Digital Clone

Being Impersonated on Twitter


I was Googling myself one morning on my walk to work (as you do), and came across a strange-looking Twitter account. There was my profile picture and my old bio — but attached to an account which was definitely not my own. Everything other than the location was exactly as my profile had been before updating the information a few weeks earlier.

I had an imposter. Someone had deemed insignificant Twitter-me important enough to duplicate.

I am not important in the Twitter-verse. I’m no influencer, I have less than 100 followers, and there are weeks when I don’t even access the website. Obviously not frequently enough, as my impersonator had been active for two months and I had only just realised it.

I felt simultaneously special and violated. Thank you, whoever-you-are, for deciding that I was ‘valuable’ enough to copy — yet why would you do that? That is my identity that you are stealing, one I have spent 22 years of hard work cultivating.

Most of all, I felt disappointed by the lack of effort put in my imposter. The quality of their tweets was utterly unremarkable. I would expect that if you were going to imitate a person, you would try to either be funny, rude, controversial or something, not just write banal posts as mine had done. “I can’t understand why people believe in horoscopes”. “I’m listening to Pandora”. That’s not imposter-worthy — that’s just boring.

Those were the early posts. The later posts were all retweets across a wide range of topics and languages. Consistency, please! You are out there representing me — I would expect you to do a better job at it.

But that is exactly the point — they weren’t representing me, they were just using my existence to leverage their own account.

My Twitter profile
My imposter’s Twitter profile

Within a few minutes of discovering the account, I had reported it to Twitter under their Impersonation Policy. Within the hour I had received an email asking me to verify my identity (by uploading a photograph of my drivers license), and inside 30 hours the account was gone.

No fuss, no hassle, no drama.

While waiting for Twitter to remove the account, I decided to run the profile through Indiana University’s ‘Bot or Not’ project. The tool analyses Twitter accounts to determine whether it is a bot or not (duh). Interestingly, my imposter’s account ranked in at 37% bot. While not definitive, this result raises the possibility that there was a real person behind the account trying to be me.

The experience was a reality check from the internet — you are out there, and people will try and take advantage of that. I was lucky that copying my profile was the only thing that happened, as there are many more stories of impersonation that end up as nightmares. It’s also good that Twitter is able to deal with these problems relatively swiftly, although 30 hours in digital time is still a while to wait.

I am back to being the only result for my name on Twitter. Good thing I have such an uncommon last name!

Order is restored.

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