Protecting Your Personal Brand on Twitter

Mel and Mike WJHLAs twitter gains in popularity more and more people are both using the social media site and impersonating others there. Recently I received a phone call from WJHL-TV reporter Mike Lamia  asking my professional assessment of the twitter hoax that was committed on Sullivan County Schools ‘Director Dr. Jubal Yennie. It seems that just for fun an 18 year old student set up a false account and started making amusing tweets about snow days under Dr. Yennie’s name. The Sullivan County Sheriff’s department got wind of the case and  arrested the young man for identity theft.

As I sat at WJHL waiting for the interview, I pulled up ‘Dr. Yennie’s’ twitter accounts on my iPad. I noticed two things: The “real” Dr. Yennie (it appeared to be tweets from educational conferences several months ago) and the “fake” Dr. Yennie (one that was laced with profanity.)The fake Dr. Yennie even had his photo attached to the account. What struck me as puzzling was that the Sullivan County Sheriff’s department said the first fake account had already been taken down. So it appeared to us that there was now a second Dr. Yennie “Impersonator” once again pretending to be someone who is the face of education in Sullivan County. Several days later I saw this reported by the local newspapers. At this writing I do not yet know what happened to the impersonator behind the second , more caustic, “Dr. Yennie.”

What lessons can we as “average” citizens learn from all of this?

  1. It’s important to protect and monitor our personal brands. Google provides a free tool called “Google Alerts” that is one way to catch news of you or others like you.
  2. Each of us can also simply Google our name or our “brand” identity to see what is being said online about us. With so much of our lives now being lived online we need to be vigilant in protecting our personal brands.
  3. Just as in password protection and phishing scams that I’ve written about in this column previously, some of the burden of safe computing falls on us. Remember to change your passwords often.

Finally, was this or was this not identity theft? Does the first guy, who was apparently more of a prankster, deserve lighter punishment than the profanity-laced second suspect? What would you have done if this was your name and your brand? Now that schools are in the forefront of safety questions are we a bit touchier about “cyber” safety issues there than in the past? A final thought: Remember to practice safe tweeting!


  • Sue Painter says:

    I see fake identities on Twitter all the time for famous people, Mel. Even Prince Charles has one (although it is subtly noted as fake) and it’s pretty funny. Just this morning I had someone on Twitter Tweet me and say he worked for Google and wanted to sell me advertising – but when I checked his account he had like 7 followers. 🙂 It’s a growing pain and I personally believe it will hurt Twitter as people get disgusted and tired trying to tell “real” from “fake.”

    • maryellen says:

      Sue, that would be a pity but I supposed it is the inevitable evolution of social media. Some things start out cool and then others hijack it!

  • I think it definitely is a form of identity theft, but I do think it would be hard to arrest everyone who does this because I see so many impersonators on twitter. Perhaps they should add more “trip wires’ to twitter to make identity theft less easy to do. I

  • Dumb teenage boys! Ugh … I hope my little guy is smart enough to never do something dumb like that when he’s a teen. Mama’s teaching him better than that!

    Twitter does shut down fake profiles when they are notified of it, so at least that is good. They cleaned out thousand not that long ago.

    It’s not just Twitter though. As long as there is a site where someone can create a profile, there will be fake accounts and spammers too … it’s up the owners and the users to report, block, and police these accounts.

  • maryellen says:

    Thanks so much for mentioning us! I am glad that you found our personal branding presentation inspiring!

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