I got a Friend Request today, out of the blue. It’s not in my nature to refuse an offer of friendship, so I accepted. Then I saw the profile (what there was of it):
Worked at Retired/Disabled
Born on 2 November 1955
No pictures, no employment, no school, no online footprint—and her demo (50s, disabled) was my demographic, too.
So I started thinking about how likely it was that this was not a person, but a marketing net-bot, phishing for demo-data or polling-data. In furthering my new ‘detective’ job, I wrote the following message:
“Hello, new friend. I am curious as to the pronunciation of your first name—is it a regular ‘Michael’ or does the transposition of the a and the e connote a more exotic reading? Also, could you please say something that proves you’re not a robot? You don’t have much online info—and I don’t mean to pry—but the whole point of FB is for people to share amongst themselves–nothing truly personal, you understand, just enthusiasms and interests and opinions and what-all..
If you are real, I’m also curious as to what led you to my particular profile—have we known each other in the past, perhaps?— if I should remember, I heartily apologize–please don’t be hurt—I have a very bad memory—and I’m not just saying that…”
Now I’m having second thoughts—and how appropriate that I should have two of them. The first second thought is “Why bother with all this when it is an obvious data-mining NPC?” (Non-Player Character—it means a personae that isn’t representing a human, but is a personae created by the software running the marketing or polling program. The weirdest part of these things is that they don’t need to hack Facebook, they just need to generate Users with specific demographics, or in response to a particular ‘like’.)
My second second thought is “If this really is an old friend, or even just a stranger, my first impression will seem incredibly hostile.” But I’ve rationalized that by telling myself “If that lady can’t see the funny side of this, why would she want to be friends with me, anyway?” So, there’s a goodly chunk of my day wasted on self-imposed head games.
O, and there is a third second thought: “What if it’s one of those human-backed fake online personae, that turn complex messages over to the manager to respond to?” Then I’ll have put myself right in the middle of an unwritten Kafka drama. But this isn’t my first time to the party—requests for info are always responded to with blatantly commercial ‘likes’—it’s a numbers game—at least until FB or Legislation or Public Awareness (or all three) make it a bad investment.
And I think the word is out amongst the younger set—internet kids are as likely to hack them back as to fall for their marketing research net-bots.