China Miéville is not your Facebook friend. Owl Goingback might like to be.

ETA: China reports the ersatz Chinas (Chinae?) have been removed. Behold the power of geekdom! And no need to spread further, now. Trimming this down, accordingly.

Post title borrowed from Marie Brennan, from whom I heard about this. Basically, author China Miéville is having some issues with Facebook. I’ll let him sum up, in a letter (actual paper letter!) that I have reposted with his enthusiastic permission to all.

Facebook
1601 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto
CA 94304
USA
6 October 2010

Dear Facebook People,

URGENT COMPLAINT– PLEASE READ, MORE ACTION TO FOLLOW SHORTLY

1) The short version:

At least one person, if not more, is/are impersonating me on Facebook, with (a) fake profile(s) claiming my identity. Despite me repeatedly bringing this to your attention, you have taken no action to remedy the situation. And I’m getting very annoyed.

2) The full version:

This thing you hold is called a letter. This is the third time I’ve contacted you, and I’m doing so by this antiquated method because, and I realise this may shock you so brace yourself, I have no Facebook account. Which means it is nigh-on impossible for me to get in touch with you. Kudos for your Ninja avoidance strategies.

Back when you had a button allowing me to alert you to a fake profile despite not having an account myself, I contacted you that way. I was answered with a resonant silence. Subsequently, when the problem persisted, I hunted lengthily for, found and left a message on the phone number you go out of your way to hide. Absolutely nothing happened. So here we go again: third time’s a charm.

I am being imitated on Facebook. I believe the only reason anyone is bothering to do this is because I’m a novelist (published by Macmillan and Random House), a writer and broadcaster, with a minor public profile. I think there are one or two community pages about my stuff on Facebook – that of course is very flattering and nice of people to bother. The problem is that there is or are also pages by someone(s) purporting to be me. This is weird and creepy. What’s worse is I know for a fact that some readers, friends and colleagues are friending ‘China Miéville’ under the impression that it is me, and that others are wondering why ‘China Miéville’ refuses to respond to them. And I have no idea what dreadful things or ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ are being claimed as mine, nor what ‘I’ am saying.

I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:

• Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).
• Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.
• And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer.

I appeal to you to honour your commitments to security and integrity. Of course as a multi-gajillion-dollar company I have absolutely no meaningful leverage over you at all. If David Fincher’s film doesn’t embarrass you, you’re hardly going to notice the plaintive whining of a geek like me. All I can do is go public. Which is my next plan.

I’m allowing a week for this letter to reach you by airmail, then three days for you to respond to me by phone or the email address provided. Then, if I’ve heard nothing, on 16 October 2010, I’ll send copies of this message to all the literary organizations and publications with which I have connections

some of the many books bloggers I know; and anyone else I can think of. I’ll encourage them all to publicise the matter. I’m tired of being impersonated, and I’m sick of you refusing to answer me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
China Miéville

Meanwhile, for the past few years another writer I know, Owl Goingback, has had all kinds of trouble getting on Facebook, because Facebook doesn’t believe his name is real. Despite him, y’know, putting it on all his books. So although Facebook apparently isn’t checking to see whether names like “China” are fake, it’s got a problem with names like “Owl”.

Which… just… I… don’t even know. The arbitrariness of this whole mess, and the fact that they deliberately avoid making it easy to solve the problem of identity spoofing or proofing, makes me boggle. This is a system too broken to live, and yet it limps on.

I’ve got a Facebook profile myself, and it’s definitely me — still too obscure to spoof, luckily — but I don’t post anything there that actually matters to me. In fact I put as little personal information into it as possible, and include only photos I don’t mind sharing, etc., because I never know when Facebook is going to randomly decide to sell my soul to some stranger. I pretty much friend everyone as long as they don’t appear to be dangerous, offensive, or a spammer, and for the most part I talk only about frivolities and promotional events. I do that much grudgingly. It frustrates me to support a company that is so manifestly Evil, and to see other people I respect struggling so much with it. ::sigh::

Anyway. Just a note — I see that there’s now an Owl profile on Facebook, but given what’s happened to China, I’m not sure I trust it.

6 Responses »

  1. I limit Facebook friends to folks over 250 miles away. It’s been a pretty good rule so far.

    Although I may start picking up my cousins and their kids, because that’s how they keep in touch. Local girlfriends are mostly on Ravelry anyway.

    At least China has a very unusual name. People with more common names run into all kinds of problems. I know someone who accepted a friend, not realizing it was his ex-wife under her new married name.
    He thought it was someone from high school. Oops.

  2. I just searched for China Mieville (with and without the accent) and didn’t find anybody under a People search. Under Pages, I see one fanpage that could be confusing. The other Page is just the Wikipedia import.

    I’m not saying there’s not false profiles up there, but they’re not public enough right now that I can find them in the search engine.

  3. China reports that the fake profiles have been taken down.

    It’s crazy that Owl has had such trouble.

  4. I treat Facebook the same as the rest of online: it’s what I do in public. Man, my kids are all adults and I still don’t use their names online, just refer to them with designators.

  5. It’s actually not much better trying to contact Facebook if you _do_ have an account with them. They don’t make it easy to contact them at all, and based on my own experience and others I’ve heard of, the vast majority of the time you do send them a request of some sort, it gets ignored (to be fair, my issue was eventually resolved…several months after I sent the message, attempted to follow-up, and finally just gave up and quit worrying about it.) I use it because so many of my friends and family do and I spend so much time halfway around the world from them that it’s one of the few easy ways to keep in touch, but their customer service leaves much to be desired.