Steinberg: Are you a real person?

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Stephanie Scott is a forensic psychiatrist, football lover, journalist and educator. Elli Mcguirk is also a forensic psychiatrist, as well as a dancer backpack ninja, web talent and “good friend.” Raina Tipps is also a backpack ninja.

Forty-seven people followed me on Twitter Monday. Much more than the usual handful I expect in a day. I couldn’t help but look closely at my new flock. Perky young women, mostly, with odd, strangely capitalized names, sharing a suspicious confluence of interests. Romaine Mcpeters, Tanya Preusser and Margot Lopez are each a self-proclaimed “beer drinking coffee junky,” as opposed to Marta Sumter and Laura Salzman who are just coffee ninjas, and Melba Mcclary, a mere coffee “enthusiast.”

It dawned on me — quite quickly, considering all the years I thought the Kinks song “Lola” was about a girl — that these were not the Twitter identities of actual people who had fallen under the spell of my high quality journalism, but faux identities generated by computers.

The idea is, you are followed by a robot, glance and see a pretty face who also likes coffee, and you follow them back, then suddenly are getting their curious blend of non sequitur factlets — “Apart from the burial of Unas, only the Pyramid of Teti displays the Cannibal Hymn” — intermixed with come-ons for holistic websites: “5 Natural #Herbs To Detox Damaged Lungs.”


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If you are unfamiliar with Twitter — and geez, get with the program, at this point it’s like being unfamiliar with shampoo — it’s an online communication network where you blast messages at your band of followers while in turn being blasted by messages of the people you follow. Somehow in all this, communication occurs, or did, before all this random commercial garbage began to gum it up.

Fake Twitter accounts are not news, except to me. The fake accounts story has been rattling around for a few years. Back in the 2012 election, it was pointed out that a significant percentage of Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s fan base were fake accounts. The way it works is you go to certain sites where you basically buy followers, for a penny apiece. These drive up your Twitter numbers, and people are more impressed with you.

I wondered where they got the photos, so plugged a few into Google’s image search. Ammie Arthurs, a Halle Berry type, was swiped from “The Hottest Short Hairstyles & Haircuts for 2015.” Elli Mcguirk? The photo was actually Elena Mazur, a communications consultant in Toronto. Maryjo Kratz was Julia Khorramchahi, a “Brazilian/Iranian human being” and “digital marketer” also from Toronto. The “human being” made me suspicious — could these Canadian flaks be using their own photos to generate fake accounts? I sent a few queries and Khorramchahi responded.

“Defnitely NOT my doing!” she tweeted to me. “Thanks for pointing it out; will report that account right away.”

OK then. I was left with the moral quandary. A person on Twitter is judged, in part, by the size of the following herd. As it happened, Monday’s busload of mannequins pushed me over the 5,000 follower mark, a milestone I had been anticipating for a while, though grimly aware how small beans that is on the online world.

So some of my followers on Twitter are not a cargo cult of actual living people, scanning the skies for my next essay. Who cares? We already tolerate people in our lives who really aren’t there. The woman guiding you through giving your information when you call a credit card company is not really talking to you. Miss October, smiling alluringly from her centerfold, is not really here.

If you believe the view of the future in movies such as “Her” and “Ex Machina,” then we will happily have relationships with electronic intelligences and robot inamoratas.

Why not? Raggedy Andy was not really my pal, though I thought so at the time. Why not accept company where you find it? Perhaps as people become more robotic and absent, shuffling around, gazing at their phones, the phones will become more human and present. Talk about irony.

On second thought, no. I decided to purge my robot harem, on general principles. Boosting your numbers with fake followers is like wearing elevator shoes — the solution is worse than the problem.

So goodbye Frida Byham (“skiing fan”). Goodbye Jessica Phillips (“Total bacon specialist”). Goodbye Noelle Shyes (“Javadicted”). I have enough fake friends as it is without tolerating more.

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