What do you do when some nut job is pretending to be you on Twitter?
Hope the legal system catches up with them before they catch up with you.
I guess it had to happen eventually. After joining Twitter more than six years ago, I’ve got my first Twimposter.
I first became aware of him/her/it about a week ago when I noticed that someone with my name started following me. I checked out the profile. Here’s what it looks like.
And here’s mine. Amazing likeness, no?
Aside from the photograph (of Indian actress Roopasree), the reversal of my first and last names, and some minor editing, this person had stolen my bio. And then he/she/it proceeded to randomly select a handful of my tweets and broadcast them out as if he/she/it had written them. I tweeted back “WTF???” but never got a response.
Lately, the real purpose of the bogus account seems to have become more clear. It was not to embarrass or lampoon me as much as to spam out links to eBay auctions for (probably) counterfeit copies of Microsoft Office and/or malware infested downloads of Twilight avatars, picking up a few shekels for every rube he/she/it managed to snare.
You know, the usual shite. Why pick on me? No reason that I can see. But Twitter has gotten much better about identifying bot-driven accounts that spew out spam all day long, so my best guess is that spammers have adopted a new tactic: Making themselves look as much like a real user as possible. The easiest way to do that is to copy someone else.
Still, I count myself lucky. Because yesterday I encountered a Twimposter for a friend that was decidedly less benign. In fact, it was downright defamatory and more than a little bit frightening.
The friend, Bennet Kelley, runs the Internet Law Center, where he routinely deals with victims of cyber harassment. (I occasionally appear on his Internet radio show to talk about privacy and make stupid jokes.)
This is his real Twitter account.
And here is his Twimposter.
This was not a spammer out to make a few pennies per click. This was someone seeking revenge.
I only discovered the account after the Twimposter included me on a tweet related to one of my recent appearances on Bennet’s show. I contacted Kelley, who was already aware of the account and knew exactly who had created it. I won’t name her here – because I don’t want her harassing me, too – so I’ll just call her Mrs. Bozo.
Four years ago, Mrs. Bozo was on the losing end of a lawsuit against an adoption agency that she was also harassing. Kelley represented the agency, which won an $85,000 settlement from her insurance company.
Ever since, Kelley has been in her crosshairs. This Twitter account was only the latest in a long series of virtual and physical attacks. He’s filed three police reports against her and obtained two restraining orders, yet the woman keeps on coming.
Just from reading her tweets you can tell Mrs. Bozo is seriously unhinged. Googling her, I found dozens of other sites – Wordpress, Blogspot, Tumblr, Slideshare, etc -- she created for the sole purpose of trashing Kelley’s reputation.
It’s not merely that Mrs. Bozo is not playing with a full deck; it’s a Tarot deck and the cards are all the High Priestess of Looney-Tunes. (Note: This is not a professional medical opinion.)
Personally, if I were Kelley I would hire an armed guard until Mrs. Bozo is in some kind of treatment center. Kelley is hoping the State of California will handle it when her criminal trial date comes up later this month.
One of the problems here is that the law is ill equipped to deal with serial cyber harassers, says Kelley. Victims can incur high attorneys fees and it’s difficult to prove damages. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense economically for most people, he adds.
Twitter is also poorly equipped to handle this kind of abusive account, though that’s beginning to change. After a UK women was repeatedly threatened via Twitter, Change.org gathered 125,000 signatures begging Twitter to add an abuse reporting option. Last week Twitter agreed to the change, though so far it has only been rolled out to some mobile users.
Having an abuse button is better than not having one. But the real question will be how much human-power Twitter is willing to dedicate to enforcing it. This is not something you can pass off to an algorithm. Impersonating a real user is easy to do and hard for software to detect. Just ask Mrs. Bozo.
Update: A few hours after this post appeared, Twitter suspended the @BozoBennet account. However, @tynan_dan remains active as I write this.
Update Part Deux: She's baaa-aaack. Same Twitter handle as before, probably linked to a different email address. And she's discovered this blog. Welcome to another round of Twitter Whack-A-Mole. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be bumpy.
Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.
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