I debated writing this post because I didn’t want to give any publicity to someone who should not have it, but I now know that this happens to other people too, so hopefully my experience can help anyone else who has had this happen.
Last November, I received an email from Alec Couros asking, “Have you seen this?” with a link to a Twitter account that had recently followed him. I checked the link and stared in shock at what I saw. My Twitter home page is just below. Below that is an account that is NOT mine and has nothing to do with me.
Although it’s pretty clear that the photo and header are the same, the background photo is actually the same as well, it is just positioned in a different way on the page. Even the bio, while slightly different, was the bio I had had until the end of August of last year. The URL of my classroom blog and the location were identical. Clearly someone was pretending to be me. With seven tweets in two and a half months, this person had somehow managed to gain over three hundred followers—followers who thought they were following me.
I felt violated. I work very hard to try to protect my online reputation and digital footprint. Although the screenshot above only shows a couple of retweets, there were several tweets with my picture beside them with what I considered to be nonsense content and one contained several profane words. I would never do that. People who saw those tweets would not necessarily know that. They would assume I had written them. It was one of those moments when I had to force myself to breathe deeply. What could I do about it?
Alec suggested that I use Twitter to help get rid of the account, by asking people to block the account and mark it as spam. His recommendation was that I tweet the link to the account rather than using the @username in my tweets. I did this and although I have no idea how many people actually blocked the account, several people tweeted to me that they had done so.
I also went to Twitter’s help section and found their impersonation policy and a place for reporting impersonation accounts. The report included questions about how the account was impersonating me and asked for links to other places I had the images online. The form was also very clear that it was necessary to fax a copy of either my driver’s license or my passport. On November 11th I filled out the required forms, and on the 12th I faxed a copy of my license. An automatically generated email gave me a reference number for my complaint.
Then I waited. It felt like I waited a long time. Finally, on January 7th, I received another email asking for a copy of my driver’s license or passport with the assurance that this would be shredded after use. I sent this again the same day and the next day, January 8th, I received an email saying
Thank you for providing this information. We have removed the reported profile from circulation due to violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) regarding impersonation. Your faxed ID has been shredded.
This was great news! The truth is, though, I still have more questions than answers. Even though the process eventually worked for me, I wonder why I had to send my identification twice.
If you go to the webpage for the imitation account, you will see that the account has been suspended, but the background picture, a photo of some of my students, is still there. The account obviously still exists and Twitter does have an appeal process for suspended accounts. It makes me wonder if, even though the attempt to pretend he/she was me was so clear, it would still be possible for the account to be reactivated.
I also wonder WHY someone does this. When I asked people to block and report the account as spam, a couple of other people responded that they had had the same thing happen to them. It seems random. I get (sort of) that people like to pretend to be someone famous, but why bother with an ordinary Joe or Jane?
The impostor didn’t just take my identity, he or she took a bit of my faith in humanity as well. So most of all, I wonder about protecting our online identity. If it hadn’t been for Alec’s curiosity about why I had another account, I might never have known about this. Recently, a friend had the same thing happen to her Facebook account. Do I need to be more on the defensive, watching online spaces for instances of this happening? I probably do. Probably you do too. And that is too bad, because I would rather that we all took that time to share the good and positive things that are happening in our classrooms and lives.