Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Foursquare isn’t creepy, you are

Posted in Facebook,Search,Twitter by Elliott Back on May 13th, 2010.

It takes a lot to pull me from apathy and back to writing blog entries, but reading Jim Louderback’s article How Location-Based Social Networking Gets Creepy in AdvertisingAge was the 10,000 volt cattle-prod that got my fingers racing.

Subtitled “It’s 9 a.m., Do You Know Who the ‘Mayor’ of Your Kid’s School Is?”, the article’s basic premise is that new social networks can reveal how creepy the people around you are. In the new age of social connectivity and information sharing, you might encounter new information about your neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Quoting from the end of the article:

This tale is, in part, yet another log thrown on the privacy bonfire. But in this case it’s not about Facebook. It’s about locations, kids, parents, safety, and what your combined online persona says about you.

I’m convinced that our school’s “mayor” is a nice, warm and loving father. But from everything I saw that day, he seemed to be a shifty, creepy Texan with an unhealthy obsession with a small-town school on the coast of California.

What happened, according to the article, was that Jim Louderback was dethroned as Foursquare Mayor of the local California “small town” (what does this mean? which town?) school by a stranger. Wondering who might be checking into the same school in the same town, Jim decided to check out his usurper/neighbor. He found out the following things. I feel they are innocuous, but Jim thinks “what we found was concerning:”

  • The new mayor a Foursquare pro, more than 40 badges, including Crunked (4+ stops in one night), Player Please (checking in with 3 members of the opposite sex), Animal House (Off the Wagon Appreciates Your Business, COLLEGE), Douchebag (Doublepop that collar son), Hookup (Two different hotels?), and the Super Mayor badge (holding down 10+ mayorships simultaneously)
  • “His profile picture was not one to inspire confidence”
  • (later) He was actually a parent at our school, and his stepson was in my son’s class.

It’s unreasonable to assume much from the profile of a prolific foursquare user. Drinking, partying, and travel are all acceptable ways to relax in America. We’re a modern jet-setting crowd, and while “work hard, play hard” is a bit tired, it is the millenials’ standard. Nearly anyone older than 16 could have the same lifestyle and carefree attitude that describes a large portion of young America. However, our shoot-first-ask-questions-later author became enraged that a monster like Mr. Foursquare might live/work around his family:

They all painted a plausible impression of someone that I really didn’t want within 500 yards of my son. So I found him on Twitter and sent out a tweet with his handle embedded, wondering publicly if he was a pedophile.

Here’s the exchange between Jim Louderback and cloudwrangler, as it went down on Twitter:

jlouderb: @cloudwrangler, how can you be mayor of my son’s school in Pacifica CA when you live in Austin TX. Are you a pedophile, or is #4sqfu
9:31 PM May 1st via Seesmic

cloudwrangler: @jlouderb I live in SF, my stepdaughter is in class with your son, and I would appreciate you removing this unfounded public accusation.
11:06 PM May 1st via web in reply to jlouderb

cloudwrangler: @jlouderb Also, I know we’ve not had a chance to meet yet, and I would be more than happy to do so soon, perhaps at the open house in May.
11:09 PM May 1st via web in reply to jlouderb

jlouderb: @cloudwrangler Definitely! Was with a friend today and we were wondering who is this weird TX guy, mayor of Ocean Shore. I thought 4sq bug!
3:40 AM May 2nd via Seesmic

Does this seem like an appropriate way to approach a stranger? Would you walk up to someone on the street, and noticing their handlebar mustache, ask them, “With that mustache, I don’t want you hanging around any kids! Get out of here! Are you a pedophile?” Well, you might. But then you’re a conservetard asshole.

There’s a number of troubling fallacies in the reasoning:

  • Why does social networking only get creepy/personal/ugly when your children are involved? (the “think of the kids” fallacy)
  • Why are strangers to be feared instead of offered hospitality? (the “stranger danger” fallacy)
  • Why do you interact with things outside your understanding/comfort zone/personal network with defensiveness/hate/anger? (the “you’re not one of us” fallacy)

This could have gone over much better with this tweet: @Mr. Foursquare Hi, I see you go to the same school as my son! Live around here? We should grab cold ones sometime. Jim, you had a chance to make a friend.

Twitter’s Spam User

Posted in Memes,Twitter by Elliott Back on March 21st, 2009.

Twitter runs a little account @spam where you can send direct messages to point out spammers:

Name Spam Watch
Location Twitter HQ
Bio Suspect Twitter spam? Follow us and send a DM!

Today they’ve been quite noisy, inundating me with a flurry of poorly thought-out, and then corrective, text messages.


Hurray, I’m being spammed by the spam-reporting service….