I have recently seen a number of well-known people on twitter being impersonated by people who set up cheeky accounts with:
- the same profile picture - the same full name - the same username ending with an underscore (username_)
When you get an email saying they are following you, it comes in the form of "Full name is now following you on twitter" which definitely gets you clicking through if it's someone you know well (online or offline).
There is little you can do to protect yourself of this in advance (though Twitter should definitely get on it!). It's pretty insidious because if the most recent things the false account has said are plausible, many people are likely to be taken in and once they've been taken in, any kind of message could be sent to them (commercial, abusive, reputation-damaging, to name but a few). At this point, it would be hard to prove it wasn't you.
So what can you do about it?
Well first off, everyone using social media should be aware that it can happen. Be aware that profiles can be created by anyone - it sounds stupid, but until you are sure who is behind an account, you're not sure. Mmkay?
But here's my not-quite-foolproof list of actions to take to minimise the risk:
- You can make your followers aware that you list your official profiles somewhere and that if a profile isn't on that list, they should assume it's not you (I'm guilty of not having done this yet, but I intend to) - Make sure you monitor for your name and your handle so you are the first to know if it happens (e.g. in my case "Will Critchlow" and "willcritchlow"). You can use, um, I don't know an online monitoring tool or something - If you do find an abuse of the system, report it not only to your followers, but also to the social media site itself - Ask your friends to publicise the fact that you are being impersonated if it happens - Periodically point your followers to posts like this to remind everyone to be careful when playing in social media :)
For the record, this is me on twitter!.