‘Don’t @ me!’ – what happens when your contact details get famous?

The Guardian Lifestyle 3 months ago

Fate came calling for Bethany Walker late last year. Her name happened to be the same as that of a character in the Jumanji movie reboot. That character took some selfies on an Instagram-style app. And now, Walker’s Instagram handle, @Bethanywalker, is being besieged by fans of tedious remakes starring Dwayne Johnson. This is a problem. Walker, 22, from south London has asked Sony to cut the offending scene from the film. The question “Why don’t you just change your Insta handle?” seems oddly remote from the debate.

But Walker is not the first to suffer in this way. Tommy Tutone’s hit 1981 single, 867 5309/Jenny, hammered the fictional Jenny’s digits so hard in its repetitive chorus that they remain off-limits with many phone companies in the US to this day. (One radio station acquired the number and received 22,000 calls over four days.)

That was the highest-charting phone number of all time, until Logic, Khalid and Alessia Cara improved on it last year, with 1-800-273-8255. The number is a suicide prevention hotline. On the day the song was released, the service had the second-highest call volume in its history.

The size of the deluge can be extraordinary. In Pets Or Meat: The Return to Flint, the film-maker Michael Moore inadvertently included footage of himself mumbling his home phone number. He had 314 calls within a few hours of the film being broadcast. In 2009, an Oldham family found itself being “bombarded” with calls from fans of tween-rapper Soulja Boy, when theirs was the 12-digit number featured in the opening lines of Kiss Me Thru the Phone.

People will phone any number, it seems. The 2003 Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty gave God’s phone number as 776-2323. Universal Pictures claimed that it had blocked off the number for New York state – where the film is set. But a woman in Florida threatened to sue after receiving 20 calls an hour. In North Carolina, the number belonged to a pastor, who happened to be called Bruce. He was not amused. A sandwich shop manager in Manchester who received 70 calls a day was also less than impressed.

Others have attempted to use that deluge for savvy marketing. The Elizabeth Olsen vehicle Ingrid Goes West shared snaps from the lead character’s road trip via a real-world Instagram account also featured in the film.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia featured the telephone number (877) TAME-HER in Tom Cruise’s Seduce and Destroy infomercials. Dialling it once led callers to a recording of Cruise giving his pitch. Later, it connected to a Los Angeles-based health club called Meridian’s Bodies in Motion. The fact that the club has since closed down is presumably unrelated.

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