“I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.” -MacReady, The Thing

Twitter Impersonation – Is Someone Using Your Profile For Nefarious Purposes

Twitter impersonation is something I’ve been seeing with increasing frequency. And recently, I’ve had to personally deal with it.

In one instance, a member of my Twitter audience sent out a message stating that a rogue account was impersonating her. The rogue account had copied her profile picture, her header picture, her bio, her name, and about 90 percent of her twitter handle (the replaced the last few characters of her handle with dashes). It was in the process of contacting her followers to “appropriate them”.

Then, a few days ago I encountered a similar incident for a client of mine. Someone had copied the profile header, the profile picture, the bio, and made a slight modification to the name. The twitter handles, however, was a string of random characters.

I reported the impersonating account to Twitter, provided the evidence, and within half an hour, the account was gone.

Apparently this Twitter impersonation happens more often than not. I guess when creating bulk accounts, it’s easier for the creator to simply copy the profile of accounts already in existence.  Which means, like your credit card statements in this post Equifax-breach era, you should perform a regular audit to determine if someone has copied your profile and they are either running a smear campaign or using your likeness in a bot army.

Here are two actions you can take to perform a quick review:

  1. Search for Variations of Your Handle in Twitter:

    This one is simple. On the Twitter platform, mouse up to the “search twitter” search box and type in your twitter handle. In the “People” tab, your profile should come up. If any other profiles comes up, examine them and determine how much of your material they’ve appropriated. Look at things like the header photo, profile photo, bio, and name. You should also look at slight variations of your name. For example, if your name is Bob Cardoza and your profile handle is bobcardoza, type in “cardoza” and review the results.

    The other thing you should put in that search box is your full profile. This one should come up only once. But if someone has copied your profile, this will pull them up.

  2. Search for Your Profile Photo in Google:

    The other item you should check is your profile photo. Go to your profile by clicking on the user icon up in the upper right hand corner. In the drop-down menu, select profile. When your profile comes up, right click on your profile photo and select “Save Image As…” and your profile photo to your local drive. Then, pull up google in a browser tab, select “Images” over in the upper right hand corner. Click the camera icon in the search box, and select the profile photo you just saved.

    Then, take a look at the Search Engine Results. You are looking for other Twitter accounts using your profile photo. Naturally, you are going to have a harder time making your case if you are using a stock photo or snagged a photo of an underwear model. But if your profile photo is unique, you can use this to determine what accounts are impersonating yours. From there you can take the appropriate measures. In this case, it means going back to Twitter and reporting the offending profile.

Reporting Twitter Impersonation

Twitter now allows you to report offending accounts right from the Twitter interface.

In the account profile, in the upper right hand corner, you’ll find a “three dot” dropdown menu. Clicking on that will give you some options, including to “mute”, “block”, or “report” the account. Clicking on “report” will bring up a new menu. This will give you the opportunity to identify the problem. Now some of the options are subject to interpretation, and I’m sure Twitter will review the whole timeline of the profile to determine if an account is being abusive, targeting an individual, spewing spam, or is hacked. The option you are interested in, however, is “They are pretending to be me or someone else“.

Twitter has rules about impersonation. They do allow parody accounts, but they have strict rules about you create and use those accounts.  In this menu, you can tell Twitter if the account the offender is impersonating is yours, your company’s, your client’s, or someone you know (as in one of your followers). In some instances, they’ll ask you to further define the problem to give them direction on what they should look at.

Social Media  Platforms like Twitter Require Individual Responsibility

Twitter has made this process easier over the past few months. I’m betting the impact of Russian involvement in the 2016 election and the role social media played has put the executives of these platforms a little on edge. So they are going to take additional measures and be a little more proactive when you report these incidents. For example, the most recent Twitter change in February took measures to limit account automation, and they suspended a bunch of accounts exhibiting suspicious bot activity.

However, while Twitter, and Congress, may be taking a more active roll in policing the social media environment, this doesn’t absolve the individual users like you and me from our responsibility. Remember, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty“. We have to monitor our own profiles to insure someone isn’t using them as pawns in a bot army.  And we have to constantly watch the social media space to insure questionable players aren’t subverting our material for nefarious purposes.

Take responsibility for your Twitter reputation. Keep it clean and under control. Make social media work for everyone, not just those intent on gaming the system.