"Hey, somebody has been saying bad things about you..."
This charming message appears in my DM column on a fairly regular basis, and I have learned to read it as nothing more than irritating spam. But the strategy of the spammers, appealing to our most paranoid selves, obviously works or they'd come up with something new.
No doubt, somebody somewhere in the world is saying bad things about me; but worse would be the DM that read "nobody has thought of you at all, not in a very long time".
This is the fear, and even the reality, of the elderly person who sits at home waiting for the phone to ring; the same person who gives their credit card details to an unscrupulous telemarketer who in turn is simply trying to keep up, meeting sales targets anyway they can.
Or the teen who sits alone in her bedroom on a Saturday night, unable to shake the fear that her friends have made plans that do not include her. She picks a fight with her brother because it is better than sitting with the jealousy and hurt that is eating away at her; anything is better than that.
Today, that teen will have their fear ameliorated or confirmed the minute they log onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. But she will also be able to find comfort in the world of social media, confiding in online friends who are every bit as real as the ones who stood her up.
I write this as I sit at home alone on a Saturday night. I flick through my email and see that my sister on the other side of the world has been thinking about me; a friend on Twitter has left an @mention that is beyond kind at just the right moment; and my DM stream is full of reassuring words from a person I have known for literally my whole life, a person who believes in me even when I don't.
But still, whenever I read that message "somebody has been saying bad things about you" my stomach lurches in spite of myself. For just a moment I am that teenage girl, sitting at home alone on a Saturday night, imagining that somebody is saying bad things about me, or worse, that nobody is saying anything about me at all.