Help! I’m Being Impersonated on Twitter

Twitter Impersonation Report

Anyone who has been on Twitter long enough knows what a wonderful social media platform it is for news, conversations and sharing ideas. Like most good things, there are drawbacks: spam messages, bots, hacked accounts sending spam direct messages and now a relatively new phenomenon – impersonations.

While spam accounts, bots and hacks are relatively easy to deal with: block users, bots and change your password if hacked (also, ensure you trust applictions that share your Twitter account details), established profiles that emulate who you are on Twitter are more difficult to solve, and can be far more insidious and potentially reputation damaging.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

This has recently been a cause for concern locally in Victoria BC, where a number of local Twitter users have reported impersonations, often multiples copying a single profile – and the ‘attacks’ are spreading. Unlike reporting a spammer, or automated spam bot, accounts which impersonate someone else require the direct investigation and intervention by Twitter itself.

There have been a number of recent cases where both Twitter and courts have come to different conclusions if, for instance, an account which purports to be someone, usually with a high public profile, can be considered art or satire. See the Seattle Pi “Racism and Twitter impersonation prompt lawsuit for Kirkland teen”

PMO Harper

PMO Harper

This is especially true with political Twitter accounts, where the proliferation of satirical accounts is evident. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has his own verified Twitter profile, but contends with a number of emulators, usually satirical rather than supportive.

Of course, with high profile public figures it might be expected in the contemporary media environment to tolerate such ‘invasions’, less so with more subtle impersonations of Twitter users with only a few hundred or thousand followers. As the right image illustrates, @pmoharper makes it clear in the profile the Twitter account is a parody, and in fact protected under Canadian Law, unless only posts are out rightly libelous.

Twitter does offer verified accounts, however their former public application process has been suspended, requiring either an advertising account, or API partner application before consideration.

How do I get my account verified?

This program is currently closed to the public. This means we are not able to accept public requests for verification.

Why is the Beta verification program currently closed?

Twitter’s public beta version of account verification is no longer available. After a long period of manual testing, we’ve closed public applications. We have removed our public-facing verification request form. In the meantime, we’re still verifying some trusted sources, such as our advertisers and partners. If you’re one of our partners or advertisers, please follow up with your account manager for details.

@writingvictoria

@writingvictoria – real account

As actual verification is currently unavailable for the vast majority of Twitter users, dealing with impersonations is problematic. The type of accounts that are plaguing some users are more subtle – using completely different user names, or slight variations, but often employing the same profile picture and text.

This does not appear to be possible with automation, in other words, someone is actually creating new Twitter accounts using the information from established profiles. The impersonations also seem to be random, copying some accounts with very few followers and posts, other with far higher numbers, and it is growing. At the time of publishing this, over 30 local Victoria BC Twitter users have reported impersonations.

Showing in the images are the ‘real’ @WritingVictoria, (Left Image) and the impersonation account (Right Image below). As with most seen, the accounts are very new, mostly use the real profile picture, and the profile text with a word or two slightly modified. Each impersonation also (so far) seems to only post two ‘tweets’, usually a repeat of an actual

@writingvictoria impersonation account

@writingvictoria impersonation account

message from the ‘real’ account, sometimes with a nonsense post.

The point of these types of emulation accounts is currently unclear. Locally there is a great deal of awareness, with the Victoria BC network actively assisting each other to identify when someone has been impersonated, as we often do with Direct Message spam. While they appear to be harmless, an irritant and mainly a matter for speculation (who is doing them, what is the purpose…), the fact a person or group is spending the time to create these is worrisome.

They could be used to send spam advertising, phishing links – repeat messages from the real account with a link modified to a ‘bot’ website, as an example. The other possibility is to game SEO, or search engine optimization. Many savvy and technically adept social media and web marketers understand the growing relationship between Search and Social Media. Google especially has integrated real time search, including live blog, Twitter and Google Plus updates. An impersonation account could possibly interfere, reduce ranking, or become a top hit, impacting online reputation.

How to Report an Impersonation Account.

Twitter does have an online form to report impersonation accounts. Read the policy:

What is impersonation?
Impersonation is pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive. Impersonation is a violation of the Twitter Rules and may result in permanent account suspension.

Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary, or fan accounts. Please refer to Twitter’s Parody Policy for more information about these accounts. Accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead may be permanently suspended.

If you see someone obviously impersonating your profile with the potential to harm, this is what you will need to record, and then report to Twitter itself.

Who can report impersonation?
Twitter processes impersonation reports from the user being impersonated or someone legally authorized to act on behalf of the user/entity.

What information do I need to include when reporting impersonation?
In order to investigate impersonation, we need the following information:

Username of the person impersonating you (or the URL of their profile page):
Your First and Last Name:
Your Twitter username (if you have one):
Address:
Phone:
Brief description of the impersonating content:
If you are not the person involved in the impersonation, but are legally authorized to act their behalf, please include the information above in addition this information:

Your Name:
Phone:
Fax:
Company Website:
Company domain email address:
Your title and legal relationship to the person/entity involved:

You can then file a Ticket Request using this form on the Twitter website.

If your account has been impersonated, or you know someone who has experienced this issue, let me know how Twitter dealt with the request for action.

As always, you thoughts, ideas and comments are appreciated
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Discussion17 Comments

  • M Oearce Mar 07, 2012 

    Ive had my account cloned this morning, the account has tweeted twice, both rude and vulgar. The person has used by profile picture, has followed a lot of people who i follow and follow me. I think it may be someone I have a disagreement with a few months ago. Can twitter track IP addresses?

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Mar 07, 2012 

      According to Twitter policy, personal attacks using a cloned account is more than simply a spam violation. I would assume they track IP addresses as part of overall security. You can use the complaint form to outline the issue – provide the identity of the spam account, and take screen shots.

      Mat

      Reply
  • Travis Feb 06, 2012 

    I have become impersonated on twitter as of this morning and whoever is it really hates my guts or is a hater. I contacted the police who then contacted twitter but I’m still waiting for twitter to take the impersonators account down which may take a few days.

    Reply
    • @evablogger Mar 03, 2012 

      Please elaborate as much as you can concerning your contact with the police. Very few people go so far as to contact law enforcement. I’m always interested in the results. They seem to be various. My twitter account has been impersonated about 20 times.

      Reply
  • David Bratzer Jan 02, 2012 

    Thanks Mat for this post. I’m dealing with Twitter impersonation issues. By the way, when I search “twitter impersonation spam” on Google, your post is in the top five.

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Jan 02, 2012 

      David – apparently Twitter is taking an ad hoc approach to this. For some accounts they are very responsive and deleting the impersonator, others getting a message back saying ‘the account does not violate Twitter code of conduct’. I am honestly surprised this is still continuing, and that so many in Victoria BC are being affected.

      Cheers, Mat

      Reply
  • Cheryl Dec 22, 2011 

    Thanks, Mat. Count me as impersonated, too, albeit a few weeks behind everyone else.

    Reply
  • SeanJohn Dec 11, 2011 

    I’ve been impersonated too. I contacted twitter and Google yesterday. I’ll see about contacting the police too. The person has copied my old picture and has done research on me. They even include where I’m from. Of course all their tweets are offensive and untrue. These big tech companies really need to take issues like this very seriously and I don’t yet believe that they do.

    Reply
  • Mark McLaughlin Dec 06, 2011 

    Mat, I have seen several local accounts impersonated. If you examine the cloned profiles they seem to lead to dubious websites, so its a form of piggybacking to deliver spam advertising…

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Dec 06, 2011 

      Thanks Mark – that might be the overall point of these cloned Twitter accounts. Re-post a message as an impersonation, with a re-vamped link, to get users into phishing websites. Subtle, and as Twitter itself is seemingly unwilling to take on the issue, one that all users need to be aware.

      Cheers, Mat

      Reply
  • Jordan J. Caron Dec 05, 2011 

    Interesting Mat. Thanks for the heads up on this. It surely must be happening world wide because it would be too bizarre for it to only happen here.

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Dec 05, 2011 

      Jordon, agree with you it would be very bizarre to be only a local phenomenon, however, colleagues in other locales across Canada and the US (even UK) are not reporting the same amount of cloned accounts as in Victoria. Very weird
      Cheers, Mat

      Reply
  • Katharine Dec 05, 2011 

    I sent a ticket to Twitter on the 2nd, received a confirmation auto-message, but have heard nothing. Not a big surprise.

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Dec 05, 2011 

      Katherine, at this point I really do not think Twitter is taking this very seriously. The impersonation accounts are annoying, but not really doing any actual harm (for now). If they become active in sending spam, or compromising companies/brands then this issue might receive more attention. Please do let me know if you get a further response from Twitter. Thanks for the comment

      Cheers, Mat

      Reply
  • Deanna Dec 05, 2011 

    Thanks for this Mat! I have just been impersonated twice in a few days. Freaked me out – glad to hear it’s not just me.

    Deanna

    Reply
    • Mat Wright Dec 05, 2011 

      You are very welcome Deanna. Since the post was published more people have mentioned their Twitter accounts have been cloned. One hopes Twitter will get more pro-active on this issue.

      Cheers

      Mat

      Reply

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