Mixed Feelings on Parker Whittle and Other Fictitious Web “Friends”

August 11, 2008

Reality television has made non-celebs “stars” and now social media is paving the way to make fake people my friends.  It has me wondering what’s in store for the future.

I started thinking more about the blurring lines between reality and fiction last month when I came across Parker Whittle – self described as “just a guy with a computer and good intentions.”  Because I’d been referred to Parker’s i’m talkathon blog from a trusted resource, I believed — if only for a brief moment — that Parker was a real person trying to raise money for a good cause. 

It quickly was evident that this was a corporate campaign but I at least thought Parker was a real guy, even if he was blogging on behalf of a company and/or cause (in this case, Microsoft’s i’m Initiative).  Once I got to the disclaimer language at the bottom, which contained phrases such as “If you’re reading this, your BS detector is chirping” and “If we rubbed you the wrong way…so ‘sorry, our bad,'” it revealed that Parker didn’t exist in any form. I felt a little duped. Instead of creating a fictitious character, Microsoft should have considered having people apply for the position or perhaps found a real person to serve in the role, especially since it was to promote a communication tool between actual people. 

Since discovering Parker Whittle, I’ve read several stories about other people questioning the validity of some online acquantances. Some social media “personas” are entertaining and obviously aren’t real.  For example, I was intrigued when I read about the Sci-Fi Channel creating a Twitter account for S.A.R.A.H, a character from its prime-time, technology-centric show “Eureka.” And, while some people may question why I’d ever admit it, I’m LinkedIn to Kevin Bacon. (Yes, I know, the likelihood that it’s the Kevin Bacon is slim, yet I thought it was kind of funny).         

As a marketer, I definitely think there’s a place in social media for connecting with brands or personalities, but I’m hoping it won’t get to a point where the majority of profiles carry disclaimer language.