October 9, 2006, 01:33 PM ET
Attack of the 'Meat Puppets'
Thousands of Facebook users this fall befriended a character named Brody Ruckus—a student from Atlanta who claimed his girlfriend would reward him with a threesome if he amassed 100,000 “friends” on his profile page. Brody’s oh-so-chivalrous plea generated a good deal of debate on the site, but in the end, he got his wish: Over 300,000 people signed up, and Brody became something of a frathouse hero.
The threesome never took place, though. Brody, in fact, wasn’t even a real student. He was a “meat puppet” created by an employee at Ruckus, a company that offers legal music and movie downloads to college students.
The “meat puppet” is a peculiar inhabitant of the digital world—a fictional character that passes for a real person online. And thanks to the runaway popularity of social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, it has become an increasingly common marketing tool, reports The Washington Post.
Although Facebook officials pulled Brody’s profile down when they realized the character was a fraud, Ruckus still made off with the e-mail addresses of some 300,000 students. Some of those students soon received unsolicited e-mail messages about Ruckus products, according to the Post.
Deceptive advertising isn’t anything new, and it’s not the end of the world. But a proliferation of Facebook profiles that represent marketing schemes, not real people, would surely provide even more incentive for colleges students to be a bit circumspect about their social-network surfing. —Brock Read