Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Social Media Scary

I tend to be very comfortable in my little corner of the internet.

Blog posts go out. People read them. Some people leave comments, but if I compared comments to hits I'd say most people don't. Which is maybe why I'm so comfortable. I sort of forget how many people stop by, read and are gone without ever leaving a trace.

This isn't to say I'm not grateful for my readers or expect everyone to comment. It's more to explain my surprise at the series of unexpected events that follow.

My daughter has a phone, sort of. It's actually my old phone with the phone part deactivated. She loves checking her email, the weather and sharing silly pictures of her hamster (Nixie Minaj) clothed in the latest Child #1 creation.

Things were good until I realized I wanted her to be able to text me. Yes, I realize people lived for years without text messaging services, but it's just so convenient. In lieu of actual texting that would require a phone plan, I downloaded a messaging app to her phone and we started having long text conversations. I'm a social texter, which means I like to chat via text and, as it turns out, so is she.

And it was still all good until I published one little Tweet.

One little Tweet was all it took to remind me the internet is a teeming metropolis. Just because I stay in the nice neighborhoods, doesn't mean there aren't mean streets I shouldn't wander down in the middle of the night.

The Tweet, as most of my Tweets are, was innocuous. Something along the lines of "I love using [texting app] to text with my daughter #motherdaughterbonding.

What happened next was frightening. My phone started to blow up with text messages from other users on the app I'd named. Within ten minutes I had over thirty messages from strangers.

Some of the messages were disturbing. "Please talk to me. I need a mom." Some of them had major ick factor. "Hey MILF, I bet my c*ck is bigger than your husbands," complete with nonexistent punctuation and photoshopped evidence of the male sexual organ of, I don't know, a donkey, maybe a small elephant, attached to a human being.

The whole thing happened so fast it caught me off guard. I read a few messages before I remembered this app allows the sender to see when their message has been read. I started to get more messages which made me feel like my phone had been contaminated...which in a way it had.

In the end I quickly deleted the rest of the messages without reading them and haven't had a problem since.

But it did serve as a good reminder. The amount of hits my blog gets on a daily basis surprises me. On Twitter I have close to 7000 followers. On Google Plus my profile has found its way into a similar amount of circles. All of the foregoing is just a numerically quantified way of expressing the internet audience is wider than I remember.

I don't spend much time thinking about followers or numbers. Product, in the form of words, goes out. People read it. In the process I get to make interesting friends. This makes me happy and that's where my analysis ends. At least it did, until I got dragged kicking and screaming into an internet back alley.

I've been thinking of what happened as a wake-up call. The internet city is immense; a place virtual art museums are erected a mouse click away from prostitution rings. Maybe it's good to have an occasional reminder to look both ways before I cross the internet highway.

But I have to admit, it does leave me curious. What precautions do you take to avoid being hit by a runaway internet freight train?

26 comments:

Shell Flower said...

You poor thing. It's amazing how messed up people are. I avoid Twitter and Facebook like the plague, but it's everywhere. I think anyone with a blog knows how we often are found by accident by someone searching for porn. It rules the internet, unfortunately. This post reminds me of "New Cap City" in that show Caprica.

Barbara Watson said...

Such a good reminder. Some things I've done are: delete photos of my kids from FB, not use their names on the internet, not use my kids photos on Twitter or on my blog, and to post much less personal stuff. I know there are trails and ways to track, but I be as careful as I can.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was disturbing! I've never been hit with anything like that, but I guess it could happen. It reminds me why I keep my private life private.

Alison DeLuca said...

I never had anything like that happen either, but I am in shock right now for you. I can just imagine the mounting fear as you saw those dreadful messages.

I've stopped all mention of my kid's name except in private groups as a firewall. Probably I need to do much more.

So sorry that happened. :(

ilima said...

You have now made this writer very insecure. :)

Connie J Jasperson said...

Wow, Johanna - this is a serious wake-up call to me. I'm in some ways living in a small town in my head, which is totally wrong, for the very reasons you name in this post.

We write; it's what we do. Our workplace is the virtual universe, so now I need to develop my virtual ninja skills. You have given me a lot to ponder!

Johanna Garth said...

Shell, I try to find a happy balance. It's all part of building a platform.

Barbara, I spent a morning deleting photos from FB :)

Alex, you do a good job with that.

Alison, I think the names are more important to kid's privacy than the photos!

Ilima, I'm sorry!!

Connie, it's tricky to balance the platform demands with the privacy needs.

Joanne Noragon said...

This was important to read; thanks for writing it. I am astounded at the hits I get when my blog title has a too interesting word included. Like the time I wrote of the cat's ping pong balls. Sadly, some people have nothing better to do than troll the internet for "balls." I wonder if they have an alert set up; an alarm goes off, maybe even gets them out of bed, when a tagged word hits the air. Fools.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

It sounds like you are having a lot of success in connecting with people even if they are creepy connections. Maybe analyze how you could make them less creepy and see if there is some value there to explore :)

Gwen Gardner said...

Wow, who would have thought that a simple text could turn into something...yucky.

My twitter was hacked and someone sent out disgusting stuff from it before friends notified me that I'd been hacked. But at least they all knew I'd been hacked and didn't believe I sent those messages.

I've been lucky so far with social media, but if it ever got out of hand, I'd just shut it off and start anew :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm always careful what I say online. I don't give out any info that would endanger me or mine. Privacy is important to me. Most of my comments on twitter a fairly innocuous, and I only occasionally tweet or join in conversations. I've never had a bad experience. This would be disturbing. Truthfully, there are many needy people out there.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Jan Newman said...

Occurrences like that are so strange; if you'd said something totally outrageous and provocative, you might not have heard a peep. It's amazing how people betray trusts and zoom past decency and sense. Thankfully, to date, I've more good than bad experiences on the Net.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Ew, that's just creepy! *shudders* I'm glad your daughter didn't get those messages.

Rachel Tsoumbakos said...

Oh heck! That's just scary :-( It certainly is a wake up call. I think it might be time to tighten up my cyber-world as well.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Ew! That would have scared me, too! So, just naming the app gave other people the ability to track you down and send messages to your phone? Like, you didn't have to "friend" them first?

Sounds like not a great app ...

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Oh geez.. that's not good... (but I am understandably curious about the donkey-thing.)

Nicki Elson said...

Oh my goodness, that is scary, and I can only imagine how strange it must've felt. I don't really think about taking precautions, but I haven't actively built up my follower lists either...and now I'm thinkin' maybe that's a good thing.

P.S. Um, hampster pictures please. :)

Chuck said...

Here is my sage advice: I only use my twitter account to periodically keep up with some sports figures...seldom am I tweeting. Facebook is also seldom used for posting much other than some photos and maybe respond to some posts. NEVER do I share anything of a personal nature or anything that could suck me into the rabbit hole. Good post Johanna!

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Holy cow, that's scary. I've never had anything like that happen. I guess I have no idea how I'd handle it!

Naida said...

Wow Johanna, that's scary. You say it perfectly, the internet certainly has its seedy, dangerous back alleys and sometimes people get real comfy online and don't even realize there's literally millions of strangers online. I don't really tweet, I tried to but it never took. I have a facebook and am very careful with it. My privacy settings are high and I only allow family and trusted friends to view my photos.
You know since the whole blog scraping scare, I've been googling my name and I actually found my facebook profile pic and my full name for all to see at a 'special causes' site. I emailed them demanding to be taken off, and they told me that I must have 'liked' this 'causes' site at one point on facebook so that gave them permission to place my photo and full name on the world wide web for all to see. I've since gone back on facebook and 'un-liked' quite a few links.
Its scary where your personal info can wind up without you even knowing it.

Elise Fallson said...

Johanna that is scary and sorry you had to deal with that. I'm cautious on fb and keep from posting pics of my family or friending total strangers. I'm also not too active on twitter (mainly because i'm new and haven't really gotten the 'hang' of it yet) But what I find disturbing is an app that allows anyone else who uses the same program to send you messages directly to your line. ): What was your daughter's response? Does she know what happened? I have two children, 6 and 4 years old. Part of me thinks that since they are the generation growing up with all this social media, that things like what happened to you won't be as shocking to them later on. I think their generations will grow a certain tolerance to that kind of behavior and it worries me. I guess all we can do is teach our kids to be responsible and cautious about what we do and say on the internet. There is always someone out there that we don't know who is watching. And sorry for the long comment!

Michael Di Gesu said...

WOW,

That is scary Johanna. I generally don't think about it. If I do I look at my comments and tell myself, this is great I have X amount of friends that visited me today. Every now and then I glance at the meter and think WOW... I had only thirty comments, but was't my reading a few hundred less the other day?

I know I don't have a HUGE readership, but that's fine with me for now. Since I am unpublished, I care more about my blogger buddies dropping by to say hi. Since I have very few friends, practically none, here in Chicago, (I'm not from here originally), my blogger friends are my society. I have great conversations with them, I feel the warmth and respect a human needs for a stable life. So whenever I need a chat, there is always a friend just a click away.

Carol Kilgore said...

Ewww. I feel like washing my hands. I usually play in my own neighborhood, too. Thanks for the warning about the app. I tend to forget about those kinds of online dangers.

Tammy Theriault said...

So true...more views on my posts then comments. I'm a social texter too...unless I need to yell at you.... :-D

Pk Hrezo said...

This is a good reminder. It's so easy to forget the world is watching. And there are so many creepies out there. That's kinda why I stopped using Facebook so much---felt like I had no privacy. Now I stick with groups or I tweet about writing stuff. Other than that, my blog is it, but I have to remind myself the world can see my posts, even tho way less than that really cares about reading them. lol
I much prefer texting especially since I talk on the phone for a living. :)

jaybird said...

Ew, gross. That is disgusting. I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I don't Tweet, (even though I'm a Bird, he he he) and just deactivated my FB account a few weeks ago, due to a stalkerish "friend". The only social media I engage in now is my blog. That's about all I can keep up with anyhow.