You know how you generally shouldn’t say things if you have to preempt them with a qualifying statement like, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” or “I don’t mean to seem racist, but…” Okay, well, while I generally think that’s a great rule, I’m going to go ahead and violate it with this post. (No, I’m not going to be racist.)
So, here goes:
I don’t mean to be a conspiracy theorist, but…
Thinking (and writing) about social media automation and digital ghosts has got me thinking (and apparently writing) about online identity theft and impersonation. The pieces of ourselves that we’re leaving around the internet may allow for us to have ghosts – even before we’re gone; I’m going to call them digital doppelgangers.
Background on why I’m thinking like Fox Mulder: I’m currently reading Jeffrey Deaver’s The Broken Window. (And by reading, I meaning listening to the audio book while driving to and from work…) Synopsis without spoilers: it’s about a killer who uses digital data to select victims and blame innocent people for his crimes. Yes, it’s a trashy summer thriller, but it does make some thought-provoking points about the amount of data that we’re all giving out about ourselves.
Independently each piece of personal data is just that – a piece. But, when you put all the pieces, all of our digital footprints, together you can create a pretty good approximation of who someone is. If you can change someone’s data, if you change the record of what someone’s done; you change predictions of what they’ll do, and you change the way the world sees them and how it reacts to them.
The digital ghosts I was talking about yesterday? They’re social media bots; but unlike those programmed to get your credit card number (yes, those really do exist, no conspiracy theory necessary), they’re programmed to be you. True digital ghosts would be you faithfully and hopefully disinterestedly – although I’m sure there’s a way for someone to make money off of them. (After all why else would people bother to program them? ) Would you pay to speak to your friend one last time? Would you pay to get advice from your dead father? (My Dad called today saying that he’d read my last post. He was like, “Just think, now I’ll be able to give you my opinions about whatever you do forever!” Pass…)
The creepiness of digital ghosts aside, what happens when someone else decides to be you while you’re still here? When they create a MaggieBot or a WhoeverBot and send it off on the internet to be you? Could you friends and family really tell the difference?
What if the bot’s not really faithful to who you are? If it changes your thoughts and opinions and presents them differently? If I say I like Pepsi better than Coke, but MaggieBot says I like Coke better that Pepsi, what do you (my reader, audience, friend, follower, etc.) believe is true? How do you know which statement’s coming from me and which one’s coming from MaggieBot?
Yes, it’s a silly example, and I highly doubt that anyone would ever bother programming a MaggieBot, let alone one that would mess with my pop preferences. (For the record, I drink Coke Zero. So, if you ever see my write something else, run and hide… the Botpocalypse has come.)
But what if it’s a BarackObamaBot? And what if it says we’re declaring war? (On who? I don’t know.) What if it says that America’s been attacked? What if it announces he’s resigning? How much can happen in the time that it takes for us to catch on to the fact that it’s a bot? (I apologize in advance if this post leads to some sort of Barack Obama is a robot conspiracy theory.)
So, I guess here’s where I’m going with all of this: as more and more of our communications happen digitally and in the public record, we’re laying the groundwork for our own digital ghosts. But those digital ghosts may not wait for our deaths; they may come in the form of digital doppelgangers.
Personally, I’m not looking forward to my very own digital Celebrity Deathmatch against MaggieBot. But if she messes with this blog, she’s toast.
Questions of the day: What’s weirder: digital ghosts or digital doppelgangers? Also, Botpacalypse, coming soon to a theatre near you?
MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.