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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Duck Soon Paik, International Friend of Mystery

The first message I got, I ignored. Then about a month later, it came again:

ducksoonpaik

Hmm. Duck Soon Paik, eh? Did I know such a person? It didn’t ring a bell. I tried to peer through the haze of high school, to recall if I had a friend with that name. College? More probable, but still no bell ringing. Work? Hmm. Nope. Still no bells.

But it’s an uncommon name, something I know something about. For example, out of 150,000,000 FaceBook users, the FB group “Ochwats on FaceBook” has only 23 members. When I wrote the Ethernaut, I got an e-mail from a guy in England with the same last name. Though we US Ochwats were surprised we had brethren in England, our doubts of his authenticity were laid to rest when the correspondent told us he worked as a janitor. In a psychiatric hospital. And he thought he was going to get laid off.

Yep, my father said. With career success like that, he’s an Ochwat, all right.

I thought I’d remember someone named Duck. How much fun I would have had with the nicknames (“Patita,” “My little duckling,” etc.) .. or with the word canard! Yet I remembered none of this. Not a bill, not a webbed foot, not a single turd in a pond.

And I began to wonderwhat I actually did know. Could reunion.com have made a mistake? No, that never happens. But what did I know about Duck? Was s/he  a …

fabio_01

Man?

pamela

Woman?

se_ri_paik

Korean golfer?

duck

Other?

Alas, I remained clueless. So I did what we all do in this day and age: I used Google.

In July, a judge found 73-year-old Duck Soon Paik guilty of failure to stop for a pedestrian, but not guilty of careless driving. Her ticket came to $209.

Mystery solved! She might be Duck Soon Paik on her traffic ticket, but she sounds like an Ochwat to me.