R.A. Enterprises is a lot of things: political consultancy, creative consultancy, and entrepreneur consultancy not least among them.1 Although the first two are the most interesting and profitable for me, it is in the third area that I find myself spending most of my time in meetings. Sometimes I take meetings with people who are actually interesting and have something of great benefit to humanity, but mostly I have meetings with multi-level marketers trying to interest me in their latest Ponzi scheme. I don't like taking them, but I hate passing up the chance for a quick buck even more.2 One meeting, however, despite it's great promise in terms of revenue enhancement, left me feeling dirtier than a congressional Democrat voting for the Stupak amendment.3
So anyway, this tall guy with a soft southern accent sauntered into our appointment. He said his name was Bill C., and after exchanging meaningless pleasantries he began to detail his plan for turning the wide-eyed innocence of your average Facebook user into filthy lucre. Well this guy obviously had done his research, because anytime the words “filthy lucre” cross the airspace my ears prick up, my breathing quickens, and not even Tiger could rival the tent in my plus fours. Of course I'm professional enough not to let any of that show and so very nonchalantly I told Bill, “OK chuckles, you got 2 minutes. Shoot.”
“Here's the deal,” he said, leaning conspiratorially over my desk. “I represent a brand new multi-level marketing company that deals in sex toys.4 I've found a way to generate a whole bunch of leads from the world of social networking. You've heard of Facebook right?” Just like that, all my hopes were dashed.
Look, it's hard for me to admit, but I'm not in the Facebook demographic. At least not the original one for current and incoming college students. Until now, I've been fine with that. I mean when I want some co-ed loving, I just arrange a quick photo shoot with three cats, a German shepherd, one of those Russian “girls” that keep spamming my inbox, and the current dean of Ottsamatta University. I don't need to participate in a so-called “social network” to get my net worked socially.5Generally though, Facebook just makes me feel old.
Still there was that dangling “filthy lucre” phrase out over the desk so I let Bill continue. “It's like this, people use Facebook to communicate with people close to them. It's more efficient than email, and better than texting, particularly when a user loses a cell phone with all their contact information on it. What they do, see, is create a group, something like “I need your number now!” and invite their Facebook friends to join. A lot of times they ask their friends to call or text them but frequently, particularly if they know a lot of hot young blonds, their friends actually post their own cell phone numbersright on Facebook for anybody with an account to see. Now I ask you, who's better than a hot, young, clearly stupid girl, to be part of a sex toy multi-level marketing campaign?”
Suddenly I could see where old Bill was going, and my blood ran cold. He was talking about pharming these numbers and spamming barely legal girls with offers to join his MLM organization. I suppose I could have kept a couple of degrees of body temperature had he been selling say, barrettes or something, but, when you're talking about selling sex toys to possibly underage women, well it's only a matter of time before you're the latest entry on a sexual offender database and your picture's hanging from every telephone pole in town. I may be no stranger to debauchery, but sometimes, like Dirty Harry said, “a man's got to know his limitations.” My lack of desire for bonus contact with law enforcement definitely counts as a “limitation.”
Unfortunately, Bill wasn't done. I began to worry about hypothermia when he said, “and the best bit is, if those leads don't pan out, we can always generate more. We can start by posting our own phone number and asking people to text or call, or, if we need to, we can “borrow” an account from another user and get their friends to send us contact information.” That's when I fully realized how unethical his proposal was, but Bill was on a roll. “Now I know this sounds pretty unethical,” he said, “but it's really a win win. I mean what is spam? It's any contact from a marketer with unhelpful information. But we're selling sex toys. People in this country love sex toys. A lot of these girls that post their phone numbers are good-looking and clearly socially open personalities. They'll be perfect associates in our multi-level network. Rather than spam, they'll see our offer as the priceless opportunity it is. So, are you in?”
Bill's research apparently wasn't complete. I never make a decision about a partnership immediately after the first meeting, I like to do a little looking around first, but sometimes I make an exception. He was going to be the exception. “Bill,” I said, “I'm not in today. I won't be in tomorrow. I won't even be in the next time you call. I'll get my people to look over this proposal of yours and, based on their advice, I'll call you with my answer within the week. I'm guessing they'll pick the green shredder, but I like you Bill and I'm going to lobby hard for the executive black with leather wrapped bin. Tell you what though, on your way out, go see Betsey at reception. She's got some coupons for 50 cents off a Big Mac for you. After all I'd hate for you to go away hungry.”
After Bill left, I called in my advisory team. Mr. Suntori, of course, and my CIO Vaclav Herçek. I knew already that there was no way in hell I was touching this deal with a stolen pole, but I wanted to get some more insight on this whole Facebook thing. “OK Vaclav, I need a Facebook account, can you set it up?” “Sure,” said Vaclav, “is piece of piz, you got picture you want use?” I told him to use the one of my parakeet, but keep personal information to a minimum. I'll take care of the rest of the profile setup myself. Vaclav took over my computer and bing bang boom we were Facebooking.6 I immediately bashed “phone numbers” into the search box and sure enough everything Bill had told me was true. The thing was an informational gold mine. Even better for perverts, about 90% of the public posters were hot young babes just begging to be ogled by middle aged men with too much bandwidth and too few inhibitions on their hands.7 Here, in all their nubile young glory was access to information that nobody but their dearest should know. Irony of ironies, many of them had limited profile access to only their friends. Clever.
So why, you may be wondering, was I so concerned about some kind of internet scam taking advantage of people too dumb to protect themselves? Too dumb, even, to see the danger in their behavior. Well it's like this: We tell ourselves that the Internet is some kind of wild west where outlaws run rampant and every person has to look out or his own self. The thing is this is just a comfortable lie. Because in the wild west the bad guys would take personal direct action. Maybe call you out on the street or just plain shoot you down and kill you. The Internet is more like an urban jungle. Where the bad guys first lure you into a dark alley with the promise of sex, or drugs, or money and then, just when you're hooked on their service, they suck out your soul, clean out your bank account, and, ideally for them, get you to kill yourself. It's a much more corporate sort of malice. Wild west style cattle rustling actually takes some work, Internet fraud doesn't take much work at all when the cattle just come up to you. I abhor laziness. Just ask my interns.
I had seen enough. I asked Suntori whether it wouldn't be worthwhile to maybe help these guys protect themselves online. You know, generate some good will for the brand name. He responded in his typically inscrutable fashionby quoting from his new book Zen and Tonic, “Sometimes the rock in the stream must be eroded.” As usual, I don't know what the hell he meant, but I do know that I'm not going to play the Facebook spammer game. If you're reading this and you're a multi-level scammer marketer, well you can take your own chances. I mean if your goal is to take a shady financial arrangementand quick talk it past a bunch of stupid co-eds with more credit than can possibly be good for them, then this is your wet-dream. If your goal is to find smart, financially stable, competent associates who can see the value of your product, I'm afraid you're going to have to look elsewhere. One of the most popular games on Facebook is Farmville. That's all you need to know.
1) Some would also include shady money transfer consultancy, weapons procurement consultancy, and questionable art collection enhancement consultancy [not to mention column writing avoidance consultancy—Ed.]but those people tend to collapse under the weight of Mr. Suntori's legal abilities and body mass. (Back)
2) Yeah, I know. I'm also wondering what the hell I'm doing hanging around this place where the odds of making a buck, quick or otherwise, are about the same as Goldman-Sachs not giving out huge end of year bonuses. (Back)
3) If you don't know what that is, get your hand out of your pants, log off World of Warcraft, and watch some fucking news for Christ's sake, or even the Daily Show. (Back)
4) The guy really had done his research. (Back)
5) Yes, that is what the kids are calling it these days. (Back)
6) Friend me if you want. More importantly, since there are all of 2 of you regularly reading this poor validation of the FCC's broadband plan, maybe you should tell your friends to follow me too. Hit this link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000004654488 But I'll warn you that I keep track of my friends and if you ain't helping me, you're done. (Back)
7) Needless to say they have a lot of other stuff on their hands. (Back)
Photo credit: ©iStockPhoto.com/vladacanon