A few months ago, Facebook—apparently having run out of snazzy gift ideas that said “thank you for using our services” in an understated yet pleasing way—gifted me instead with a social media doppelganger named Yvonne. The gift arrived in my email box in the form of thousands of extraneous notifications. I get notified any time one of Yvonne’s many (seemingly unstable and to me completely unknown) friends does anything they deem Facebook-worthy. I get notified any time there is a yard sale anywhere near Yvonne’s home, which happens to be approximately 1,000 miles away from where I live. I get notified with regular updates about Yvonne’s alma mater, a school whose mysterious insider jokes don’t translate well if you’ve never been near that campus in your life.
If you ever find yourself presented with the same thoughtful gift, let me just tell you that, short of the witness protection program, there is no easy way to drop a doppelganger. I have done everything Facebook’s “help” pages suggest to report and remedy the problem. Nothing has worked. This week so far I’ve gotten 594 updates on Yvonne. And for those of you in the area, I can report that the Hazel Green yard sale has girls’ winter clothes, sizes 5 and 6.
But just when I thought that no good could come out of the whole situation, I described it to a friend (in this case I’m using “friend” not in the Facebook sense but based on the traditional definition of “a person whom one actually knows, likes, and trusts”). And he said (yes, Steve Palmquist of Children’s Literature Network, I’m looking at you), “That could make a good book idea. Just throw in a zombie or two.”
Huh. You know what? It might make a pretty good book idea even without the zombies. But even better, it makes a really great character-building exercise for young writers of the age groups that are attuned to social media. I can vouch for the fact that a person can learn a staggering amount about a stranger merely by vicariously experiencing her Facebook presence. Why not turn things around and use social media as a tool to help your young writers figure out just who their character is?
Ask your young writers to imagine a social media profile for their main character. Do they use Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr? What games do they play? Do they win? Do they cheat? What would their online profile say? Do they lie when they’re online, and if so, what about? How many people have “friended” them? What kind of photos do they post? What shopping outlets or social causes have they “liked”? Do they spend hours a day online, or almost never pop up? Do they merely lurk, or comment on everything? The list of character-revealing details could go on and on.
Just make sure to include one final question: Is their name Yvonne?