This week contained a bit of a watershed moment. A few days ago, I was tipped off as to the existence of a Facebook profile — of me.
It’s the 21st Century equivalent of hate mail, except instead of a letter to me saying, “You’re a douchebag,” there’s currently a Facebook profile using my picture and listing this person’s favorite quotation as, “Matthew Warner is a douchebag.” It goes on to allege that my books are copies of Stephen King novels, and, strangely, it casts aspersions on a martial art that I earned a blackbelt in ten years ago.
My fans have assured me that this is actually the highest form of flattery, and I think I agree. I think it was Thomas Edison who said if you want to become famous, then make some enemies. And if someone hates a fiction writer that much — and specifically hates him for his writing — then it means I’m achieving one of my career goals, which is to affect people emotionally. Yes, the fake Facebook profile is about me, but it’s also about my writing, and for that I’m gratified.
The Facebook profile, of course, crosses a few lines of civil law that shouldn’t be crossed. It infringes on my copyright ownership of my picture, it attempts to appropriate my identity, and its statements are full of libel per se. The libel has thrown me into some introspection about my status as a private versus a public figure. Let’s say that one day I identified the chimpanzee who posted the profile and that I thought it necessary to file a lawsuit. I would expect at some point to confront the prongs of the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan, which says that a “public figure,” in proving libel, must not only demonstrate he was defamed and suffered damages but that the defendant acted with “actual malice” and “reckless disregard for the truth.” In other words, you meant to hurt me, and you knew you were lying.
Which brings me to today’s imponderable. At what point have I crossed the line from being a private person to a public figure? I mean, I certainly have done everything in my power to bring attention to my writing and indirectly to myself, as any commercial fiction writer worth his ink should. But at what point have I succeeded?
I don’t know. I certainly don’t feel like a public figure, sitting here in my basement office with the exposed ductwork and the clothes dryer churning behind me. When I look out my window, I see my driveway, the leaves that need to be raked, and the neighbor’s ceramic lions across the street. Upstairs, I hear my 1-year-old son grumping about something. On Monday, I changed the three cat litter pans that share my office with me. Where is the paparazzi? Where are the bodyguards? What kind of self-respecting public figure could live so mundane a life? Hmm. . . .