Friday, April 08, 2011

Internet Hazards: Impersonation

With a personal blog about family trips, all things baby, stuff the cat does, lists of NPR financial shows and general musings from a geeky domestic project manager (SAHM), I don't expect the world to be knocking down my door.  But imagine my surprise when I checked my Google Analytics the other night and saw a surge of traffic on March 31st & April 1st that was 100x my normal daily traffic volume.  At first I thought it was a mistake, then I looked for the content people were hitting.  It all seemed to concentrate on this picture.  (It is one of my favorite and few with a celebrity.)  

As I traced the hits back to their source, a site called "Reddit"--a social news website owned by Conde Nast Digital on which users can post links to content on the Internet. Other users may then vote the posted links up or down, causing them to become more or less prominent on the reddit home page. (Wikipedia), I started to worry.

Reading through various cascades of comments and links, I was able to piece together that someone had gone onto Reddit into a section called "Ask Me Anything" where famous people or people who have particular jobs/interests dialogue with others.  Someone claimed they had been an intern at the Daily Show and used my picture with Jon Stewart as proof of who they were.  But I guess the impersonator had cracks in his story and had earlier revealed himself to be a man as well as provided other weird information so the community began to suspect foul play.  People pretend to be people they aren't on the Internet all the time (so that's no surprise) but this guy was actually giving hopeful, interested folks completely misleading advice on how to get in at the Daily Show.  That is where the community drew the line and launched into deconstructing this person. 

What was most odd to me personally was seeing strangers try and prove that this person was a fake by delving into my background through LinkedIn and my blog to see if anything tied me to the Daily Show professionally and if they could substantiate what they knew of him with what they found about me.  Some of the folks came up with interesting possibilities like the Daily Show perhaps allowing a stay-at-home-mom intern or me as an intern speaking through the account of a husband/boyfriend/male coworker because I would not be taken seriously as a woman on the internet.  I found it fascinating, creepy and exhilarating all at once.

When I stumbled upon the discussion, it was already 5 days old so there were many users calling the "intern" a sham.  But I could see that there were still some lingering questions especially those who thought I might be speaking through a male counterpart.  So I posted my own statement which can be seen in the link below, along with the rest of the main string of conversation.  It devolves a little bit (so be warned) but as a study of Internet culture and behavior it is both inspiring to see a community seek the truth for itself and worrisome to see that it's so easy to lie with no recourse on the Internet.

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