It should surprise no one that I get into a lot of fights on social media — with readers, friends old and new, occasional family members and, often, people I have not met, as the kids say, IRL.
Often, when in the throes of an argument, I’ll click over and check out the person’s personal page, just so I can get a look at the SOB. Sometimes I find common ground with the person — mutual friends or interests, family photos, something that reminds me that the person with whom I so vehemently disagree is, indeed, an actual person like me, with their own fears and concerns. But sometimes I find that the other person isn’t a person at all. No one truly knows how many fake Facebook accounts are out there, but in May the company scrubbed half a billion of what it termed “fake accounts,” and it’s enough of a problem that the company announced increased measures to deal with it last month. And there are plenty more out there. I busted one just this week in a popular Greensboro political forum: an argumentative bastard who said he lives in Oregon, with just four friends — two of which were bots — and no posts to speak of, yet he made regular stops at this forum to throw turds. In other words: not a real guy. It’s important to distinguish here the difference between a bot, which is a profile run by a computer program, and a catfish, which is an actual person hiding behind a false identity. They’re equally loathsome, have similar negative effects on the discourse and are both designed to distort reality. But at least the bots are programmed to act that way. Catfish decide to do it all on their own.