Rando Farming

As the description of my Patreon benefits reveals, one of my pastimes is diving into the filtered folders of my Facebook and Instagram messenger accounts and engaging with the …entities…I find within. I do so while taking on comedic personas ranging from “vampiric last queen of Hungary” to “demon cultist seeking sacrifices” to “someone who collects and tans the hides of infidels.” Once each month, I perform a dramatic reading of one of these chat logs and post it on Patreon as a benefit for my patrons. I’ve been doing this for a long time and the results have been both very funny and decidedly edifying. Let’s begin.

Anatomy of a Rando

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: actual, worthwhile human beings attempting to connect sincerely represent a vanishingly tiny minority of the unsolicited messages one can expect to receive on social media, full stop. They happen, but they are such a small fraction of the pie chart that the main reason to mention them at all is completeness. Most sincere connections on social media start elsewhere, in groups or comment threads, making any ensuing message exchange no longer unsolicited.

Who, then, are the teeming others?

One might expect these contacts to be a comparative cross-section, if not of humanity, then of speakers of one’s preferred language, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Social media randos are extremely, improbably specific in nature, and those specifics paint a rather grim picture.

Facebook

On Facebook, the standard rando is a resident of North Africa or southwestern Asia, with Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Pakistan overrepresented. He is a man between 20 and 40 years of age. He is frequently unemployed. His English is competent but not exemplary. He is very curious about your location and whether you’re single. He will often decide apropos of very little, even nothing at all, that a woman who responds to him is his partner, lover, or wife and address her as such. Whether or not he does, he will request photographs, and he will react with confusion if those photographs arrive in the form of an Instagram link. Regardless of his employment status, he will never, ever make a purchase or send money, even if that would be the most obvious path to something he requests, and he will react with wounded, downright whiny frustration at the mere suggestion. After all, you’re his lover/wife/partner now, and those are just things lovers/spouses/partners do together.

Facebook randos usually last a long, long time. Regardless of the intensity of the comedic persona one establishes for dealing with them, even if one directly insults them, they will keep coming back for more. Some of them seem to desire little more than to trade greetings every morning and contribute virtually nothing to a conversation, in a pattern women on dating sites will find familiar. Younger randos often fill an exchange with animated GIFs and emojis proclaiming their love. Randos of all ages will send dick pics before long, mixed in with selfies, and their stammering confusion when one likens their photos to walruses giving birth to farm equipment or someone taking a meat-tenderizing hammer to a sack of boiled shrimp never gets old. Some of them have wives and children, but most of them give off a sense of eternal, pathetic singlehood, mixed with the unstated but pervasive goal of getting an immigration sponsorship.

With or without hilariously premature proclamations of love, it does not take much for any of these men to start discussing their sexual fantasies in detail, even with a comedic persona seemingly intent on removing their bones or who likens their genitals to bucket of gunk from an abattoir and their face to a diseased foot. Most of them assume I have a penis and place special emphasis on this detail. These fantasies often arrive in single long messages rather than chains, which makes them difficult to interrupt with the same madness I offer between their other missives. Sometimes they do this repeatedly.

All of this adds up to some truly unpleasant conclusions: these men are here because they think random Western women will give them something they want and they get annoyed, however patiently, if they don’t get it. And since what they want is sex, a spousal immigration sponsorship, or both, it paints a rather disgusting picture of what they think of Western women in general. To spell it out, the archetypal Facebook rando is a man who thinks women from the US and Canada are his for the sexual taking and who faces the idea that said women might expect anything from him in return with annoyed bafflement at best. These men are inept, gross, patriarchal, transmisogynistic, desperate, sad, deceptive, unpleasant characters and for all that there’s an undercurrent of tragedy in them, I take great pleasure in milking them for all the content they’re worth.

Instagram

Bizarrely, Instagram’s randos are a very different beast. There are plenty of randos on Instagram who match the Facebook pattern above, but a far greater proportion of Instagram randos are residents of the United States or Canada, with language proficiency to match. Whether Anglophone by childhood or adulthood, they carpet-bomb the inboxes of every attractive woman they can find, but what they do with the rare acknowledgement varies.

A lot of well-spoken randos assume that any attractive woman they encounter who posts a lot of selfies is a sex worker and immediately start haggling over price, often with a dick pick in between as, I suppose, a bargaining chip. These men are obnoxiously cheap, much like the men who haggle with craftspeople on Etsy, and they have a habit of lobbing insults when they don’t like the price or a woman’s willingness to hold it. And they really don’t like when she won’t take video calls for free, or when she’s just as content to not get the client because the price she sets is more about dissuading these men than turning a profit. I did get one who paid me to “watch” him masturbate, though; I minimized the Instagram chat window, stared into the camera, waited for the squelching noises to stop, accepted payment, and sent him on his way.

A similarly large subset is here because, to them, Instagram is a dating site. These men are much, much more awkward than they think they are and their attempted smoothness would be endearing if it weren’t so overtly pathetic. Instagram is, after all, not actually a dating site, so it makes no attempt to sort people by compatibility or even facilitate connection between people near each other, so these men are pleasantly surprised when one of their contacts not only acknowledges them at all but turns out to be in the same country, let alone the same city. These men, too, are shocked to learn that a woman won’t video-call with strangers within minutes of meeting them, especially strangers who, often, think a dick pick is a good third or fourth entry in repartee. Notably, they react with a special brand of aggrieved frustration when they find out that she might accept that call for a fee. If he’s treating Instagram like a dating site, any suggestion that the person he’s talking to thinks of him, not as a prospective lover, but as a potential client, is an insult.

Amusingly, this side of Instagram is often how I find out when there’s a rash of right-wing goons heading to Ottawa to pitch a US-sponsored truck-themed fit about “freedom,” because they turn up in my inbox hoping to get laid while they’re in town. It is a treat to disappoint them.

A noteworthy minority of Instagram randos are, effectively, an extreme version of Facebook’s randos. These men, usually from the same North African and southwestern Asian countries as their much more pathetic Facebook counterparts, assume that any western woman who acknowledges them at all, especially one who posts a lot of sexy selfies, must be desperately eager and freely available for sexual purposes. These men start talking sex, or attempting to initiate video calls, immediately, often in lieu of a greeting. Whether these men react with hurt or rage when I tell them there’s a fee for those calls depends on their mood, but in between, they’re by far my favorites. Their sheer determination to get their rocks off means they continue even when my contribution to their sexual escapade is talking about how I’m going to harvest their teeth in their sleep and their attempts to keep twisting my madness toward their arousal are very, very funny.

The other surprise of Instagram randos is that, presumably thanks to this site’s crop having a larger number of people fully comfortable in English, Instagram randos (specifically the ones who think it’s a dating site) are disproportionately likely to play along with a comedic persona I employ and turn it into a collaborative art project of sorts. The results are often the most fun I ever have in this line of work.

The true strangeness of Instagram really sets in, however, when we talk about the other kind of rando that turns up in every filtered inbox: scammers.

Scams

Filtered message folders on Facebook and Instagram are those sites’ versions of the Spam folder in every competent Email service, and like those spam folders, they are absolutely crawling with scams and grifts. What’s interesting is that the kinds of malfeasance in each service’s inboxes are vastly different.

Facebook’s quintessential criminal is running an advance-fee scam, better known as the “Nigerian prince” or “Spanish lottery” scam. In this structure, the scammer dangles a sizable payout before their victim and then tells the victim that accessing this payout requires a small fee paid in advance…which, of course, will never actually lead to that payout. Whether the payout is the internationally locked money of African royalty, the winnings of a foreign lottery, or (the situation I encounter most often) an advance payment for becoming some anonymous millionaire’s sugar baby, the structure is always the same. Indeed, the same scammer might use multiple versions in different messages or forget which one he is using this time and suddenly start talking about “payroll” for sugar babies. Advance-fee scam accounts tend to be created and maintained just for this purpose with the most anodyne white-man names imaginable, and they are usually run out of cubicle farms in Anglophone developing countries; one way they reveal themselves is that they usually put the dollar sign after, rather than before, the amount. A scam account is a temporary, consumable expense rather than an asset to these scam farms, as mass reporting by those who interact with them tends to get Facebook to delete them before long, leaving a long trail of blank “Facebook User” messages in my inbox. The absolute funniest scammers try to trick me into handing over the information needed for identity theft once it’s clear I’ve seen through the advance-fee scam.

Other scammers on Facebook hawk investment opportunities, which might be more advance-fee scams and might be other kinds of scams like investing in cryptocurrency.

On Instagram, however, actual scams (that is, the outright lies noted above) take a back seat to grifts (dodgy investments that might pay off for the victim but will definitely pay off for the person pitching them if the victim buys in). Any given Instagram spam folder is filled to the brim with accounts all making the same pitch: pay “shipping only” for some merchandise, give a positive review on one’s page and sometimes on theirs as well, and get further perks and even cash payouts if one’s post generates a lot of traffic or sales. The accounts are all temporary and often unmonitored, directing people to message an “official” account because they know they will get mass-reported to oblivion before long. They also know several other convenient facts: the user does not know whether “shipping only” is actually “shipping only”; only a tiny minority of accounts that get this pitch actually have enough reach to start getting paid for their work; and if the victim is sufficiently eager, they might not even notice that these grifters usually refuse to lay out contract terms in advance or otherwise provide any assurance that anything past the initial “shipping only” promo code is real.

If Facebook’s advance-fee scams feel like a relic of an earlier time, of a piece with Email chain letters from decades past, then Instagram’s influencer grifts feel like a sadly modern plague: preying on the hopes of people who see the low barrier to entry and glamourous results that life as an Instagram influencer promises and extracting near-uncompensated labor from them in the process. I did get one of these to start hitting on me after I dodged their grift and another one to curse me out in Cebuano, though, so it’s not all bad.

The Horny Underbelly

Acknowledging the cesspits that adjoin one’s various inboxes is not for the faint of heart. The people who find their way in there are, with only rare exceptions, some of the least appetizing creatures the Internet has to offer, and they are by turns pathetic, grotesque, offensive, and useless. These people have no redeeming qualities and, often, are so openly despicable that antagonizing them is, if anything, a public good. The randos I confront often make me think of my favorite quote from the film Sin City: “I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them, you don’t feel bad.” And for someone who knows how to toy with these useless sacks of their parents’ regret, they are also a source of tremendous amusement…as long as one is prepared to live the life of that one GIF of Lindsay Ellis getting pelted with hot dogs. By Cthulhu’s jowls, there are so many hot dogs.

Media critic Lindsay Ellis with closed eyes and a vacant expression, getting pelted in the face with a pile of hot dogs.
That’s the one.
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Rando Farming
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