What Happens When Twitter Identities Are Mistaken, Faked Or Stolen
Hello everyone. I’m a huge fan of twitter and have been for many years, long before I started blogging.
I think part of the appeal of twitter is the anonymity it gives. Even when people use their real name and put pictures up of themselves, because the majority of twitter users use some level of anonymity it feels like real identities are more protected.
I personally welcome this anonymity. It allows me to present a better, more confident side of myself and enables me to be more open about my mental health.
I can say I’m having a bad day and get the support of people who understand without worrying people close to me or having to worry about people I know on a causal basis finding out the weird things that go on in my head.
This anonymity does sometimes come at a price. When people use twitter they can easily forget there are real people behind the twitter identities.
This can lead to peoples behavior towards other people online becoming negative in a way that they would not happen real life. This is has been really evident in both my own interactions on twitter in the last few weeks and those of my twitter friends.
Mistaken Twitter Identities
A few weeks ago I had a very unusual tweet turn up in my notifications. A lady had jumped into a general conversation I was having about how I was spending the day with a comment that while not abusive was certainly not very complimentary towards me.
I replied to her asking what her tweet was about, and what resulted was this lady posting several tweets about what a nasty person I was, how I was anti-disabilities and hated people on benefits. Alongside being not very polite, these accusations couldn’t be further from the truth.
I did a little investigating and quickly saw the lady had been involved in an argument the previous day with another user with a similar user name to me and who held these views.
It took several attempts by myself and my friends to point out to the lady that she had mistaken me for someone else, but in the end I did get a genuine apology once they realised so no lasting harm was done.
However if I had not have identified the root of the mistake so easily and had not had my awesome twitter friends to back me up, this lady could have easily continued to tweet slurs about me.
This little story highlights the soft end of twitter harassment. The lady did not question herself before having a go at me online. She did not feel the need to double-check who she was speaking about, or consider the validity or impact of her words because they were ‘just tweets’
Stolen Twitter Identities
I was lucky that my little twitter incident was done and dusted in a single morning. Unfortunately other friends of mine have had much worse.
Earlier this year my good friend Rachel who writes Our Rach Blogs wrote a tweet about Big Brother. A particular twitter user tool offense at the tweet and this led to a prolonged and very nasty spell of online harassment, abuse and even death threats by the twitter user.
One of the tricks they played was to steal Rachels twitter identity. Day after day other friends of Rachel and myself found ourselves followed by accounts claiming to be the ‘real’ Rachel. When we challeged these claims the person became abusive towards us.
Not only did this person try to imitate Rachel herself, but they also set up fake accounts pretending to be regional police authorities in order to bully and harass her.
Now Rachel is an amazing kick ass woman who publicly dealt with the whole thing amazingly, but this type if bullying is relentless and wears even the strongest if people down.
Further more, many people who are at the receiving end of this type of behaviour are vulnerable to start with which is why they are targeted.
Online bullying can have catastrophic consequences. Week on week the news reports on people who have taken their own lives as a result of cyber bullying.
Faked Twitter Identities
This might seem a bit of a contradictory term, as by my own admission twitter users tend to be anonymous.
However there is a difference between anonymity and pretending to be somebody you’re not and the latter tends to happen regularly on twitter.
I think most people reading this will be familiar with the term catfish. It refers to someone who sets up a fake social media identity in order to pursue an online relationship.
The complexity of the fake lives these people create can be quite astounding and they are not always easy to spot.
I should know as I was duped by one very recently. A very good twitter friend of mine, Martyn began an online friendship with a certain lady earlier this year.
nosey intuative, I soon realised this friendship was developing into something more and I was genuinely pleased for both as they seamed well matched.
The lady in question portrayed herself as a vulnerable self-conscious person who had been emotionally abused in the past.
This is something I could relate to and as such our own friendship developed on and off of twitter. She would message on Whatsapp when she was having a bad day, and tell me about how her relationship with Martyn was developing.
It became apparent later on that this ‘friendship’ was as fake as her ‘relationship’ with Martyn. I had been used as a tool to add more credibility to her lies (that she loved him, but was scared to take the next step etc).
When the truth became evident I was left feeling very stupid and Martyn left devastated at the loss of what he had believed was a very real relationship. That was not the end of the story though.
What occured afterwards was an intense campaign of online stalking. She would set up 3 or 4 fake twitter profiles a week to spy on him and his twitter friends. Each time we blocked one another one appeared.
When it became apparent that stalking wasn’t going to work she adopted a new stratagy and began portraying herself as the victim and Martyn as an online predator who has used his so called position of power to abuse her online.
The situation at the moment is not pleasant. A band of women have become involved with the catfish and under the guise of feminism have launched a campaign of harassment and bullying against Martyn. Articles have been written, slurs and accusations posted on twitter and veiled threats have been made.
These women are hiding behind their anonymous twitter identities whilst trying to destroy the reputation of a good, kind, honest man. I don’t think for a minute they give a fuck about the man behind the online identity they are slating, but each accusation and slur they throw at him leaves real and lasting damage to his mental well-being.
What Can We Do?
As I have outlined above the misuse of online identities can lead to cyber bullying by allowing the bullies to not see the identity they are attacking as a real person and by giving them anonymity to hide behind.
People may think they are powerless to stop this bullying but there are things they can do. Firstly they can check their own behaviour. Make sure they check facts before sharing stories and tweets about other people.
Due to the case recently between rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins and blogger Jack Monroe people are beginning to become aware that there can be serious financial penalties to pay for tweeting lies, but what people are less aware of is the fact that when they share tweets or quote statements by other people that contain lies they are endorsing the lie and in doing so are at risk of being sued themselves.
Secondly people need to remember there are real people behind the names they are tweeting. If a witty tweet will be like and retweeted by 9 people but at the expense of the 10th should it really be posted?
Thirdly people should be prepared to challenge online bullying where there see it. If they see something tweeted to or about someone that makes them think “thats out of order” say so.
Report abusive tweets and accounts that are trying to steal someone elses online identity. By backing up online friends who are receiving abuse people help to create a safer more pleasant environment for everyone.
I have to say this is something the twitter community I am a part of is very good at. The support that has been shown to Rachel and Martyn and myself in our respective situations has been brilliant, so for the most part this post can be seen as preaching to the converted. However it is a really important message and one that needs to be shouted out loud.
Have you had experience of mistaken, stolen or fake twitter identities? Or have you been the victim of online bullying?
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*Possibly not true