Unsocial Media (Short Story)
DescriptionA cybercrime short story cautionary tale about the dangers of sharing too much information. Greg has unwisely accepted a friend request from “Natalie”, a stranger who starts to stalk him after failing to hook him in a scam. The stalking moves from the digital world to real life when Natalie shares a photo of Greg with his neighbour Susie, in what looks like a compromising position. Unknown to any of them, Greg’s wife (the unnamed narrator) has a secret life of her own and is doggedly following Natalie’s trail.
“You can’t believe half of what you see on social media,” Greg said.
He’s usually more enthusiastic about social media. I’m the one who doesn’t have social media accounts, but his enthusiasm has started to wane of late.
“I don’t trust any of this digital nonsense,” Maude said. “All these big companies are just spying on you the whole time.” She turned to Susie, who’s the youngest of our little tea party. “I gather from Desmond that your husband is working long hours. I can’t see why he has to come home so late. Does he get overtime for it?”
Susie fumbled with her mug as she put it down on the coaster, but luckily there was no spillage. She mumbled something about pressures of work.
I had once been in Susie’s position, pinned by Maude’s spotlight interrogation, trying to deflect question after question, too timid and embarrassed to tell her to mind her own business. I had once been so irritated that I had snapped back at her, but she had responded with such wounded reproach—“I’m only asking because I care about you”—that I’d had to offer an apology.
But not any more. My new job has given me confidence and a way of dealing with the likes of Maude. I used to be an introverted IT tech support in a big company; one tiny cog in a multinational corporation. Now I have a hybrid job for a much smaller national concern. People have become used to the concept of hybrid work since the pandemic, but my job was like that before then, and it had been hard to convince the likes of Maude that I was actually working whilst I was home, and wasn’t simply surfing the net for my own amusement.
My new method for handling Maude is quite simple. I tell her about my work writing articles for an extremely obscure magazine that deals with all matters relating to highway construction and maintenance—in excruciating detail: manhole covers of varying shapes (square, rectangular, round or triangular), storm drain tops, the troublesome issues of stray voltage, electrical arcing, and escaping gas. I can describe all such things with the fervour of a zealot whenever she turns her attention to me.
It’s no surprise that Maude has transferred her “care” to Susie, who looks like she’d rather be anywhere but next to Maude. I may have hardened over the years, but I still feel sorry for Susie, and I can see my younger self in her. Besides, I have work to do.
“I’m sorry to interrupt”—who am I kidding? I’m not sorry at all—“but I have to get on with work now.”
“But it’s Saturday,” Maude said. “Surely you don’t have to work at the weekend?”
“I have to finish an article I’m writing. I’ve got to meet my editor on Monday so it needs to be done before then. It’s ever so interesting. There’s this new environmentally-friendly asphalt that’s made out of pulverised—”
“Yes, well,” Maude said, gathering her things together, “we’d better leave you to it.”
“It’s a great way of reducing waste.”
Maude didn’t hang around to hear any more. Susie dropped her handbag, but Greg deftly caught it and helped put the strap on her shoulder.
“Got to go as well, love,” Greg said to me. “Promised to meet the lads before the match, but it’ll mean you get some peace and quiet to work. We’ll be off to the pub for a quick one afterwards, so I shouldn’t be home too late.”
And then he was gone too. I waited for a while to make sure that no one had forgotten their coats or umbrellas or whatever else might require retrieving, then fetched Greg’s laptop and set it up on my desk. I had a good view of the front gate from there, so I’d be able to spot anyone approaching.
It’s quite true that I don’t like social media and don’t have any accounts—as Greg well knows—but I do look at it. Back when I worked in tech support I had told Greg that using the name of his favourite football club as his password was way too insecure, so he’d added a couple of exclamation marks in the belief that somehow that would make it harder to guess. I’ve given up trying to proffer advice.
He mostly uses his phone to access his Facebook account, but he does occasionally use the website on his laptop, which means that Facebook trusts his device and browser and won’t notify him when I log in, which is why I’m using his laptop and not mine.
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