Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Are you a real person?


     Stephanie Scott is a forensic psychiatrist, football lover, journalist and educator. Elli Mcguirk is also a forensic psychiatrist, as well as a dancer backpack ninja, web talent and "good friend."Raina Tipps is also a backpack ninja.

     Forty-seven people followed me on Twitter Monday. Much more than the usual handful I expect in a day. I couldn't help but look closely at my new flock. Perky young women, mostly, with odd, strangely capitalized names, sharing a suspicious confluence of interests. Romaine Mcpeters, Tanya Preusser and Margot Lopez are each a self-proclaimed "beer drinking coffee junky," as opposed to Marta Sumter and Laura Salzman who are just coffee ninjas.and Melba Mcclary, a mere coffee "enthusiast."
     It dawned on me — quite quickly, considering all the years I thought the Kinks song "Lola" was about a girl — that these were not the twitter identities of actual people who had fallen under the spell of my high quality journalism, but faux identities generated by computers.
     The idea is, you are followed by a robot, glance and see a pretty face who also likes coffee, and you follow them back, then suddenly are getting their curious blend of non-sequitur factlets—"Apart from the burial of Unas, only the Pyramid of Teti displays the Cannibal Hymn"—intermixed with come-ons for holistic web sites: "5 Natural #Herbs To Detox Damaged Lungs."

     If you are unfamiliar with Twitter -- and geez, get with the program, at this point it's like being unfamiliar with shampoo—it's a an online communication network where you blast messages at your band of followers while in turn being blasted by messages of the people you follow. Somehow in all this, communication occurs, or did, before all this random commercial garbage began to gum it up.
      Fake Twitter accounts are not news, except to me. The fake accounts story has been rattling around for a few years. Back in the 2012 election, it was pointed out that a significant percentage of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's fan base were fake accounts. The way it works is you go to certain sites where you basically buy followers, for a penny apiece. These drive up your twitter numbers, and people are more impressed with you.
      I wondered where they got the photos, so plugged a few into Google's image searchAmmie Arthurs, a Halle Berry type, was swiped from "The Hottest Short Hairstyles & Haircuts for 2015."   Elli Mcguirk? The photo was actually Elena Mazur, a communications consultant in Toronto.Maryjo Kratz was Julia Khorramchahi, a "Brazilian/Iranian human being" and "digital marketer" also from Toronto. The "human being" made me suspicious — could these Canadian flaks be using their own photos to generate fake accounts? I sent a few queries and Khorramchahi responded.
      "Defnitely NOT my doing!" she tweeted to me. "Thanks for pointing it out; will report that account right away."
     Okay then. I was left with the moral quandary. A person on twitter is judged, in part, by the size of the following herd.  As it happened, Monday's busload of mannequins pushed me over the 5,000 follower mark, a milestone I had been anticipating for a while, though grimly aware how small beans that is on the online world.
     So some of my followers on Twitter are not a cargo cult of actual living people, scanning the skies for my next essay. Who cares?  We already tolerate people in our lives who really aren't there.  The woman guiding you through giving your information when you call a credit card company is not really talking to you. Miss October, smiling alluringly from her centerfold, is not really here.
     If you believe the view of the future in movies such as "Her" and "Ex Machina," then we will happily have relationships with electronic intelligences and robot inamoratas.
Not a real person either
     Why not? Raggedy Andy was not really my pal, though I thought so at the time. Why not accept company where you find it? Perhaps as people become more robotic and absent, shuffling around, gazing at their phones, the phones will become more human and present. Talk about irony.
     On second thought, no. I decided to purge my robot harem, on general principles. Boosting your numbers with fake followers is like wearing elevator shoes -- the solution is worse than the problem.
     So goodbye Frida Byham ("skiing fan"). Goodbye Jessica Phillips ("Total bacon specialist.") Goodbye Noelle Shyes ("Javadicted.")  I have enough fake friends as it is without tolerating more.

19 comments:

  1. I can understand why you should be hooked up on Twitter but I remember watching the first or second on line live chat or whatever it was called that I'm guessing you were forced into by the paper. I felt bad for you only because I was guessing you wanted nothing to do with it.

    Doug D.

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    1. It is one thing to follow a writer/journalist or political leader but some self absorbed actor/ celebrity?

      How pathetic.

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  2. It's a way to huff on the flickering ember of my notoriety, if that's the right word. Or, rather, to try to ward off the black fog of obscurity that'll encloak me the second I stop. Nowadays, there is no down time. You're not online every second, you might as well be dead. So I tweet the blog trying to jam it under the noses of the indifferent public, half of whom, it turns out, are robots trying to gull me into buying herbs. It's a miserable moment in our cultural history. Then again, I suppose it always is.

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  3. Interesting article, and it is good you contacted one of your new "friends." It looks like one of them used a picture of Frances Bean Cobain for a twitter friend, as well (http://www.biography.com/people/frances-bean-cobain-281996)

    NW Pat Carey

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  4. Makes me glad I'm not on Twitter and I don't have to be on it to be "with it."

    I know millenials who don't follow it.

    You did the right thing, NS, removing the fake ones and not just worrying about the numbers.

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  5. I'm "familiar" enough w/ Twitter, just not interested. If it is similar to Facebook, where those who encounter you have potential to then encounter others in your aura, you have done a service to protect actual people from more spam than they would be subject to otherwise. [Not sure you want to "huff" embers lest you burn your mouth.]

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    Replies
    1. cf. BBWolf: huff=inhale, puff=exhale. Laura Dern movie graphically shows UrbanDictionary example.

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  6. What do you mean Lola wasn't about a girl????

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  7. I probably missed something, but it's not clear to me how you can tell the bots from real followers.

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    1. They have these generic self-descriptions. They like coffee a lot. They use tired tropes. It can be difficult. Usually not.

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  8. Stodgy soul that I am, I would have used the word "fame" rather than "notoriety," but that's easy for me to say, as I'm neither famous nor notorious.

    john (deliberately spelled with a small j)

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  9. The fact that MrJM, pseudonymous but extremely witty Chicagoan posting "Utility-Grade Tweets from Parts Unknown" has a measly 747 followers, while a cipher like Paris Hilton has 13.4 million (though I have no idea if that's really her account or not), tells me plenty about the value of an inflated number of sheep in one's flock. Your 5,000 followers may not have a lot of meat on them, NS, but what there is is cherce, I would guess, (paraphrasing Spencer Tracy, and even subtracting out the occasional robotic backpack ninja, whatever that is).

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    Replies
    1. Jakash, if a person's Twitter profile has a blue circle with a check mark in it by their name, I'm pretty sure that means it is the authentic person as validated by whatever standards Twitter uses. looked at Paris Hilton's profile (ugh), and yes, it appears to indeed be her.

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    2. Thanks for the info, Sandy. Sorry I caused you to have to go dumpster-diving to check that out. ; )

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    3. Glad to be of assistance, Jak. And yes, that's the first (and last) time I will be visiting her Twitter page :)

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  10. Ha! I have 29 followers. And only ten of them are real people.

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  11. On "getting with the program" re twitter, I did look into it but decided, having no need to build audience numbers for a blog ("blogience?"), that time is too fleeting and life too short. I take my cue in such matters from Sherlock Holmes, who deliberately avoided learning things (he once asked Watson who Carlyle was) that would not be useful to his profession as the worlds first private consulting detective.

    Although I have, in this spirit, paid little attention to popular music produced after that epochal event in 1963, I was indeed aware there was a song about a transvestite called Lola. Old as I am, however the title evokes instead Marlene Dietrich in cabaret singing "They call me naughty Lola, I'm the wisest girl on earth" ("I play my pianola for all that it is worth.") By then in her 60s the lady could make the Lords Prayer sound dirty and left no illusions about the nature of her pianola.

    Tom Evans

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