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Magazine Preview: The Man Who Wasn’t There

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It’s always nice to open Facebook and find a friend request waiting for you, and better still if you’re a yet-to-matriculate freshman eager to meet your peers.  But what happens when that friend isn’t, well, real? Bwog Editor James Downie goes gumshoe on the Case of Aaron Phillips in this winter’s issue of The Blue and White.

Freshman Aaron Phillips does not exist. Though he maintains a Facebook profile that states he is a member of Columbia College’s Class of 2013, Phillips cannot be found in the Columbia directory, and no database of registered students lists his name. Phillips has no Columbia e-mail address, does not answer the Yahoo account that is linked on his Facebook profile, and no freshmen we’ve spoken to say they have ever met him in person. He lists his hometown as Greenville, S.C., but says he attended Kennesaw Mountain High School, some 138 miles away in Georgia. Neither South Carolina nor Georgia has an “Aaron Phillips” of that age registered to vote. Emily Jennings, NYU ’13, another member of Phillips’ alleged 2009 Kennesaw Mountain High School graduating class, doesn’t remember him, either. “I even checked my yearbook,” she said.

The boy in Phillips’ Facebook profile picture—the only photograph of him available—has short, blond hair and uneasy, frenetic eyes that belie an anxious friendliness. He wears a grey Aeropostale-brand T-shirt and an ostentatious genericness on his sleeve; it’s as if someone created a composite of a teenage boy never having actually seen teenage boys before.Administrators deny that it is their fake profile created in order to gain access to Columbia students’ social networks. “We have nothing to do with it,” said Joyce Jackson, executive director of Housing. Since Facebook dropped requirements that users must have University e-mail addresses to list Columbia as their school, theoretically anyone can create an account, claim affiliation, and begin friending other, real Columbia students.

Phillips’ account boasts an impressive 918 friends, nearly all of them fellow Columbia freshman. His wall abounds with posts from real live first-years. Another student even wrote that she thought she remembered Phillips: “u look familiar…have we met? Days on campus may b?” Aaron Phillips causes hallucinations.

Phillips never replies to messages and there’s no evidence that he ever interacts with his classmates beyond the initial friending. “If any of you guys have ‘Aaron Phillips’ as a Facebook friend, be careful because I think he’s a fake,” warned a user on CollegeConfidential.com’s message boards in August. Wall posts echoed the widespread consensus that Phillips was indeed not real, growing more pointed and hostile with invectives like “little troll” and “you’re kind of sketchy.”

The mystery of Phillips and his Facebook account has resulted in a cult following among the freshman class. Students leave facetious messages on his wall asking how he’s doing, declaring that they “will never forget all that crazy stuff we did together!” Some have even made a Facebook photo album titled “Aaron Phillips,” and filled it with digitally altered images of Phillips’ profile picture. First-years have taken to tagging Phillips as various people and objects in their own Facebook albums. One photo shows his face superimposed onto clouds of smoke rising up from a hookah, while someone else has pasted his face on the bodies of other students. Grant D’Avino and Jonathan Lee, both CC ’13, admitted to discussing the Great Phillips Facebook Mystery at parties and other freshman gatherings; it’s evolved into a ready-made conversation starter for Facebook-savvy ’13s. “If you friended someone else from Columbia, he would always be a mutual friend no matter what,” said Lee.

And what will stand in as cocktail party fodder if the Phillips case is ever closed? “That’s a pretty big ‘if,’” D’Avino said. They’ll always have Sophocles.

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23 Comments

  • Harmony Hunter says:

    @Harmony Hunter so where is harmony by the way? thanks

  • Jim Downie hater says:

    @Jim Downie hater This article basically doesn’t say anything. Those who aren’t aware of Aaron Philips won’t relate to the mystery. Those who do didn’t really learn anything new from the article aside from that he probably made up where he went to high school. I’m not usually bitchy, but this article was just a waste of time.

    Yes Jim, I’m back.

  • ... says:

    @... that’s actually hilarious, i added him ages ago and never noticed that before

    1. ugh says:

      @ugh People like you perpetuate friend whoring.

  • Jim Downie Fan says:

    @Jim Downie Fan This made my night

  • thank you bwog says:

    @thank you bwog this is finally a good post. i also like when you kinda reference the coen brothers.

  • word to the wise says:

    @word to the wise I used to be OK with “friending” people I only vaguely knew, but then I realized this: people with a lot of friends on Facebook who nobody really knows end up getting access to A LOT of information ranging from home addresses to telephone numbers to e-mails, and even information about personal habits based on status updates, your groups, and events you attend. So what does that mean? Well, for one thing, it could be some random person harvesting information that they could plausibly sell. Imagine, for example, someone who knows the e-mail address of nearly every freshman at Columbia. That could definitely be valuable, say, to certain advertisers interested in targeting the ivy league, etc. Moreover, it’s concerning that someone should have so many friends just at Columbia. Think about the reason that someone would want this: presumably to get more friends at Columbia, and Columbia in particular?

    Anyways, I’m not saying everyone should go “de-friend” this “person,” but all things told, it’s just not prudent to let some random person have access to your information… and pictures? Who knows what they might do with it…

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous agreed 100%

  • spooky says:

    @spooky this happened at harvard last year too…a fake facebook account with doctored photos and 20 other fabricated friend accounts. wonder if it’s the same people who did it?

  • CC11 says:

    @CC11 does Jill Tesley actually exist?

    1. hmmm says:

      @hmmm yeah i was wondering that too… i dont think she’s a real person

      1. actually says:

        @actually I’ve seen Jill Tesley around campus before, she’s definitely a real person.

  • Aaron Phillips says:

    @Aaron Phillips I do too exist!

    1. Then Prove It says:

      @Then Prove It Do you have a facebook?

  • hmm says:

    @hmm Wow, this is really interesting. I guess all the investigation that could have been done was done, but I really wish there had been more information… Didn’t realize Facebook wasn’t requiring college emails to join networks anymore, either. This just reconfirms to me the importance of regularly cleaning out my friends list…

  • just like says:

    @just like Sarah Alexander ’12.

    1. So true says:

      @So true Has anybody ever met this girl? I’m a CC ’11 and she friended me before my freshman year, and the only evidence I ever saw of her actual existence was her constant need to upload pictures of herself from Photo Booth. I’ve never seen such a narcissistic person before, even here at Columbia. And yet… no one on my floor freshman year had met her anywhere. Evidently she switched her year to CC ’12 at some point too.

  • G. Coretta says:

    @G. Coretta Does anyone miss Gwendolyn Covington?

  • facebook says:

    @facebook still wants me to “Share the latest news.” and “Send him a message”
    I defriended Mr. Phillips weeks ago

  • and.... says:

    @and.... VICTORIA AnLi ……

    If you read her wall, it sounds odd…i feel if you click on her friends that they are also fake….

    yet she has like 20 mutual friends with me

  • reilly says:

    @reilly He messaged me once actually,
    here is a screen shot

    http://tinypic.com/r/bdmq1y/6

  • d-train says:

    @d-train was the porn any good?

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