Eight years ago I created a fake Facebook account for a completely fake person. I’m not sure why exactly I did it, but half the reason was probably just to use it to mess with my friends. But for some reason I never deleted it year after year. I kept it going, visiting it every couple months to see how “Jake” was doing. And I actually ended up learning something from it.
I first created the account in late 2007, but it didn’t get much use until a few years later. In 2010 I was still a freshman in college. I had a lot of free time. I also wasn’t talking to my friends from high school as much, at least, not from my normal Facebook account. I created a fake account in February of that year for a completely fabricated person. It was a fully-fleshed out profile – a complete ‘About’ section, sharing photos and links, and just making random posts. Later that year I finally set ‘Jake’ up with a profile picture. I had found an old Myspace page from a random person who had no privacy settings. All of this person’s pictures were public. Because who really thought about privacy on social media in Myspace’s hayday?
From there, gaining new friends was incredibly easy. I sent requests to people who I was already friends with personally. Then I’d add their friends, then their friends, and so on and so forth. So when I’d add someone new, they’d see something like this:
I’d say about 85% of the people who Jake sent a friend request to accepted without a second thought. No one knew this person. The pictures were from a guy who was hundreds of miles away. Yet they added him anyway. Facebook actually blocked me 3 times from adding new people because of how fast Jake was gaining new friends. In 5 years, only one person reported Jake as suspicious, saying they didn’t know who he was (this is an option when denying a friend request). Jake was banned from adding new friends for a week. After that, there were no other problems. In fact, people soon started requesting Jake as a friend.
About 10% of the remaining people would message Jake after a friend request: “Hey do I know you?” And I used a canned response every time, and it almost always worked. Here’s some conversations I had:
(I’ve since removed all of the profile photos of the random guy whose pictures I’d chosen for this “project”)
Almost every conversation went the same way. It was ridiculously easy. Maybe 5% of all the people Jake had requested rejected him. At his peak, he had over 1000 friends. Some people legitimately believed they knew Jake. I couldn’t believe it.
But to really make it seem like Jake was a real person, he couldn’t just be friends with my friends. He had to be friends with people from where he said he worked, from his hometown, and his college. So he requested people from every network to which he was attached. And it worked. So if anyone were to actually take a close look at Jake’s information and compare it to his friends, it would make sense. And all of this was simple, just a few clicks.
Developing a Personality
Eventually Jake became a fully fleshed out character. Based on his posts from several years, you could see a personality come to form. Jake was a “bro”. He was mysogynistic and kind of a douche. But people on the internet love that – even on Facebook. People love to see someone else making an ass of themself, saying things they’d never say. It’s entertainment. Jake had no filter. For quite a while, every single one of Jake’s Facebook statuses were taken straight from MyLifeIsBro.
When something was happening in the news, Jake would have something to say:
Jake would RSVP “yes” to every event he was invited to. Obviously, he never showed up. But on Facebook it looked like he was active. He would wish people “happy birthday” and on his “birthday”, they’d wish it to him back. He’d make statuses about working at his job at the Olive Garden. Online, Jake was as real as anyone else.
I’m not going to lie and say I set out to do this to make a point. That was not my intention when I started this. I did it for fun. I wanted to test people. To see what would get a rise out of them, to mess with them. It was interesting to see reactions of people I knew to things Jake, not Bill Solecki, had said. It was fun to play a character.
What I Learned
That being said, I was very surprised by some of the things I noticed. People would have full conversations with their friends in front of an audience of hundreds. Girls and guys alike would share very private photos. They would make posts about things I would consider incredibly personal. Had they forgotten they had all these people who could see everything?
As Jake, I shared other people’s very personal posts. I commented on anything I wanted. I ignored all social boundaries and said whatever I felt like saying. The people most surprised by my posts were not the ones whose posts on which I was commenting. They were the few people who knew Jake wasn’t real. They probably couldn’t believe I was actually continuing the charade.
I never personally met with any of Jake’s friends. I never engaged in relationships with any of them. Hell, Jake barely ever had any conversations with people. (Chat was always turned off. Conversations were too much work for my liking.) I started all of this before Catfish was a thing, but that movie and TV show really serve to make the same point I am now: You need to be careful online. Sure I’m just some random guy messing around, but other people are not. The internet really is like the wild west. It can be dangerous. Companies get hacked, people have their identities stolen, kids get bullied to immeasurable levels, etc. It’s not only those kinds of cases though. It’s also on a level on which every single person can relate. It’s about self-worth and self-respect.
Your personal life is not anyone else’s business but your own.
The only thing I want you to take away from this post is this: Please be careful with what you post online and with whom you share it. Internet privacy is a serious issue, this is not just a Facebook thing. Make use of all privacy controls available to you. Use sharing controls to control which groups see certain posts.
One last thing, you may remember earlier in the post I said my canned response in messages “almost always worked”. One time it did not.