A 17-year-old became an unexpected advocate against internet fraud when an Instagram photo of hers was used to concoct a sob story and drive donations to a GoFundMe page.
Safia Barksdale's Instagram page is like many others: plenty of selfies and a few captured moments from pleasant weekend activities.
But a couple recent posts broke that mold with some abrupt urgency on Barksdale's part.
One post featured a screenshot of a GoFundMe page with a very familiar face splayed across its top.
The page's organizer, Hawa Yusuf, apparently looked through Barksdale's Instagram profile, took a screenshot of a previous Instagram post, and used that photo in a totally misleading way.
The page falsely paints Barksdale as "Maryan Yusuf," the page organizer's baby sister, whose untimely death requires financial help to overcome the funeral costs.
The caption on Barksdale's alarm-sounding post is simple:
"You guys, I'm not some dead baby sister. This actually makes me upset, seeing people scammed into giving money for a fake cause."
Barksdale's subsequent Instagram post features a nod to her Twitter activity around the same issue. This one, a very frustrated PSA video.
IM ALIVE STOP DONATING TO THIS FRAUDULENT PERSON! YOU ARE ALL BEING SCAMMED https://t.co/Q1ay1uUFMt— safia (@safia)1581726487.0
That post made quite sure the scamming Hawa Yusuf wouldn't get very far. It pulled in over 4.5 thousand likes and about 2.5 thousand retweets.
People were loudly anti-Hawa.
Some spoke from a regretful place, angry and apologetic that they'd been duped.
@safiabarkadle4 I’m sorry! I didn’t know it was a scum! Omg I’m sorry. I shared and donated because I thought it was legit!! Sub7anAllah— Hooyo Anisa (@Hooyo Anisa)1581731956.0
@safiabarkadle4 Fam I cried when I read the story you telling me my emotions was robbed??? https://t.co/VNg7H63Leg— babe (@babe)1581783090.0
@safiabarkadle4 When I was reading the story it broke my heart and now it’s all fake oh my gosh😡😡😡🤬🤬🤬I need my money back— honey (@honey)1581831697.0
@safiabarkadle4 I donated too 😓😓 Scummers— Ali Ibrahim (@Ali Ibrahim)1581747836.0
Others advised more pragmatic action by getting in touch with GoFundMe directly, which has systems in place for this exact issue.
@safiabarkadle4 You should report it to @gofundme- They will freeze the account and refund everyone.— Jibril (@Jibril)1581751517.0
@safiabarkadle4 Here report the fundraiser https://t.co/N3c41rY6zA— President. Waffla ➐ (@President. Waffla ➐)1581728280.0
In fact, such direct reports as well as Barksdale's viral warnings did gather enough steam to demand a public response from GoFundMe.
A spokesperson assured BuzzFeed News that every scamee would be recompensated.
"No money was sent to the fundraiser in this campaign. GoFundMe holds funds while we verify the authenticity of individuals and their stories. All campaigns are subject to some level of vetting before funds are released."
"We received reports that the campaign was fraudulent, investigated, and banned the campaign. All those who donated will get their money back."
Buzzfeed News also caught up with Barksdale directly, hearing a bit more about the whole experience from her perspective.
"At first I thought it was a prank but some of my friends began sending me the same thing."
"My friends and family were all confused, bombarding me with questions. It was all unbelievable that someone would do something so ridiculous like this."
The episode sheds light on a more general takeaway: Generation Z will be required and inevitable adept at having their heads on swivels in a world where internet presence occupies near-equal proportions as the waking world.
Issues like this will not go away. Sudden, forced urgency will be heaped on 17-year-old kids all over the place. The brave new world will be full of photographic tricks and vigilant defending.