‘If you’re careful, you won’t be screwed over’
JG: It’s a little harder when you never meet them face to face?
Jason: Well, and, again, that’s the whole community thing. You know, if there’s a bad deal made, everybody calls you out, you know, I’ve seen a lot of people…they’ve gone overboard, you know, somebody makes a bad deal, they’ll go on their page and, you know, blow them up, either, you know, talking talk or whatever. But, it usually, sometimes, there’s, yeah…I think the one time, the only time I’ve ever been screwed over completely was a guy in the UK. He had some…it was one of those things, it was too good to be true, he was offering a bunch of stuff for trade for a bunch of mainlines, you know, cheap items, and I was, ‘yeah, sure, I’ll bite.’ And, you know, a couple [days] after I mailed, I couldn’t find him anywhere.
JG: Of course. Yeah, so what’d you do after?
Jason: Um, I did the immature thing. I went and found him on Facebook, and found him through my personal Instagram account, and kind of called him out, and then he blocked my personal account, so…we found his girlfriend’s page, and proceeded to tell her girlfriend, tell his girlfriend what a thief and liar he was. So, we went, a lot…I went a little too far for a grown man [laughs].
JG: Yeah, I mean, I’m happy he didn’t just get away with it, honestly.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, like I said, it would have been a bigger deal if it’d been, you know, more expensive items. I think the worst part was just the expensive shipping.
Jason: But, I mean, I didn’t cuss at him, or threaten him, or any of that, I just kinda went and told him a little bit.
Jason: Told him he was a loser, and, you know, a thief and a liar, and stuff like that, which pretty much was the truth, so…
JG: Yeah, I mean…if he’s gonna screw you over he can, he can expect something back, right?
Jason: Yup, and again, that’s the great thing about it, is, usually a bad deal don’t get made but just once or twice, before enough people find out about it.
JG: Right, yeah, cause now he’s known as…
Jason: And it’s just like anything else, if you’re careful, you won’t be screwed over.
This afternoon, I had a phone conversation with Jason, a father of four who collects toy cars. We talked for about half an hour about cars, nostalgia, and Instagram.
Towards the end of our interview, we began discussing Instagram as a commercial tool. Many collectors use Instagram as a place to sell and trade cars from their collections, and Jason does so frequently. Like any marketplace, Instagram has its potential pitfalls.
The story above, in which Jason gets ripped off and retaliates online, stood out from our conversation. What strikes me as meaningful about this conversation is that it doesn’t seem to fit with Jason’s character.
I have never spoken with Jason before today, but he seems to be in good standing with the community. He’s a popular trader and he has a lot of followers. In our conversation, brief as it was, he came across as a friendly guy with lots of patience for other collectors, especially those just getting started. For example, he told me that he once mailed a box of tools, totally unsolicited, to a beginning customizer who asked him for help. So, this story of online retaliation struck me as uncharacteristic.
I don’t believe that Jason would have confronted the dishonest British collector in person if he had had the chance. I don’t think he would have even called the guy’s girlfriend on the phone to tell her about her “liar” of a boyfriend. Instagram gave him the opportunity to remove someone who had wronged him from their shared community.
Instagram (and Facebook, which Jason mentions briefly) allowed Jason to reimagine himself and his relationship to the collector community. Through posts and private messages, Jason alters the social distance between him and the other collector. They were once part of the same hobby community, but the moment the British buyer lied, Jason and other collectors pushed him from their group. The Instagram ‘callout post’ became a tool of increasing social distance, effectively ostracizing the British collector.
Instagram has been an excellent platform for bringing like-minded enthusiasts together, and Jason tells me so explicitly. What I learned from his story of the British collector, though, is that Instagram has also changed the way Jason imagines his relationship with other collectors. Through the social network, and in the telling of the story, Jason uses Instagram to reconstruct relationships within the community.