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First Person

The ghost in my Netflix account

A tale of password sharing, celebrity-watching, and internet identity.

By Jen Deaderick

This article was updated on February 22.

“Mom, what’s the Netflix password?”

“The standard one. Why?”

There’s no answer right away. Five minutes later my kid comes into the living room to make an announcement: “One of the actors from ‘Riverdale’ is going to be using our Netflix account.”

“Riverdale,” for those who don’t know, is a CW drama that is a point of near-obsession for teenagers across America — a pulpy, noir retelling of the “Archie” comics that launched in the 1940s.

“What?” is my first reaction. Then, “Is it Luke Perry?”

Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad. I really hope it’s Luke Perry.

“It’s Trevor Stines. He played the dead kid in the first season.”

“I see.” I have never heard of this Trevor Stines. “And why exactly is he using our Netflix account?”

There is a young people reason. On a Snapchat account that bears his name, a Trevor Stines has put out a request for Netflix login info. My kid had responded. Why Stines could not afford his own Netflix account, or didn’t want to get one, is unclear.

I explain that our login info should not be given out willy-nilly to young actors with excellent cheekbones, but I nonetheless accept Trevor into our Netflix family.

In fact, there’s much about Trevor that I don’t know. As a young actor who makes money playing teenagers, for instance, he doesn’t make his age public on IMDb. But according to Wikipedia, he’s 24, which puts him in a prime Netfix-sharing demograph. A 2017 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 21 percent of adults aged 18-24 have used someone else’s account to log in to a streaming service, compared to 12 percent of adults overall. Usually, it’s the account of some elder family member. So, this would make me sort of like Trevor’s relative.

I explain that our Netflix login info should not be given out willy-nilly to young actors with excellent cheekbones, but I will nonetheless accept Trevor into our Netflix family.

At first there’s no activity. Then, the next day, I get an email notification that someone has logged into my Netflix account from London. Trevor. My kid has set him up with his own user profile, and he’s gone in and watched a bit of a teen vampire show.

Seems on brand. Maybe he needed our Netflix to prep for an audition.

After that viewing, there’s nothing for a while. The kid and I both check in occasionally to see if there’s been activity. One day, feeling maternal toward the young man, and hoping to broaden his horizons a bit, I decide to put some suggestions in his “My List” queue, two Japanese shows: “Samurai Gourmet” and “Midnight Diner.”

I forget to tell my kid, who runs in one day to announce that Trevor’s back and has added shows to his list. I admit that it was me.

“Mom! You can’t do that!”

Apparently, I have invaded Trevor’s Netflix privacy, which is uncool. I offer that I am the one paying the bill each month, but still promise I’ll try to hold back.

A month later, our pal Trevor watches a couple of episodes of another supernatural teen drama. I manage to refrain from reacting in any way that he will notice. I have, however, started following him on social media at this point. I know that he is extremely fond of Oreos, and has just put out a book of poetry. When he posts a selfie for his million Instagram followers, I occasionally click on the little heart icon below. I try to be interactive.

So when he tweets a couple of weeks after his last Netflix viewing that he is bored and looking for suggestions of things to screen on his computer, I reply that he could perhaps watch a delightful Japanese show about food.

“MOM! STOP IT!” is my child’s tweet in reply. I tweet back that he is kind of like family at this point. Which he is — in at least one of the ways that family is defined these days. It’s not like I’m paying more for Netflix because of him, but he still is watching it on my dime. I know what he’s watching, and it goes the other way: At any time, he could look and see that I spent a day binging “Call My Agent” instead of working on a freelance piece. I don’t share that intimacy with others.

In all of this time, I should note, Trevor himself has never responded to any of my overtures. He hasn’t even followed me or my kid on any platform. When I started to write this piece, I tried reaching out to him through Instagram and Twitter. Nothing. Then my kid sent him a Snapchat message apologizing for my dorky attempts to connect with him, to which he replied with “No problem” and a winky emoticon. To a public tweet that “My mom wrote an article about you,” he responded with no punctuation: “Hit me with the link.

It’s not that he’s required to interact with us in any way. If I had been really annoyed at the lack of acknowledgement, I could have just changed our Netflix password and been done with it. But I enjoy this weird little relationship.

Maybe that’s because, in many other circumstances, I’ve used social media to make real human connections. Some of my closest friends are people I’ve met online. I’ve stayed in their homes, hosted them and their children in my home. Every other year for almost a decade, I’ve attended a family reunion with cousins I met on Facebook. My writing career started because of relationships I made online. I sold my book with an agent I met on LinkedIn.

I’ve also seen how social platforms can erase the false divide between celebrities and the rest of us. Years ago, at a literary get-together, I was sitting one table over from a famous author who ran in the same social media circles as I did. We had conversed on Twitter a few times, and emailed once or twice. As I was getting up my nerve to introduce myself, she turned, saw me, and yelled “Jen!” with great delight. I had to recalibrate my entire approach as I realized we were actual friends. 

Trevor and I are not actual friends, and it seems unlikely we ever would be. It is odd to have a connection so intimate but so distant, private, but strangely public. But it makes for a good story, and I like having him around, so I let him continue to be a ghost in our TV. A ghost with terrific cheekbones.

UPDATE: And then I publish the story and send Trevor a link through his verified Twitter account. I get a lovely note back from his Twitter page, claiming it isn’t him on our Netflix account, or on his Snapchat page, recommending that we change our passwords, and declaring that he’d like “a ghost with terrific cheekbones” carved onto his gravestone.

Of course it wasn’t really him. In hindsight, everything about the story pointed to it being fake. That I was able to believe it was is evidence of the strangeness of these times and the ease with which social media creates a feeling of closeness and an illusion of identity. 

My kid does communicate online, often, with musicians and actors she enjoys. Lots of kids do. Young performers starting out today are expected to communicate directly with their fans. They follow in the footsteps of musicians like Jonathan Coulton and Amanda Palmer, who built their brands in the early days of the internet, independent of record companies and radio promotion, by exchanging messages with fans — through listservs and blogs, and later via social media platforms. 

Kids have long had these kinds of relationships with the famous people they admired. (See the documentary “Good Ol’ Freda,” about a shy young woman in Liverpool who handles fan relations for a band she loves, the Beatles.)  

And in today’s culture of intense sharing, there are few barriers to the idea that these relationships are real. On Twitter and Instagram you can see kids pouring their hearts out to these young stars, telling them about their insecurities, their struggles with mental illness, their raw and undying love.

A request for Netflix access was odd, of course, but not that far off from asking for Kickstarter donations or Patreon patronage. 

But the strangest part of our Netflix situation was the fact that this version of Trevor wasn’t communicating with us publicly. That, ultimately, was the best clue that he wasn’t real. Getting such a funny, detailed, warm Twitter message from the real Trevor Stines’ account made things seem more normal. Even better: At least from his verified online persona, he seems to be a caring person and an exceedingly good sport, the kind of star I’d like my kid to know. 

And, now, finally, I am a real Trevor Stines fan. 

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Jen Deaderick is the author of She the People, an illustrated history of women’s citizenship.

 

Illustration by Birgit Schössow

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