Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Satire software

Is the number of fake Friendsters increasing? Are there more parody items for sale on eBay than there used to be? Lest anyone this is another example of bogus trendspotting, I’m not claiming that either is really happening; I’m just wondering….

My instinct tells me that we’re seeing more of this kind of thing, and it’s a permanent feature of social software, digital social networks, or what have you. The impulse to have imaginary friends starts in childhood, and seems to run deep. Mix in the practice of creating identies on massive, multiplayer games like Everquest and Lineage; reach back to the identity-creation games played on MOOs and MUDs; and it’s pretty much inevitable that you would have things like Fakesters. SF weekly has a story about the tug of war between Friendster and fakesters (which I caught via connected selves, a blog on digital social networks). Occasionally, users create Fakesters of real people: Gawker found Jayson Blair’s fake Friendster profile. (This is a different from creating online identies as part of an effort to defraud– look at the recent Fast Company for a great piece on that– but both exploit the same gaps in the system.

Using Amazon wish lists or eBay auctions as a performance art medium is a parallel phenomenon.

Has anyone written about the phenomenon of fake characters being created in real online venues?

Update: I suppose starting an entry about satire opens the door to endless updates, but in the comic identity realm, the Joi Ito blog parody, The Joy of Being Ito, is hard to beat. Some highlights:

  • 4/1/2003: Had brunch with the Pope this morning at St. Peter’s in Rome. I set him up with a Movable Type blog and started to explain how blogging could possibly replace the sacrament of confession, if we could somehow just arrange a trackback ping to God.
  • 4/1/2003: Larry Lessig sent a text message to my Iridium satellite phone while I was brunching with His Holiness to point out an error in an earlier post I made – it seems that “Amazon” is also the name of a little-known river in South America. (Who knew?!?)
  • Dean Kamen just popped in to say hi. I mean, he literally just appeared out of thin air in my office. It seems he’s perfected his latest invention…. Unfortunately, while testing a prototype, there was a fly in the chamber with him and now he has to wear these huge Yoko Ono sunglasses to cover his giant compound bug eyes. (I am *so* jealous. I want giant compound bug eyes, too!)

Update 18 August 2003: Kim Jong-Il’s blog is pretty funny, too. And the Social Software blog has some thoughtful posts on fakesters, identity, and the utility of social software. One post skewers a proposed “fakester” Web site, and in doing so makes the point that, postmodern posturing about the flexibility of reality aside, the giant squids and religious icons on Friendster only really work in an environment populated by real people:

How could anyone see the fun of inserting Jesus and San Francisco into a living social context, and then conclude that a site with only fake bios, in an inert and non-social setting (“There won’t be the whole full-fledged profile and inter-connected thing that Friendster has…”) will preserve any of the value of the fakester movement?

Just as Jerrold Siegel argued in his classic, wonderful book Bohemian Paris that the bohemians wouldn’t have existed had the bourgeois not existed, so too do these rule-breaking, vaguely criminal yet freespirited fakesters require real, hardworking friendsters to exist.

1 Comment

  1. The Fakester Revolution now has an official homepage:

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