Social-media mugging: beware of murakami

Article published on Nov. 19, 2013
Article published on Nov. 19, 2013

The digital 21st century has bred a new type of criminal offender. Since no one leaves the house without their smart phones, tablets or laptops anymore, we are all at risk of being social-media mugged by total strangers who, over beer or coffee, try to push their contact details and friend requests on us. How to decline the mugger? Here are five strategies to prevent social-media mugging.

First, con­sider this: In Berlin, this late au­tumn feels like minus 20 de­grees, ice-cold winds are sweep­ing every­one off the streets and into their favourite pub to con­gre­gate over beer and herbal tea. What might ap­pear quite comfy thanks to wooden ta­bles and plushy sofas has re­cently be­come dan­ger­ous ter­rain for lovers of dig­i­tal pri­vacy. Most cool cafés and bars list not only Be­liner Kindl and Club Mate, but also free Wi-Fi on their menus, so a lot of us take out our tablets or Mac­Books as soon as we have set­tled down into a chair or sofa. Some­times we might also read.

A lit­tle more cir­cum­spec­tion might be wise though, as this is when the so­cial-me­dia mug­ger is most likely to strike: “Hey, I just saw you're read­ing Mu­rakami... I re­ally like him, too!” Every­thing can be a con­ver­sa­tion starter, from art to Club Mate. “Every­one seems to be drink­ing it now, how un­cool.” Noth­ing out of the or­di­nary so far. Con­ver­sa­tions need to be started some­how and spon­ta­neous dis­cus­sions or serendip­i­tous meet­ings are usu­ally the most ex­cit­ing. “So you're a writer? I'm also doing art... on the in­ter­net.” Yet, no one has any time for a proper con­ver­sa­tion. Three min­utes pro­vide just enough time to make a com­ment about Berlin hip­sters be­fore the mug­ger takes off.

dig­i­tal mug­gings in our favourite bar

In his pocket, the mug­ger is car­ry­ing away the Face­book name of his star­tled vic­tim. In a few clicks, the in­ter­minable pro­ce­dures of the Face­book uni­verse are set in mo­tion. Years ago, we could still write down a wrong email ad­dress, in­vent a name, scrib­ble our mo­bile num­ber into in­de­ci­pher­abil­ity or pre­tend we weren't on Face­book out of prin­ci­ple. Back then, most of us would have laughed about so­cial-me­dia mug­ging. If you Google 'so­cial-me­dia mug­gings' the term comes up within the con­text of mug­gings and bur­glar­ies planned and timed by crim­i­nals with the help of so­cial net­works. But this is a dif­fer­ent kind of mug­ging. A mug­ging that takes place in the bars and cafés of Berlin – and it's a lot more com­mon.

How can you de­fend your pri­vacy in these times of in­escapable in­ter­net-ac­cess with­out tak­ing re­course to the ugly truth: “No thank you, I don't want to be your friend?” Nowa­days, it is only a mat­ter of sec­onds until fic­tional Face­book names or sim­i­lar in­ven­tions are ex­posed as cre­ative means of dig­i­tal self-pro­tec­tion. If you are still ad­her­ing to the po­lite­ness codes of the 20th cen­tury and can't voice an out­right re­fusal, you will have to be more in­ven­tive. Un­less you want your ac­counts in so­cial net­works to be in­un­dated by so­cial-me­dia mug­gers and to con­stantly live with a bad con­science. 

The fol­low­ing five strate­gies don't guar­an­tee full pro­tec­tion against all sorts of friend­ship at­tacks, but they should deter the ma­jor­ity of so­cial-me­dia mug­gers

the ul­ti­mate so­cial-me­dia mug­ger pro­tec­tion

1. Next time you go to a pub, take a highly com­pli­cated Der­rida book along, prefer­ably with a min­i­mal­ist dark blue Suhrkamp cover. This will scat­ter most so­cial-me­dia mug­gers of the Mu­rakami type. If you also take a pen and keep busily un­der­lin­ing ran­dom sen­tences, every­one will un­der­stand that you are a very busy in­tel­lec­tual with no time for su­per­fi­cial gos­sip. It would take a very stead­fast and con­vinced mug­ger to break through your post-struc­tural­ist wall

2. Come up with the most vac­u­ous name pos­si­ble (Sarah James or John Smith for ex­am­ple). When the so­cial-me­dia mug­ger types it into the Face­book search bar, ran­domly point at the first user of the same name with a blurred or un­recog­nis­able pro­file pic­ture. 

3. Keep sip­ping your beer while ex­plain­ing that you are only vis­it­ing Berlin, but live in a bor­ing lit­tle town where you are study­ing to be a bank clerk. This is only cred­i­ble if you are not sport­ing a full hip­ster at­tire

4. Cre­ate an en­tirely new Face­book pro­file re­served for so­cial-me­dia mug­gers. It might take some time to make it look le­git­i­mate (num­ber of friends, pic­tures, posts etc.), but it will then serve as an ex­cel­lent tool to as­sess the steady in­crease of so­cial-me­dia mug­gings

5. The ul­ti­mate mug­ger de­fence strat­egy (only for two peo­ple): as soon as you no­tice that you have at­tracted the at­ten­tion of a po­ten­tial so­cial-me­dia mug­ger, start look­ing se­ri­ous and af­fect a ner­vous twitch of the mouth. Stay ex­tremely friendly when the mug­ger strikes, plac­ing extra em­pha­sis on the fol­low­ing lines: “We're re­ally sorry, but we're just hav­ing a re­ally per­sonal con­ver­sa­tion. Ac­tu­ally, we are break­ing up. That's why we need some pri­vacy if that's okay.” This will elicit an em­pathic smile from even the tough­est mug­ger who is sure to dis­ap­pear back into his cor­ner. Make sure you never go back to the pub in ques­tion, though, un­less you want the failed at­tempt at mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion to trans­form into a ter­ri­ble flirt. 

Cred­its go to Chris Stevens who coined the term for this new phe­nom­e­non of dig­i­tal friend­ship at­tacks in the real world.