always being tasteful. Only she didn't write it, one of her friends did and sneakily posted it on Miley's Facebook page.

Young adults usually see frapes as practical jokes. The central aim of a frape is to amuse either the victim and/or members of their social network.

Whether you find this amusing or a violation of privacy seems to depend on when you were born, according to a new study.

Scottish researchers interviewed 46 residents from a medium-sized city in the UK about their behavior on social media. Those interviewed had recently graduated secondary school, become a parent or retired. Their average ages were 20, 33 and 65, respectively.

Interviews lasted from 1.5 to 2 hours and while questions did not explicitly ask about fraping, they did ask whether people had pretended to be anyone else while online.

Only 13 people mentioned fraping during their interviews, nine young adults and four new parents. Not totally surprising, since it is a fairly new term.

These people identified a frape as a change to an individual’s social networking account, carried out opportunistically by another person without the account owner’s knowledge or consent. Common fraping activities included changing the account owner’s profile page or photo.

Frapes can occur when someone leaves their phone or computer unlocked or signs on using another person's device.

Most young adults admitted to both perpetrating and being the victims of frapes. New parents were aware of what fraping was, but none admitted to doing it. Retirees were not familiar with the term and mystified as to why anyone would bother with it.

Young adults usually saw frapes as practical jokes. The central aim of a frape was to amuse either the victim and/or members of their social network. A crucial part of a frape was that it should stand out in some way as being inconsistent with the victim’s normal posting behavior and online identity. Subtlety is appreciated, unlike in the Miley Cyrus example.

There are rules. It is unacceptable to frape someone you do not know or someone who has entrusted you with their password. None of the young adults who had engineered frapes had ever considered fraping their parents.

Young adults found fraping funny even when they were the victim — sometimes. They often permitted content changes from a frape to stay on their Facebook page. Of course, when they considered the changes unflattering or derogatory, they deleted them.

In contrast, new parents felt that fraping was an unpleasant thing to perpetrate or experience.

So how would you feel if someone altered your Facebook page, not to harm you but merely for a few laughs? If you'd feel violated or find it stressful, you might want to make sure to keep your phone (and PC) locked and never sign on from another person's device.

And while parents might take comfort from the fact that no one in the study even considered fraping their parents, the study did not include anyone under 17. You may want to talk about fraping with their children.

The study is published in Computers and Human Behavior.

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