It’s all started with a fake Facebook account and led to a scary stalker situation, writes Carol E. Wyer…
Since I began writing I have become addicted to the internet, particularly social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. They fascinate me. I can chat to people all over the world at any time of the day. Most importantly I can network on these sites and get a huge amount of help and support from fellow authors.
On Facebook I have a personal page. It started with just a few friends. In fact I was introduced to Facebook by an ex-boyfriend (Oh dear! Now I do sound like I am frustrated Amanda Wilson who meets her first love on line on Facebook and indulges in a virtual love affair and passionate games of Lust Scrabble with him.) Now my network has grown to include fellow bloggers and writers from all over the world. Although I have many online friends, like most of us, I believe I am careful about who I “friend” and I am extremely cautious about how much information I give out.
When I was researching for Surfing in Stilettos, I wanted to test the potential danger of the internet and social sites like this. I fabricated a profile with ease. I gave “her” a false name and false qualifications, based on those I would use for a character in my book. I did not put up a picture of this person but used a photograph of a puppy which suggested the character was an animal lover. The Fakebook person joined a few writing groups on Facebook but made no comments on the pages. Within a very short time the person began to get friend suggestions which “she” clicked on. More suggestions, followed by friend requests, came soon after. “She” clicked on them and they became part of her new group of “friends”. Within six months the non-existent person had almost six hundred “friends”. Not bad for someone who had not even posted a status.
I was amazed. I had just the information I needed. I used it to create the character of Richard Montague-Forbes, a man using a fake identity on Facebook who scours the internet for vulnerable ladies. He runs across a woman he believes to be called Amanda Wilson but who is a French woman, Bibi Chevalier, trying out new ways to make her wayward husband jealous. The whole business goes horribly wrong and Amanda’s life is put in danger. Little did I realise that life would imitate art and soon I would have my very own stalker hounding me.
As an author I have several web pages and I have an author page on Facebook. I use it to let fans know about my writing or to give writing hints and tips. It’s different to a personal page because anyone can become a fan. I don’t have to approve them.
I had just completed the first draft of Surfing in Stilettos when I received a message from a man, X.
‘I have just ‘liked’ your page. Your website is very professional and you have a nice smile.’
I thanked him politely.
A couple of days later I received another message:
‘I have finished your first novel Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines’. It was very funny indeed. Not what I normally read but very entertaining nevertheless. I’m looking forward to your next novel.’
I wrote back that I was glad he had enjoyed the novel and thanked him for his message.
The next message was slightly more sinister. I deleted them. The messages became more sinister. He sent lengthy ones telling me what he had been doing at the weekend (some unsavoury exploits) and gave graphic details of how he had seduced a woman he had photographed for the cover of his next book.
I wrote and told him I wasn’t interested in his private life and asked if he could stop sending messages.
He left me alone for a couple of days and then he started leaving rather disgusting comments on my status or photographs on my page. I deleted them all hoping no one else saw what had been written. He also left comments, some puerile, on my page about me.
The messages began again and this time they spooked me:
‘I know where you live,’ he wrote and mentioned a pub near me. ‘I’m going to be there this weekend so watch out. I’m bad after a few drinks. Maybe you’d prefer a bad boy?’
I fretted and tried to fathom it out. I never divulge information about my home. He couldn’t possibly know where I lived but I slept badly nevertheless. Doubts began to niggle at my brain.
The following week I was reading some comments left in one of the writing groups where I am a member. They are “closed groups” meaning only the members of that group can read what has been written there I noticed that another female author was commenting about a rather awkward fan who kept sending her messages suggesting she should sleep with him. She was asking for advice as to how she should handle him. Sure enough it was the same person who had been sending me messages. We had a brief “chat” about it and breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t just me who was suffering too much attention, I sent X a new message.
“Dear X, I understand you have been sending other female authors offensive messages and I would like to warn you that we are notifying Facebook of your activities. They will undoubtedly ban your activities here. Please do not contact us any more or we shall take the matter further.”
I heard no more from him, nor indeed did my writing colleague. Having an enthusiastic fan is one thing but sinister messages from them are quite another.
The internet can be an entertaining and wholesome place but there are dark corners and we all should exercise caution, particularly when conversing with people you don’t actually know.
As for my Fakebook character – well, I forgot I had left her in cyberspace and checking today I discovered she has been “friended” by almost three thousand people. Yes, social networking is addictive and I still love my on line friends but take care and watch out when you are the net – you can never be sure who is following you.
As for Amanda and Bibi, well, you’ll have to read my novel to find out just what happened to them!
Amanda Wilson is all geared up for an exciting gap year, travelling across Europe with her husband, Phil, hoping that it will cheer him up and put a little romance back into their lives. Fate, however, intervenes to turn Amanda’s life on its head. First, Bertie, the camper van, breaks down. Then, the trip is doing nothing to change the grumpy disposition of her husband. In fact he seems to be getting worse. Finally, her dopey son, Tom, who is staying in their house in the UK, holds a raucous party, during which the front door gets broken, opening the way for a bunch of squatters to move in. With her plans thwarted as Phil returns to the UK to handle the squatters, Amanda is abandoned in France with only a cellarful of Chateau Plonk, a large, orange Space Hopper, and Old Ted, a dog, for company. To make matters worse, the jaw-dropping, Skype calls from her irrepressible mother are only making her trip even less palatable by comparison. She turns to the internet and to writing to amuse herself.
Carol E. Wyer is an award-winning author whose humorous novels take a light-hearted look at getting older and encourage others to age disgracefully. To learn more about Carol, go to http://www.carolewyer.co.uk or follow Carol on Twitter: @carolewyer. Carol blogs at http://www.facing50withhumour.com