February 24, 2008

Not My Space


You Got Your Good Thing, and You Got Mine


Early Sunday morning before getting on with the rest of the day, I decided to check my email. Waiting for me there was a brief note from a friend of mine. It read, in full:

            I’m presuming that is actually you.

            Just checking.

            Well let’s just say he was presuming incorrectly. I not only hadn’t set up a MySpace page—I wouldn’t. To my mind, MySpace (and FaceBook, and YouTube and the rest of those space-bar-challenged sites) are all symptoms of a culture in desperate, pathetic decline. Not that I have anything against other people who’ve set up MySpace pages—several friends have, and they find it a very helpful promotional tool. I realize it’s The Thing To Do these days, but . . . not for me.

            Then I went to take a look at the page in question, and things only got worse. I do not write a “blog.” I do not want to meet sidewalk book vendors (wonderful people though they are). And apart from the flagrant and multiple copyright violations, whoever set it up has made it look like I’m behind it. So much so, in fact, that some old friends—people who should know better—were confused, posting messages there they thought I would be reading.

            This, needless to say, wasn’t cool. First, since I’m still sort of alive and kicking (unlike my new “MySpace Friends” Tod Browning and Lon Chaney), why not give me a heads up if you’re going to do something like this? Why not, you know, ask first? And shy of that, why not at least announce that the page in question is an “Unofficial Fan Site”? It seems simple enough.

            Then I remembered something Morgan and I have talked about on several occasions—namely that we’re living in an age of smash and grab when it comes to identity and intellectual property. Everything’s free for the taking.

            This represented everything I’d been railing against for years. I began raging about the apartment as Morgan tried to calm me down. It wasn’t so bad, she said—good publicity, even—so long as I could get the responsible party to clarify that it was an Unofficial Fan Site.

            The question then became, who was doing it, and how did I go about stopping them? Granted, it wasn’t like they’d stolen my Social Security number and destroyed my credit rating, but it was an unwelcome invasion. As Morgan put it, it wasn’t “identity theft” so much as “attention theft.”

            I knew that the photo on the site had been taken about a year and a half ago by a pair of young filmmakers, who’d stopped by to film a short interview. So far as I knew, nothing had ever been done with that picture. Obviously, then, they were the ones behind this MySpace page. So I slammed out a quick note demanding to know what the fuck they were thinking. (Morgan read it before I sent it to make sure I wasn’t too mean).

            A few hours later I heard back. No, it wasn’t them, they explained. They would never do such a thing. But, they told me, someone had contacted them a few weeks earlier to request a photo to post on some other site that I had nothing to do with. It was the same photo that ended up on MySpace.

            A-ha!, right? So there was the culprit. I apologized for falsely accusing the filmmakers, and sent this other guy a note. Somehow, I was getting the feeling this two-bit whodunnit was about to become far more complicated than it needed to be.

            As I waited to hear from him, I went back to the MySpace page. They don’t, of course, reveal the identities of the people behind the different pages (which is kind of ironic, if you think about it), so I tried to send a note through the page’s “comments” button.

            Turns out you can’t do that (of course) unless you’re a registered member, which I wasn’t, and wasn’t about to become. So that option was out.

            The guy who had requested the photo from the filmmakers wrote back later that afternoon. He hated MySpace, too, he said, so needless to say had nothing to do with setting up the fraudulent page. But he did pass along the name of the person who added a link to the MySpace page to some other site.

            This is where things start getting really weird. The name he gave me was that of an old friend of mine—but one I hadn’t heard from in years. No one had, actually. He just vanished one day, without telling anyone where he was going or why. That was his business and I’ve known it to happen before with others. But now here was his name again, possibly connected with this fake me.

            Something I initially figured would require one vaguely threatening and accusatory email really was turning into a community dinner theater production of The Long Goodbye.

            I took another look at the list of my new MySpace buddies, and began thinking “hmmm . . . ” A few of them had definite connections at one point or another with this guy who’d pulled the disappearing act, but that didn’t tell me anything. There were plenty of other people who had no connection with him, so far as I was aware.

            And besides, there was no proof whatsoever that simply because he posted a link, he had something to do with creating the MySpace page.

            I was being introduced a whole new world here—one I never wanted to know.

            A few other people sent me links to the MySpace page for reporting identity fraud, but it was no help unless I was already a member. I tried to send a note to the MySpace customer service department, but they’ve made it comically impossible to report a problem. (No wonder there are so many child molesters prowling the site—no one can complain about them!)

            The more I tried to wrassle my way around the system and track down the responsible culprit, the angrier I became. That was no good. I don’t function well when I’m angry. I started drinking instead, and put Blast of Silence in the DVD player. That helped. Blast of Silence always helps.

            I went back again and looked at some of the people who’d become my new electronic pals, and had to admit some of them were pretty cool—The Residents, Pere Ubu, Nick Tosches. But again, who knew how many of those sites were fraudulent, too?

            That evening, my friend Dave Williams called. He’d been on MySpace for a few years, and liked it a bunch. Still, he could understand my predicament. He told me pretty much the same thing Morgan had—in spite of the invasion, there was something to appreciate about someone who would put that much effort into setting up a page like that.

            The murderous impulse was slowly beginning to fade. All I wanted the guy to do—whoever he was—was announce clearly that it was an Unofficial Fan Site, and that I had nothing to do with it. That didn’t seem too much to ask, if I could just get in touch with him somehow.

            I am a complete dunderhead when it comes to all matters technological, but am fortunate enough to know some very clever folks. Both Morgan and David suggested forwarding a message through someone who already had a MySpace account. Then, the following morning, Morgan told me how to go about registering myself in a minimal fashion. The idea, as always, repulsed me, but I saw no way around it. It’s becoming impossible to function in this world without registering for this, or getting scanned for that, or handing over a bagful of personal information to some corporation, which will turn around and use it to try to sell you things.

            I couldn’t afford to let this annoying glitch occupy my mind any longer. There were too many other, important things going on. So I bit my tongue hard, held the bile down, and registered, just so I could pass along a friendly “cease and desist” note.

            Which I did. This whole thing could be taken care of very easily. You’d think, if whoever it was enjoyed what I did—which he apparently does—he’d grant me this small courtesy. And if he doesn’t, well, then out come the big guns, I guess.


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