Will the Real Bob Smith Please Stand Up?

That’s Bob Smith. Do you know him? I’m not sure I know him either — but Facebook is convinced I do. See for months, every time I had a moment of cognitive weakness and clicked on People You May Know, up popped Bob.

Not much information about him, though. No photo, obviously, just the Alfalfaesque cowlick on the top of his head. No profile info, either. I clicked on his profile, and learned that “Bob only shares some profile information with everyone.” In this case, some profile information actually means no profile information.

And yet, Facebook insisted I may know this faceless, informationless silhouette. But it wouldn’t even tell me if we had friends in common.

I’m not terribly cynical, but I couldn’t help wondering if this was Facebook’s version of “Operation Sock Puppet.” (The link is to a story in the Guardian about how the US military is contracting out to create ‘sock puppet’ software to create fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda via social media. Your tax dollars at work!)

Maybe Facebook was taking pity on me, for not having enough peoples-I-may-know. Or maybe they just make people up to fill the grid, though that seems unlikely, since there are 600 million real people to choose from.  Today, for example, all the users have photos, but the first three, Yeyizz PTe, PaOo – PAoo,  and Alejita Slip sound more like spam names than real people. Strangely, two others are Neida Yoana Cetina Rodriguez and Carmen Lucía Muñoz Salazar (she’s from Colombia. Colombia??)

I asked around, and no one else knew Bob Smith either. There was, in other words, almost no way to know whether this avatar with one of the most common English names possible was real, or just a digital fiction.

Almost no way. There was one thing left to do, which was to send a friend request.

You maybe can guess the result: no answer.

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2 thoughts on “Will the Real Bob Smith Please Stand Up?

  1. Great article.

    You write very well.  Your style compels people (me at least) to read
    the next sentence.

    Nicely done.  I look forward to part 2

    I am also fascinated by the fact that digital no-namesness would
    create such digital ripples. 

    Obscurity creates waves…. who knew?

  2. I’ve been a sock puppet for years. How can I apply to join the operation? Can this comment, unlike the two above it, pass a Turing Test?

    Actually, what I love about Facebook is that they recommend you friend these people, so you do, and then they scold you for friending too many people. Lovely site, Facebook.

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