I don’t normally comment on things I see on TV… wait a minute, what am I talking about? I do that all the time. Anyhow, yesterday I was watching the show “How I Met Your Mother.” One of the main characters, Barney Stinson, has a scheme that uses in order to meet members of the opposite sex – he creates and impersonates a fictional character by the name of Lorenzo von Matterhorn. Here’s how it works: Barney walks into a bar and targets a single, attractive lady. The catch is that she has to have a fairly advanced phone. He walks up to her, kind of half-shrugs and says “That’s right, it’s me.”
The woman looks up at him and asks “Should I know you?”
Barney, acting surprised, says “Oh, really? You mean you don’t recognize me? That’s a relief! My name is Lorenzo von Matterhorn.” There is a bit of byplay, and Barney has to run off for a moment in order to attend to some business. The girl then takes the opportunity to look up, on the web, the name Lorenzo von Matterhorn (using the Bing search engine, no doubt). After all, that’s what smart phones are there for, to verify information.
Yet Barney has planned ahead. He has created several web sites in advance that reference the fictional Lorenzo von Matterhorn. One is a reference to Lorenzo as a world famous billionaire who has circumnavigated the globe in a hot air balloon, others are web sites to fake news articles about how rich, powerful and famous he is. In other words, he has engaged in a whole bunch of social engineering and used grey search engine optimization to make himself look like a superstar rich guy, all in an attempt to impress the girl. When he returns, the girl is very impressed with him. The plan has worked!
Of course, today, if you search for that name, you’ll get references to How I Met Your Mother. But Barney has taken a page from the spammer playbook and is using the web in order to create false impressions of himself, similar to how spammers will attempt to game Google’s most popular search phrases and then getting their spammy landing pages to the top of those search results (this is known as Black SEO). Indeed, the techniques utilized by the two are probably not all that different from each other. One could certainly argue that Barney’s shenanigans are unethical. Of course, there is certainly no question that black SEO is unethical.
But the point of my post is this – the Internet can be used for both good and evil, even if it is fictional.