Facebook has been under fire for sometime over its ‘real name’ policy but what happens if you create a completely fake person and let strangers on the internet decide who they are? That’s what Joe Veix decided to do.
The writer and inveterate Web experimenter – I previously wrote about his Chrome extension which obliterates mentions of brands – published the login details for a newly-created Facebook account and watched what happened.
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I spotted it over the weekend and joined in with the mob messing with ‘Maximilien Manning’, his fake life, real Facebook friends and ever-changing experiences.
When I replaced his cover photo with a lovely ‘Adventure Time’ wallpaper, it was instantly switched out for a raunchy Rule 34 image of the show’s protagonists Finn and Jake. My eyes may never recover.
One of the oddest things about logging in and ‘becoming’ Max is that Facebook chat allows a profile to write messages from multiple logins. I’d type something and then see messages from the rest of the collective. We had become the Borg.
Max changed a lot over the weekend. Joe Veix was added as his father. He befriended scores of people and poked others. He moved from Ouagadougou to New Mexico to Brooklyn to Bali to Boca Raton to Lincoln, Nebraska.
His professional life was also busy with stints at Dave & Busters, Arby’s, Uber and Taco Bell as well as a new outfit known only as Memes.
Check his ‘likes’ and you’ll find he’s into a lot of stuff including the Buffalo Bills, wedding planners, pet crematoriums, communism, Stacy’s Mom, ‘Street Fighter’ characters, Blockbuster, the Spin Doctors, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and, inevitably, poop.
I’d wanted to write about Veix’s experiment when I first saw it on Saturday but agreed with him to hold off until now, for fear that Facebook would unceremoniously execute Max.
Of course, the invented Facebook persona had to be turned to trolling. Veix recounts:
On Sunday, someone changed the profile and cover photos to the Taco Bell logo, updated the account’s job to ‘Customer Service Representative’ and started messaging people complaining to Taco Bell on Facebook, pretending to be a social media manager for the company.
He says there had been 135 logins to the account as of Monday, from locations including France, Sweden, Columbia, the United Arab Emirates, and New Jersey.
The success of Max led him to experiment on Instagram and Twitter. The former hasn’t taken off – only a few photos have been posted – while the latter instantly became unpleasant and was swiftly killed for ‘suspicious activity’:
[It] instantly became sort of like 4chan on methamphetamines. Someone posted the lyrics to ‘One Headlight’ while others added a bunch of bizarre photos. After someone started harassing a teenage girl, I decided to shut it down. Before I got a chance, Twitter locked the account for suspicious activity, right as I was screen grabbing the feed one last time for posterity…
But why hasn’t Max been flagged by Facebook as spam? Veix has a theory, which I agree with. By friending people, liking brands and sharing posts, the fake persona is practically the perfect Facebook user:
[The social network] favored the aggressive usage, and the account spread like a kind of virus, perfectly designed to take advantage of how Facebook operates.
And while it was a fun experiment, it’s also ended up making a powerful point about the illogical way Facebook applies the ‘real name’ policy.
A weird and borderline spamming creation ended up more welcome there than people using pseudonyms or chosen names for their safety or as an expression of an identity their ‘legal’ name does not fit. Of course, it’s also likely that Facebook just hasn’t caught up with Max yet. It probably will now.
➤ What happens when give your Facebook password to the whole internet [Death And Taxes]