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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!

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