Baxil (baxil) wrote,

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A way too damn long post on Crush Meme Redux

There has been a recent burst of activity on my friends list regarding the "Secret Crush Meme" -- or rather the vengeful return thereof, with the "crushes for sale" angle. I have several entirely separate comments about this phenomenon.

A month or two ago, the latest meme starting to make the rounds was an "LJ Crush Test" thing. You filled out a poll asking you to rate every person on your friends list as a "secret crush," "public crush," "ex-crush," or "no crush." It spat out a little box like this one (link goes to a random LJer's journal I just googled), telling the world what percentage of your friends you harbored secret desires for.

This made the rounds, unsurprisingly enough, and died into obscurity, as these memes do. And then ... apparently very recently (probably earlier today) came the punchline to the setup. A second meme, from the same people who brought you the first one, appeared: "Who has a secret crush on you?" It used the stats compiled in meme #1. It also offered to reveal the actual usernames of the people who crushed on you ... for a $4 fee. Worse, anyone could order any crush information, not just their own. Whoo boy.

The site seems to have died a very quick death, presumably due to a massive crush of complaints (little pun there, ha-ha). But, boy, the LJ drama was flying thick for a few hours, and I'm sure the hurt feelings will continue for weeks.

The first thing I want to say: I wish I could say I was surprised that this data, which was gathered under an implied (but not actual) promise of anonymity, was misused.

There's just too much potential for abuse. You don't know the person who administered the test from Adam; this usually doesn't make a difference, if you're just answering silly little favorite-color questions for a "Which My Little Pony Are You?" quiz, but something like who you like and won't admit it to ...? That information is worth something, not just emotionally, but financially.

charles called it, back in September: "LJ Crush Meme: Social Engineering?" Closer to home, this is uncomfortably reminding me of a similar scam that made the rounds by e-mail about a year ago -- the "flirting" spam, where nonexistent "flirts" were hawked in order to lure people to a site where they would enter real flirts, thus driving a market in people desperately hoping to hook up with a mutual crush. This current version, admittedly, is much more direct -- Find out the names of everyone who secretly likes you! -- which is simultaneously both more and less disturbing.

... But just to make it clear, I don't fault anyone who did take the first test. The inclination to trust is strong, and there is a certain anonymity in the process -- we all know that whoever runs the site has access to all the quiz results, but since they don't know us or our friends personally, what possible incentive could they have to misuse that data? ... The answer is, I guess, now obvious. I hope that it's been a learning experience, or at least a reality check.

Full disclosure: I am not preaching from moral high ground here. In fact, I ignored my own advice above. The primary factor stopping me from being equally a victim was laziness. This is certainly a reason why I'm sympathetic to the meme's victims, but what I said above still stands -- it's easy to fall prey to this, and even people taking reasonable precautions could do something that in hindsight was very stupid.

And please know that if there's anyone reading this whose "secret" crush was leaked in a way that is now causing social pain, I have nothing but sympathy; you were victimized by someone collecting sensitive data unethically. (They were doing nothing legally wrong, but there was a sin of omission if nothing else. You volunteered data under an implied contract of privacy where no contract actually existed.)

And yet ... at the risk of soapboxing, I have to agree with raki that "Memes are all well and good, but they aren't a substitute for real interaction." People who use them as a shortcut for deeper interaction (and that's a crowd that I'm generally not in) maybe should realize that the short path isn't free of pitfalls either. If the fallout from LJ Crush Meme has the effect of making people more wary of using tests and memes as journal filler material ... if this ends up elevating the quality of discourse by forcing people to be more original in the ways they open up to the world ... well, I think it will be a good thing.

The second thing I'd like to say: As I mentioned, I did not fill out the crush test. Nor, I'm sure, did the majority of your friends list. The site itself said that it was based on 28,000 responses -- out of a Livejournal community of upwards of 300,000 daily-updating users and 1,000,000+ active users.

I saw a handful of people posting today to say "I didn't get any crushes. Go figure," or some variation thereof. Over half of those people are ones that I would have listed as a "crush," and at least two more that I would consider a "crush" of some sort if they offered a finer-grained rating system (i.e., different types of crushes, including "in love with your brain"). Except, of course, I'm not counted in anyone's goose-egg totals, because I never finished the quiz.

Reading any value into these results is bollocks. The "Who listed you as a crush" meme was necessarily based on a tiny subsection of your friends list -- perhaps nobody on your friends list at all. It doesn't tell you who said "no" -- only who didn't say yes. For all you know, you're 0 for 1, with 145 "yes"es who just didn't answer.

A few people on my friends-list have opted for full disclosure in the wake of meme #2, and just listed their crushes. That's more public than I'm comfortable with -- if I were caught in a similar trap, a quiet private communique would be more my style. So I'm not going to spill out my heart here. But if you have a burning need to know whether you would have been on my "crush list," drop me an e-mail and I'll be honest.

Anyway: Like many others here, I visited the crush-meme site before it was yanked at about 9-10 p.m. (It is no longer returning results, not even the raw, anonymous numbers.)

I took a look at my own crush-target numbers -- hey, curiosity is free -- and learned the following:
Who has a crush on baxil?
The below numbers indicate what sorta crushes baxil's friends have on him, as taken from the results of the original LJ Secret Crush Meme.
Questions? Please read the FAQ.

5 people have a Secret Crush on baxil.
1 people have a Public crush on baxil.
0 people have an Ex-Crush on baxil.

How many people have a crush on you?

My reaction to that? Frankly, shock. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on who treats me in ways that might indicate interest -- and/or people with whom I have mutually flirted. Yes, I can name six people who seem likely suspects, but that's about the extent of it, and it defied logic that all of them had taken the test (given the less-than-10% response rate cited above). This implied to me that a lot more people have a secret interest me than I really anticipated.

It's irrelevant now, because the offer's been yanked -- but those numbers were, briefly, a strong incentive to pay the $4 and learn more. I was interested in learning how many of them were the people I'd suspect and how many of them were people I wouldn't suspect -- to put some perspective on the numbers, and reassure myself that maybe I wasn't quite as out of it as this made me look.

But it wasn't any more than a passing thought. Those answers were given under the assumption of anonymity, and for me to betray that trust would just be a low, low thing. And, presumably, anyone who listed me as a crush did so because they respect me -- and the quickest way to kill that respect dead would be that sort of betrayal. Plus, if it's someone I have mutual interest in, then outing them is the last thing I want, because I respect them back, and participating in that sort of entrapment is a horrible thing to do to someone you respect.

Then, of course, there's the broader ethical concerns. A system where anyone can buy anyone's crushes? Okay, there's a line between shameless and monstrous, and that crosses it.

All of which adds up to that, in a perverse way, I'm almost as upset that the offer was yanked as I was at the offer in the first place. I was going to stand firm on my principles and denounce the "buy your crushes' names" offer, and now that's a meaningless gesture, because there is no offer to refuse, and all I've got is my word that I felt this way all along. Bah.

And, finally, now that I know the raw numbers, I remain very curious about the identities and motivations of those who listed me. Wouldn't everyone be?

I figured that the public crush was probably elynne, given our history as partners and this post -- although I'm not so certain on reflection, given our current status. The problem is that if anyone else who took the test has a public crush on me, I don't know about it, or else my definition of "public crush" is very different from that of the few people from whom it might stem. Either way, this situation really calls out for corrective communication ASAP.

As for the secret crushes? Again, I can think of a few names -- but half of them have stated they didn't take the test. xriss has (publically) confirmed zie is one of them. A private blanket-disclosure statement from one other person has led me to believe they are on the list. But that's only three out of six, and that still leaves me a little stunned.

I emphasize that curiosity does not trump ethics; if someone were standing in front of me offering me that list of names free, I would refuse. If I never learn any of the five unconfirmeds, I'll deal with it -- as I should. If I find out that anyone has bought my list (on my behalf or otherwise), that's a bannable offense -- although that's an empty threat now that they're not selling the lists any more, I guess.

But I remain curious, and information freely given is ethically acceptable. So ...

I have one favor to ask. If you listed me as a secret (or public!) crush, I would very much appreciate it if you somehow let me know.

This does not necessarily mean full disclosure. I know the nature of crushes. Making them public is very often a step toward acting on them, and so some crushes are best left private -- they wouldn't withstand harsh reality, and you know that, and feel twittery around that person anyway, and any sort of confirmation would nail it, even if there were mutual interest. (Yet another good reason not to go for the list! I'd rather feed a present-tense secret crush than admire a past-tense dead, public one.)

If you are comfortable revealing yourself to me -- or just want to take a chance now that this has provided a natural (if awkward) opening -- then just say hi. Explain yourself if you're willing; it's always nice to be flattered by hearing what people admire about you. In return, I promise I'll give you an honest assessment of what I like about you. Tit for tat is only fair.

You can do that here if you're comfortable being public (anyone can read this post, remember), or via e-mail. Makes no difference to me.

If you would prefer to remain anonymous, I would still appreciate it if you would speak up and say "Hi, we haven't talked much, but I saw your meme response thingy and I was one of the five." That at least confirms that it was someone I wasn't expecting. You can leave an anonymous response to this post, or you can mail me privately via my Tlands contact form. In both cases, the only information captured is your IP address, which I will discard and make no effort to track. You don't even have to provide an e-mail address for a response from me, although you're free to if you'd like, and I'll make an effort to at least say thank you. :)

At any rate, thank you in advance.

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