What happens when give your Facebook password to the whole internet
On Thursday, I launched PublikFacebook™, a communal Facebook account. I was curious: If a social media profile is supposed to reflect our individuality, what would an account that everyone uses even look like? And what would happen if I openly published an account’s username and password to the entire internet? It turns out, for the first hour, nothing.
Then someone in Berkeley, California, changed the password, locking the account. I quickly reset the password. Then things started snowballing.
The name changed from John Smith to Maximilien Manning. Then the profile and cover photos changed. Over the weekend, this happened a lot. Here’s a gif approximating all the updates.
Someone updated the biographical information, added me as the account’s father. Some users friended everyone they knew. Others poked without discretion or good sense. Others liked every post from everyone the account was friends with, spamming their notifications. Messages were exchanged, communicating nothing.
Max now has 154 friends (15 mutual). Over the weekend, Max moved from Ouagadougou to New Mexico to Brooklyn to Bali to Boca Raton to Lincoln, Nebraska. He held jobs at Dave & Busters, Arby’s, Uber, and Taco Bell. Max liked 322 things, including: the Buffalo Bills; dozens of wedding planning pages; something like 50 pet crematoriums; a bunch of communist pages; numerous topic-specific memes (gym memes, soccer memes, farming memes, etc); Stacy’s Mom; Good Charlotte; 12 Street Fighter characters; Blockbuster; Elmer’s glue; the Spin Doctors; Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch; and poop.
Max also gave five stars to ISIS (“10/10 would recommend”), so everyone who logged in is probably on a government list now. Sorry!
On Sunday, someone changed the profile and cover photos to the Taco Bell logo, updated the account’s job to Customer Service Representative, and started messaging people complaining to Taco Bell on Facebook, pretending to be a social media manager for the company.
At least one person fell for it.
By Monday, there were 135 logins from all over the world. I can only guess at how many of those were unique users, but I think it would be safe to assume that ~100 different people logged in, all from exotic locations like Paris, Sweden, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, and New Jersey.
The account was a relative success, so I decided to attempt the same with Twitter and Instagram. The Instagram account floundered, with only seven photos being posted, most of which were just screengrabs of the account itself with various filters.
The Twitter account, however, instantly became sort of like 4chan on methamphetamines. Someone posted the lyrics to “One Headlight” while others added a bunch of bizarre photos. After someone started harassing a teenage girl, I decided to shut it down. Before I got a chance, Twitter locked the account for suspicious activity, right as I was screengrabbing the feed one last time for posterity. Oof.
By Monday morning, the logins slowed down. Max, under the control of someone from Cardiff (Doctor Who ???), became a Fruitarian, and then tagged me in an image taken from my personal website to which someone from London added some MS Paint drawings of fruit (which is really fucked up).
So, after a fun-filled weekend, some quick thoughts:
// Why wasn’t the account flagged by Facebook for spam? My guess is because the account performed like an “ideal” Facebook user — friending people, liking brands, sharing posts with abandon, etc. In a way, the profile seemed to be more successful than most “real” accounts — Facebook favored the aggressive usage, and the account spread like a kind of virus, perfectly designed to take advantage of how Facebook operates.
// A fake profile that ~135 people logged into over the course of four days from multiple locations around the globe and spammed the shit out of everyone apparently has more legitimacy to Facebook than, say, an actual profile run by an Ethiopian LGBT activist operating under an alias so as not to be arrested and face a 15-year prison sentence. That’s pretty fucked up!
// It’s interesting to me that Facebook — a typically boring, straight-laced place (unless you stumble into Weird Facebook) — got so bizarre so fast, while over on Twitter — a place where harassment is still a major problem — the account immediately became a venue for abuse. Obviously this isn’t scientific, but I have to wonder: To what extent can we attribute the different dynamics to the architecture of the social networks themselves? IDK. Let someone at Salon write a think piece about it.
// If a Facebook feed is supposed to indicate a curated version of your tastes, what happens to the feed when it’s communal? When it belongs to everyone, and no one? Behold, the dark heart of the feed. It’s like injecting pure, uncut Facebook directly into your bloodstream.
Okay but so overall, it turns out creating a communal Facebook account was one of the first times in a while (at least since I faked my own death on the site) where logging in didn’t feel like jumping into an open sewer downhill from a crowded Nascar stadium on free chili dog night. Facebook was, for once, actually surprising and fun. I wonder if it bodes well for the longevity of a social network if the only time it’s enjoyable (at least for me, and maybe a bunch of teens) is when you’re breaking all of its rules.
Update: Early Tuesday morning, Facebook killed Max.
This is the final message Max sent me, sent Monday night, before they died.