WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Twitter is one of the newest social networking tools to go viral, providing users news feeds for individuals.
People can share links and ideas, or ask questions and offer advice in a steady stream of updates limited to 140 characters each. Others can reply to those updates or resend them.
Twitter users can send updates from their computers or phones, and those updates will appear instantly. Sometimes the updates are mundane, sometimes they are useful. It all depends on the individual posting them.
But, with every social phenomenon there comes risk.
One day, United Professional Wrestlers Association owner, Don Brower, said he started getting strange emails from people inquiring why he was canceling a show or why he was saying the company was out of business.
Brower, confused because he never said those things, realized a little birdie was hurting his business.
"Somebody had gone under my name as UPWAOwnerDonBrower and was tweeting as me," Brower explained.
He was a victim of what's commonly called "Twitter Fraud." This happens when someone creates an account in your name and sends out messages to anyone who follows.
Brower said he didn't discover the Twitter profile until wrestlers started asking questions and missing their matches, costing him time and money. Brower calls the situation "online vandalism."
Dr. Jeanne Persuit, a communications studies professor at UNCW, says Twitter is just like anything else on the internet – people start rumors and impersonate celebrities because they can remain anonymous. She says to verify the Twitter account is actually a feed from the person you think it is. Additionally, if something is being canceled via Twitter, make sure you get the information confirmed.
Persuit thinks Brower's case is extreme, but the wrestlers who emailed him to confirm the tweets had the best approach to handling them.
"Why not check and make sure that's the person you're conversing with," said Persuit. "So say, you know, I follow your Twitter feed and if they're like, 'huh?' Then that's kind of a big tip off that it's not them. And that's kind of happened since the inception of the internet. Who really is at the other end of the conversation?"
While Twitter has rules against impersonating people and using the tool "to mislead, confuse or deceive others," it can be difficult to police with so many users.
If you become a victim of twitter fraud, you can submit a request via Twitter to report the impersonation, though it takes time to process. The fake account in Brower's name disappeared after about two months.
In order to investigate impersonation, Twitter needs 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