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Citing Fraud Risk, Fictionaut Cracks Down on "Fav Gigolos"


by Con Chapman


BOSTON.  It's 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, a time when a younger generation of Bostonians is ordering drinks at local watering holes to begin the weekend, but for Millicent Minot, a 79-yeard-old amateur poetess, it's “time to go to work” as she puts it in a quavering voice.

She logs on to her computer and with a few mouse clicks arrives at “Fictionaut,” an on-line literary community that describes itself as “Part self-selecting magazine, part community network,” where Minot is a member.

After filling a glass with white zinfandel wine, she types out a poem she's been working on by hand for the better part of the day, a syrupy but heartfelt paean to her cats Fluffy and Muffy.

Some people think I'm stuffy, she types,
but others disagree.
I have two little kitties named Fluffy and Muffy,
who really entertain me.

She hesitates for a moment, and asks if what she's written is de trop, a useful phrase she picked up in a college class on French Novels of the 19th Century that means “excessive.”  Not at all, this reporter assures her, and so she continues:

I get down on the floor to play with them,
I roll them balls of yarn.
After a while I don't care about my upcoming colostomy,
I just don't give a darn!

She continues in this vein for three stanzas then, satisfied that she's achieved her artistic goals, clicks the “Publish?” button on Fictionaut and her words wing their way to the Internet, where fellow members of the site can (but generally don't) criticize them, or praise them effusively and signal approval by clicking on the “Fav” button, a feature that causes Minot's offering to climb up the site's ranking system.

Fictionaut “Favs” are an underground currency, like food stamps, that many writers turn to out of sheer necessity.  Velma Lou Ritter, a mother of two who lives in a mobile home near Knob Noster, Missouri and goes by the user name “V. L. Ritter” because, she says, “I always liked that V. S. Naipaul guy who wrote for The New Yorker,” says the Fav system helps her put food on the table.  “Because of my kids I can't go down to the All-Nite Truck Stop to work like the other girls,” she says.  “I also put Fav ratings in soup, oatmeal and Sloppy Joes to stretch them further.”


Naipaul: “Please leave me out of your stupid posts.”

 

Velma Lou has re-posted her “Ode to Cheesy Meat Loaf Squares,” a villanelle that contains a recipe, twelve times since she joined two years ago, in each case eliciting enthusiastic responses from other members who seek “Fav” ratings in return.  “Yum!” says one member who calls herself “Virginia Wolfman.”  “Can't wait to try them out at our next potluck dinner!” gushes another who uses the nomme de plume d'internet  “Con Chapman,” although he will in fact wait for several weeks before trying and failing to achieve the recipe's desired consistency.

The increase in members who post solely for ratings rather than to receive input from others has persuaded Fictionaut executives to call in law enforcement, and local police will now be encouraged to participate in “FavScam,” a "sting" operation designed to reduce fraudulent positive rankings.  “The soundness of the ‘fav' system is integral to the robust realization of the business model of the space we occupy,” said Fictionaut Director Jurgen Fauth, cramming as many business buzz words into a sentence as time and space would permit.  “Also, people could get viruses from an insincere, cynical ranking.”


“I got one—he clicked ‘fav' but he was bein' ironic.”

 

Under the program, police dispatchers will be encouraged to read Fictionaut during idle hours when they would otherwise be making fantasy football trades or playing solitaire on their computers.  Where probable cause exists to believe a user is posting fraudulent content in order to inflate ratings, a search warrant will be obtained and Fictionaut will press charges.

Under what legal theory would Fictionaut proceed, Fauth is asked.  “Obtaining money or property under false pretences,” he said.  How will individual police officers be motivated to participate?  “We were thinking of giving them some kind of promotional incentive, like a cool Fictionaut t-shirt or a mouse pad.  God knows we don't pay for content.”

The program swings into action as Sergeant Jim Hampy and Officer Brian Moynihan of the Boston Police Vice Squad take seats in the bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a watering hole where the lonely well-to-do meet for companionship, many of them widows with significant assets they inherited from their late husbands.

The two policemen are working undercover, looking for Lucien de Groot IV, a Fictionaut member who has been attracting high ratings by spreading excessive praise for the efforts of neophyte poets such as Minot, who is heiress to the Minot fish oil fortune.

“Simply very exquisite!” de Groot typed late last night when he read Minot's cat poem.  “Why don't we meet for drinks since I see we are both ‘Beantowners,'” he wrote to her in a “private message” using Fictionaut's state-of-the-art writer-to-writer communication system.

“Look at that fruitcake over there,” says Hampy as he spots de Groot, who walks in wearing an ascot.  “I think we got our man.”

de Groot scans the room looking for Minot, whom he lured to a tete-a-tete with insincere praise for the lines

A kitten asleep
can make you weep,
They are so cute
and furry to boot!

She blushed to her clavicles when she read his comment and, in an unguarded moment, revealed that she couldn't understand her brokerage statements because they contained too many zeros.

Minot is holding a rose, their agreed-upon symbol of identification.  “Millicent—it's Lucien!  How good to finally meet you!” he says as the two exchange an air-kiss.

“Nice to meet you, too,” the older woman says without tipping her hand.  She's wearing a wire, having been alerted to de Groot's motives through the FavScam program.  “I hope you brought me some new poems!” de Groot gushes.  She's keen to impress the younger man, and replies in verse.

Glad that you asked—
I certainly did.
I knew you were young—
but you're just a kid!

de Groot laughs at her impromptu riposte in rhyme.  “You!” he says as he wags a finger at her.  “Always with the couplets!”

The May-December couple sits down at a table for two, and Millicent spreads some of her latest work—all written in longhand on scented lavendar paper—out on the table.

de Groot checks his watch—he's hoping to cadge some cash from Minot, then meet a window dresser at a more fashionable bar down Newbury Street.  “These look lovely, Millicent, but to properly appreciate them, I should take them back to my apartment and read them without distraction.”

“But I thought we were going to have a proper date!” Millicent says with a disappointed tone.

“Really, dear, I want to experience the full impact of your poetic powers while lying in my own bed,” he says.  “Say, could you write me a haiku on a $50 bill, I think it would be an interesting way to—“

Faster than you can say “Paul Verlaine” the two vice cops have de Groot hog-tied and are reading him his “Fictionaut Rights.”

“You have the right to remain silent,” Moynihan says through gritted teeth.  “You oughta use it instead of posting all that crappy flash fiction of yours.”

 

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