The Internet Is a Scary Place for People with Common Names

A waitress's Facebook revenge on a customer who insulted her targeted the wrong guy

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Poor Andrew Meyers, James Smiths, Mary Davises, John Andersons (and, for that matter, Adam Martins). It's tough having a common name on the Internet, as Meyer learned over this past weekend when a Seattle waitress who had been stiffed and insulted by someone of that name posted his picture online and invited her Facebook friends to go after him. Unfortunately for all involved, it turned out waitress Victoria Liss had gotten the wrong guy. But by the time she realized she had posted a photo of somebody in Texas who had perhaps never been to her workplace of Bimbo's, it was too late. Unfortunately for those with common names, this happens a lot.

But in this recent case, it happened with particularly adverse effects. Dan Savage summarized them in The Stranger's blog, Slog, where he had called out Meyer as so many other bloggers did:

I'm sure there's another side to this story—maybe you felt your bartender was rude? rude enough for you to stiff her and attack her for her looks?—but however many sides there are, Andrew, however rude a Capitol Hill bartender can be, I shouldn't have to tell someone who works at freaking Microsoft about social media. Bartenders can toss shit up on Facebook too. It's true! And your receipt is all over Facebook. As is your full name, your photograph, your phone number, the name of your employer, the name of your frat, and more. All shit this bartender's angry friends managed to dig up in a weekend. Now bar owners and bartenders are talking about posting your picture—which they also managed to find—at the doors of their bars and clubs and 86ing you from all of 'em.

But then it turned out Meyer didn't work at Microsoft (at least according to others at Microsoft), and maybe didn't live where Savage thought, and also it's not clear he was in a fraternity that had also been named, in addition to his photo definitely being wrong. Savage explains why he went ahead and posted the information:

But it was freaking everywhere already—all over Facebook, all over Jezebel—and it was a thing that happened, a thing that people were talking about, and my ignoring it or keeping it off Slog wouldn't have made a thing that didn't happen and that people weren't talking about. I left Andrew's full name out of it, and kept his signature off Slog, because that felt like it was over the line. And my point wasn't—and clearly isn't—"GO GET HIM!" (the flying monkeys know when they've been called out), but that we live in a different world now. Be an asshole if you like, treat people like shit, stiff your bartender. But you might not want to write your assholery down and sign your name to it, you know? Because the Internet.

Look at how many Andrew Meyers there are on Facebook. It seems almost inevitable that Liss would get the wrong one for her public shaming, especially if they had no friends in common or shared no group -- even the Seattle connection turns out to be tenuous because the wrongly identified guy was from Texas. As Liss acknowledged to The Stranger, the wrong Meyer she called out has already gotten a few misdirected emails from outraged friends and readers, and other Meyers have suffered for their namesake's sins as well. "I do have some messages from guys with the same name who are mad, so sorry to all of the sweet Andrew Meyers of the world," Liss said.

According to the U.S. Census, Andrew is the 35th most popular name in the United States. It's just ahead of Raymond, Gregory, and Joshua, and behind Stephen, Eric, and Scott in a list of 1,219 names. Meyer is the 216th most popular surname, out of a list of 88,799. As somebody with the 69th most popular first name and the 16th most popular surname, your correspondent can vouch that cases of mistaken identity are common. No, Facebook stranger, this is not the same Adam who went to high school in Encino. This happens all the time, but so far (knock on wood) not by someone who feels wronged and is out for revenge.

That the story of a waitress getting payback on a jerk customer by posting his identity online and passing his picture around went from a satisfying bit of comeuppance to a debacle of misidentification pretty quickly is no surprise. Whoever wrote on their tip-free credit card slip "you could stand to loose [sic] a few pounds" is most definitely a jerk, but because of the pitfalls of online mixups, now so is everyone who participated in the revenge.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.