What’s In A Name?

When twitter first came out, Niki Black urged me to open an account in my name.  Why, I asked?  Because you don’t want someone else taking your name and tweeting (this is her talking) as if it’s you.  I did it, not so much because I feared someone stealing my identify, but because it cost nothing to cover my back.  Niki was far more right than I realized.

Alan Colmes, the most pathetic excuse for a liberal ever, posted yesterday of some shenanigans by the Connecticut Republican Party against their rivals:

Connecticut Republicans created 33 phony Twitter accounts in the name of Democrats to send out phony messages mocking Democratic policies. Paddy at the Carnival caught it.  And the state Republican chairman doesn’t even get how wrong this is.
It’s just too easy.  There is no cost associated with opening as many twitter accounts as your fingertips can tolerate, and any available name (or variation on a name) is yours for the asking, provided that someone else hasn’t gotten there first.  If you want to be someone else, whether its @EricHolder or @BritneySpears, you need only race to the keyboard and hope someone else hasn’t snagged the name first.

This isn’t about those who use parody to challenge the powerful or the fascinating, but about those who can swipe an identity for the deliberate purpose of misleading others into believing that they are following, and reading, the very thoughts and words of a real person.  We can’t see who is on the other end of the keyboard, working feverishly to type in 140 characters to be spread across the twittersphere, and hopefully much further, for the purpose of deception.

With domain URLs, the problem generated a system to address the plague of cybersquatters and usurpers, and hopefully to protect those who happen to share the share the name of a more powerful person or exercise their right to challenge the mighty.  From what I can tell, the system is only moderately successful.

Twitter has yet to achieve the maturity of dealing with the problems generated by impersonation, not to mention the variety of other avenues of abuse.  To a large extent, we can weather the storm through vigilance, such as catching the Connecticut Republicans playing dirty, or volume, the real resonating louder and wider than the bad. 

At least we can hope that this is true.  For the moment, there is only a person in some backroom at Twitter headquarters deciding whether an account should be deleted or not, an abuse occurred or not.  It’s not only a sticky decision, but the poor guy must be deluged with demands to stop “outrageous” conduct.  No doubt some very irate folks are very demanding.

As the digital frontier keeps expanding, and there is no question but that have barely crossed the threshold of an expansive online future, the banditos, the malicious, the psychotic, will find ways of turning this wonderful tool against us, into a mechanism of deception and harm.  It’s unlikely that anyone will come up with a means of putting an end to the problems this miscreants can create, as their imagination will be just as hard at work coming up with ways to make the new world a problem as other will in trying to prevent it.

For now, the best we can do is be cognizant of the opportunity for abuse, for some jerk to impersonate another for the purpose of getting his jollies, or getting even, or getting ahead.  When we catch them, assuming they matter at all, they should be outed and shamed.  We may not be able to rid with internet of the bad guys, but the good guys can surely use their clout to make certain that no one is fooled, and that there is a price to pay. 

And heed Niki Black’s advice: Own your name before someone else does. Even if you don’t plan to twit, or whatever the next fad may be.

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