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.
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”
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.
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
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):
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:
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