Everyone has seen a 555 number in a movie or TV show. The FCC has declared a subset of those numbers for purely fictional uses. They did this so that real people wouldn’t be harassed by people dialing numbers they see in movies. Of course it isn’t perfect. Some producers don’t realize that only the 0100-0199 block of those 555 numbers are dedicated to fiction. Sometimes a tv show or movie, especially one from a smaller producer, will just toss 555 in front of a random 4 digit number and expect they are safe.
While the fictional phone number is an industry standard, there isn’t a similar standard for other communication mediums. Phones aren’t the only means of communication these days. People use email, Twitter, Facebook and other social media to communicate with one another. While a lot of shows will just make up a social media service to use in their fiction, a lot of them are near indistinguishable from their real life counterpart.
Let’s take Twitter for an example. It is a really simple service on the surface. You create an account, get a handle, and start sharing short messages with other people. Creating a fictional version of that isn’t going to be much different. So it is highly likely that there might be some crossover between the real world and the fictional one when social media is concerned.
This is a situation met by one Calvin Wong. His name and Twitter handle was used by EA in a fictional social media service in FIFA 17. Wong, a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network, was not too thrilled to see his name and Twitter handle used to represent an annoying fan.
— Calvin Wong (@calwong) October 1, 2016
The story is an interesting one. You should definitely read Kotaku’s accounting of events. The story has some sad elements; a bunch of angry FIFA fans reacted poorly to Wong’s comments. Eventually, he got an apology from EA and the promise to patch his name and handle out of the game.
So what can be done to prevent this in the future? I certainly don’t think the government needs to step in. We aren’t anywhere near that point. What can be done is for studios to accept some responsibility in these situations, to do a little due diligence to make sure that the email and social media accounts in their games, movies and other fiction, don’t belong to real people.
Whether this is simply doing a quick search on the service they are mimicking, or to create a wholly original service with a unique handle system. But they simply can’t continue to ignore this. Eventually they are going to use the wrong person’s name and account and end up with legal problems.
What do you think? Is this really a problem? What should be done?