The Facebook Stalker

Facebook has found my next-door neighbour. And the real estate agent who showed us around a few houses last year. And the chef who used to do out-catering for the place I worked at two jobs ago. And our old landlord (the one who called me Tracey).

I share friends with none of these people, and yet Facebook somehow suggests them as people I might know. It’s a reminder that we weave a diverse and intricate web with every interaction we perform online. I have their email addresses, or have simply pinned the house next door to the one they pinned. In this way, Facebook is the creepiest (and most inept) stalker I’ve ever encountered. “You threw away this English muffins wrapper once, and so therefore I will flood you with English muffins because you must love them!!!!… PLEEEEESE pay attention to me!!!!”

I did figure out how to stop it from trying to sell me on Donald Trump pages. I liked Bernie Sanders. So it’s just gone back to trying to send me to Hair Metal fan pages, and I’m much happier. See? With every tiny interaction it learns a little more. The problem lies in when it tries to extrapolate a larger meaning in something I regard as silly and meaningless – or just something I throw into the mix to fuck with it. It appears so desperate and starved for information that it’s willing to make massive assumptions. Like a stalker.

When I woke up this morning, it greeted me with a cheery announcement that today is the first day of winter.

Problem is that June 1st is actually the first day of winter in New Zealand. Today is the winter solstice in New Zealand and, in the USA, the first day of summer. See, Facebook apparently hasn’t figured out that other countries have their own official seasons, which don’t necessarily correspond to American ones. Massive assumption, right there. I don’t know how to break it to Facebook that other countries have their own calendars too, and it’s not even 2016 in every part of the world. I think that would cause its little algorithms to melt down.

It reminded me of another Facebook post that appeared on one of my (silly, meaningless) Hair Metal sites a couple months ago. It was a picture that Bret Michaels had shared, showing him smiling alongside Donald Trump. It was from the season of Celebrity Apprentice that Bret competed in and eventually won. Considering that his win gathered a lot of money for diabetes research, it’s actually an achievement worthy of pride. However, of course people had to assume that the timing of such a photo being posted online was in itself an endorsement of Trump and everything he stands for. Publicly, Bret said no such thing.

I let it pass without comment. I understand why people responded alternatively with “Ohmagerd! I can’t believe you like that asshole!” and “Yeah! Make America Great!”, but in the end it was just a photo (and an old photo at that). People already make too many big assumptions from little details, and life is complex and often (mostly) unknowable. Perhaps he likes Trump or perhaps he doesn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised (or horrified) either way. Everyone has their own life experience and their own motivations, and liking a particular political candidate is not a crime. At least not in any country I’d like to live in.

From what I’ve seen, Bret Michaels is enormously careful about what he says in public. He posts about tour dates and merchandise. He mentions loving his children and loving “the troops”. He posts about kid fans struggling with diabetes and adult fans fighting major diseases. It is all very manicured and likable and almost guaranteed to never cause offense… Not much like a real person, but at least like someone who understands corporate brands. Why risk alienating the punters by voicing a strong (or unpopular) opinion? Why give up the right to a certain measure of privacy? In that way, a post about Trump would appear to be very out of character, but perhaps he felt strongly enough that he had to drop hints… Or perhaps it’s just a photo.

I’m sure it sounds stalker-esque, but I just don’t think one can make big assumptions about someone who is so light in his online presence. His nuttier fans seem to disagree, but perhaps that’s the true reason why he keeps his opinions to himself. 27 years after I first sat up and paid attention to him, I really know him no better than he knows me. I have no clue whether or not he likes English muffins.

However, I’ll bet that Facebook is trying to get him to join every Trump for President page right about now.

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