At The Social Times, we’re interested in social media. As the arts columnist, I’m interested in the ways artists engage with spaces like Twitter, Facebook, Flicker, Myspace and WordPress. Any good artist today will find a way to use these cultural tools in interesting and innovative ways.
What makes my writing interesting (for me, at least) is that I have a loose definition of art and an even looser definition of artistry; I see art in the trivial and the mundane, and I consider anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account a performance artists of sorts.
Social media has made us all con artists. Every day, we parade our digital identities around social platforms, and we self-fashion virtual personalities for others to consume.
Now this is a story of performance artistry at its finest.”Peter Coffin is a loser” is a blog post authored by internet personality Xiaxue. On her blog (xiaxue.blogspot.com), Xiaxue provides us with a biased background story behind our Coffin character: “[Coffin] is an American douchebag dude doing Youtube videos and the videos are like mostly lame parodies or something.” The blog goes onto tell of a Twitter fight that took place between Xiaxue and Coffin (yes, even non-celebrities bicker on social media, it’s a very hot thing to do right now). The social media feud began when Xiaxue announced the successful completion of her new nose job. In response, Coffin tweeted: “Congrats to @Xiaxue on being one step closer to an unattainable goal as well as being a shit role model. The wrong people succeed sometimes”
Shortly after, Xiaxue defended herself, asking @petercoffin “Please explain what’s wrong with doing a revision when [my nose] is crooked?” And so it began. A series of tweets bouncing back-and-forth like ping-pong balls in a dangerous game of “Who Wants to be a Social Media Slanderer .” The verbal feud resulted in Xiaxue blocking @petercoffin. Game over, right?
Wrong. As Xiaxue’s blog narrates, soon after she’d blocked @petercoffin, @Xiaxue starting receiving hateful messages from another Twitter user named Kimi Kobayashi. Apparently, Kobayashi was Peter’s girlfriend, and she was finishing his battle. Annoyed, Xiaxue blocked her new virtual contender, but noticed soon after that Kobayashi had virtually vanished. Kobayashi was no where to be found, and many of her digital tracks had been tampered with.
Xiaxue, not one to know when to let go, started searching around, scouring through the remaining pictures of the mystery woman Kimi Kobayashi. Exhausted, @Xiaxue finally put it to her followers, tweeting “does anyone know this girl?” with links to the pictures of Peter’s purported girlfriend. Soon after, she had her answer.
Kimi Kobayash is a Korean Ulzzang, a sort of model-breed of women considered to be beautiful in Asian cultures. And her name isn’t Kimi, it’s Lee Na Young. @Xiaxue discovered that @petercoffin had stolen Na Young’s photos from a Japanese photo sharing software to create a fake Twitter account.
Enraged, @Xiaxue showcased some of the tweets between Peter and “Kimi,” which, by now, we’ve realized is the same person, and with her final words,Xiaxue scorns Peter, the “internet loser,” saying “even if Kimi is real, which she isn’t, the term ‘power couple’ are [sic] reserved strictly for good-looking or famous people. You are fugly and not famous. And she doesn’t exist, so neither of you qualify.” Finally, @Xiaxue rhetorically asks, “What the f**k is wrong with him?”
It’s a good question, and I think I have the answer. What’s wrong with @pertercoffin is the same thing that’s wrong with you, @Xiaxue, and perhaps, it’s the same thing that’s wrong with all of us. Let’s take a step back here and recount our story: Xiaxue, a fake internet personality, is condemning @petercoffin, another notably fake digital persona, for creating a fake girlfriend on a social media site that is essentially about faking. She’s accusing Coffin of faking a relationship with a pretty woman as a means of leveraging his claims that Xiaxue is fake. And, by the way, the whole conflict was inspired over a fake nose.
We have a cultural obsession with “reality,” and we get bitter and spiteful if we detect anything inauthentic in anyone else, yet we fail to see our own fictional elements. How can we be critical of someone for fashioning a fake internet identity when essentially, all internet identities are fictional?
Last month, I wrote an article about a scam artist who was stealing pictures of American soldiers to pose as an officer overseas in order to seduce women through Facebook. The con artist paraded as military officials and would ask women to send money for “supplies.” I was quick to condemn the scam artist, but writing the article got me thinking about online identities and the lack of legalities surrounding online impersonation. Currently, the state of California is the only one to have laws in place prohibiting stealing someone’s virtual identity. (In California, it’s a criminal offense to use somebody else’s name and images and claim them as your own, and offenders can be sentenced to one year in jail and fined $1,000).
But there’s a dramatic difference between the two cases: in the Facebook scam-artists situation, the scammers were using images of soldiers to scam money from women, whereas in the Twitter bicker between @Xiaxue and @petercoffin, Coffin used images of an Asian teenager to leverage his cyber war. If the Xiaxue/ Coffin battle qualified as cyber-bullying, I’d be concerned, but from what I’ve read, it’s just a harmless Twitter fight between two people with too much time on their hands.
The point is that not only does social media make identity theft easier, it transforms identity into a murky subject altogether. Just as plastic surgery alters physical identity, social media can manipulate virtual identities. After all, we’re all con artists, are we not, “Xiaxue” ?