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I’m being stalked by Facebook

The social media site’s relentless probing is beyond creepy

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

I don’t recall how it happened but some time ago I got signed up for Facebook. Why I’m not sure because I have never used it, partly because I find the telephone and emails quite enough to counter any tendency I might have to the eremitic and partly because I can never think of the kind of inane triviality that Facebook users vouchsafe to each other. True, there are those around me who consider my every utterance an inane triviality, but that is an argument for keeping one’s thoughts to oneself rather than publishing them to the world on Facebook.

I ought to cancel my subscription but inertia has so far prevented that and I remain a nominal member of the Facebook community, not lapsed because never practising, just agnostic about the whole thing. Facebook, though, finds that not good enough. With missionary zeal it has been reaching out to claim me for its own, that I too might be amongst the elect, my name written in golden letters in the register of faithful Facebook chatterers.

It has been conducting this campaign in stages. After I had been enrolled in Facebook for several weeks and not availed myself of its services it began to email finger-wagging reminders. “Acj, your account has not been very active”; “Acj, we haven’t heard from you recently.” (Acj, I should explain, are the three initials of my Christian names, but Facebook has somehow got hold of the idea that they are my name pure and simple, though how it would suggest pronouncing them I have no idea: a bit like “Ng” I suppose.)

These calls to repentance went on for a while at the rate of one or two a week. I ignored them. The next phase of the campaign was to hint with just the tiniest note of reproach that I was neglecting my friends. “Acj, John Smith is waiting to hear from you,” – John Smith or whatever name was mentioned being someone I know, and whom, far from waiting to hear from me, I might well have spoken to ten minutes before Facebook sent its email. Indeed for all Facebook knew I might have been talking to him as the email arrived, though not of course on Facebook which from its point of view is what counts. Clearly John Smith is also a Facebook subscriber, though whether practising or nominal I couldn’t say, nor whether his permission was sought to tell me that he was waiting to hear from me. Perhaps without knowing I too am cited in such cases: “John Smith, Acj is waiting to hear from you.”

Nor do I know how Facebook knew that I know John Smith. That’s mysterious and a little creepy as though Facebook is a version of Big Brother. One wonders whether some stalwart of media rectitude like Professor Disney should be informed. But however they found out, the assertion that he was waiting to hear from me, or I from him, was Facebook’s little fiction.

When this recourse to invention proved ineffective Facebook began to interrogate me. “Acj, do you know John Smith, Mary White and Jamie Pollard?” I felt as though I was being grilled, like one of those suspects you read about who are coyly described as “helping the police with their enquiries” (enquiries that you suspect are also being helped by an old standby that the technology from which Facebook arose is rendering redundant, at least for its original purpose – the thumpingly thick telephone book). In the unlucky event that Facebook were able to reach through the computer to question me face to face, how far would it go to find out who I knew? As an American entity, would it think waterboarding justified?

Usually I did know one or two of the names cited, though again how Facebook was able to peer into my address book is not clear. At any rate this catechisation was not enough to bring me into the fold. Facebook then tried flattery, cunningly trying to butter me up by implying that as well as knowing ordinary mortals like John Smith and Mary White, I also moved in more exalted circles. “Acj, do you know Malcolm Turnbull and John Smith?” “Do you know John Smith and Shane Warne?” We didn’t quite make it to “Acj, do you know Barack Obama, Colonel Sanders and Meryl Streep?” or “Do you know Pope Francis I, Vladimir Putin and HM The Queen?” (all of them on Facebook I believe) but it wouldn’t have made any difference. Of course I didn’t know them but not even Facebook’s blandishments were going to make me act as though I did and send them little announcements about what I’d had for breakfast or how I couldn’t stand Andrew Bolt (a staple opinion, I gather, in the world of politically aware social-media enthusiasts).

Still I resisted and resist the siren calls to join in the feast of reason and flow of soul that is Facebook conversational exchange. But Facebook doesn’t give up easily. Like ravings of delirium the emails persist, though I suspect my persecutor has run out of names of people I might really know and exhausted its repertoire of those in high places it incorrectly supposes I might aspire to know or hopes to persuade me into deluding myself that I do actually know. All that’s left is to hurl names at me on the monkeys-writing-Shakespeare principle that, if they name enough names, one might be the name to strike the chord that will propel me into activating my account. Any names will do, it seems, and Facebook has rummaged among its subscribers far and wide. I am as fond of multiculture as anyone but not quite a citizen of the world on the scale Facebook seems to imagine. “Acj, do you know Deborah D’cruz, Oshanie Bandaranaike and Brittany Vanderrest?” “Acj, do you know Udara Wijesinghe and Rory Walker?” You can hear the shrill note of desperation. “Acj, do you know Madhushani Chathurika Kariyawasam, Jayamini Lakshika Perera and Melanie Blewonski?” That was this morning’s email. I am waiting for, “Acj, don’t you know anybody?

No, no and no again. But if the day comes when I am friendless and thinking life no longer worth living I’ll have a rich store of Facebook names to turn to for companionship before contacting Dr Nitschke (who one supposes is on Facebook). “Deborah, Oshanie, Brittany and Udara, Rory, Madhushani, Jayamini and Melanie, Acj wants to know you. But you’d best be quick.”

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Christopher Akehurst is a journalist and contributor to the Spectator Australia

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