Monday, December 8, 2008

The Facebook Creeper

Voyeur kitteh from I Can Has Cheezburger?

Full disclosure: I am a Facebook creeper. Or so says one of my students from last quarter.

She and I get along great, so I have reason to think she meant this in the friendliest possible way. Still she has a point.

When she said this, we were discussing Facebook in class. I was pontificating about how people shouldn't Do Stupid Things on Facebook. (And Facebook embarrassment is not just for students anymore: Salon had a hilarious article a few weeks back on how "adults" manage to mortify themselves by not understanding how un-private Facebook actually is.)

So I told my students that I joined Facebook to see what they're doing on it. No, I'm not a voyeur. I wasn't particularly focused on individuals' behavior. But I did want to learn about how they were collectively using what was then a pretty new medium, back in spring 2007. I was curious about what it meant for gender, identities, and human interactions.

Ironically, that made me an "early adopter" of Facebook, at least among my old-fart friends. (My students, of course, were already all on it.) I think the last time I was an early adopter of anything was in the mid-1980s, when I helped my sister buy a 128k Macintosh (the original model) and then a 512k "enhanced" Mac for myself.

Anyway, what I learned just by browsing groups (not by searching for specific students) was pretty illuminating. A few of my young female students were part of a group dedicated to chatting about anal sex. While I (obviously) have no problem with that, it's also not information I'd suggest sharing with future employers. Then there was the quiet young gentleman who sat in the front row of my Intro to Women's Studies class, got good grades, and belonged to a group called something like "We f*ck bitches without a condom." (I couldn't find the group anymore when I searched for it just now, more's the pity.)

But that was back when Facebook was the playground of university students and employees. Now it's opened up to the world. As the all other oldsters sign up, I've enjoyed reconnecting (however superficially) with people I remember very fondly from my distant past. I could have hundreds of friends if I weren't so lackadaisical about it, as my college and grad friends are signing on in droves.

And so are the creepers. The real ones, not the fake ones like me. I got my very first one last week when this message arrived in my Facebook inbox:
Hi Pretty,how are You doing Over there..i am very Impressed with your Profile and your personalilty of being Goofy is very Attractive to me, I will like to know You More better and Lets see where Things is Going to lead,Because I believe that there is a Reason why we are Both on this Dating site...If You don't Mind my IM is [creep-o-rama] at yahoo, you can add me into Your yahoo list so that we can know ourself better......nice pics and over ur profile...see u soon...
Now, I really was creeped out by this, because my privacy settings are pretty tight. Only "friends" can see my profile, which lists me - twice! - as married. So I assume my creeper has some way of spamming people's mailboxes en masse. In retribution, I was very very tempted to include the link to his page; anyone who wants it can email me, but I'm not that mean. Also I don't want a trail leading back to me, even under my Sungold nom de blog.

My creeper still got me to check out my own profile to see if I'd described myself as having a "goofy" personality. It's not out of the question that I'd write that. Also, "Pretty" is close enough to one variation of my real-life name that I did a serious double-take.

On the other hand, I sort of like the capitalization of "You," as if I were a goddess. I'm sure a lot of gals will dig his writing style. It reminds me of the "Hot Russian Lady Looking for True Love" school of spam, except tailored toward us poor lonely women who've been sadly underserved by spammers - until now.

The dude claims to have gotten a grad degree from Stanford. Ya think?

In all seriousness, it's probably good that this little wake-up call got me to doublecheck my privacy settings. If you've barred everyone except friends and family from peeking at your stuff, it's unlikely that a creeper is after you, personally. That's why I'm not worried about this douche, in the end. But it's probably also good to be reminded that everything we do online can and will come back to bite us - even if we're not looking for a job in the Obama Administration.

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