Trish, Someone is trying to impersonate me on social media! I’m so annoyed and scared because I don’t know who this person is and they’re contacting my friends. What should I do?!
Hi there, and welcome back to another week of Ask Trish.
To this week’s questioner – first and foremost, I’m so sorry to hear about what I know can be a deeply frustrating, scary, difficult experience. To that end, I want to start by validating how you’re feeling. As I mentioned in this week’s TikTok, it truly can be a moment of utter dread and horror when, as you’re scrolling through your social media, you suddenly see an account with a profile picture that oddly looks like yours…only to realize that that is your picture! And your name! It’s scary because, as you point out, you have no idea who’s trying to impersonate you or what their intentions are, and deeply frustrating because, well, your identity is your identity, and no one (other than you!) is entitled to that.
With that said, I want you to know that social media impersonation is not the end of the world. While it is a terrible situation – and one that can leave you feeling like you don’t have any control – the truth is that there are ways to manage the situation, minimize the damage, and even potentially eliminate the troublesome account. In this post, I’ll briefly take you through 1) what social media impersonation looks like – and the ways it can go wrong and then 2) offer you some tips on how to address the situation. (As you read through these tips, keep in mind that not all social media impersonation situations are created equal – if, for instance, your impersonator is also trying to extort you in some way (potentially with explicit or sensitive content), you may want to check out my post on sextortion.)
Let’s get into it:
First, briefly, what is social media impersonation? What does it look like? Simply put, social media impersonation is when some actor attempts to impersonate you on a social media platform, often by creating an account in your name. Beyond using your name, if you already have a social media account on that platform (that is, the real account), impersonators will often take your profile picture and even your bio or other personal identifying information, e.g., where you live or go to school to try to make the account seem authentic. If your real account is public, impersonators may also take your content – for instance, images or posts you share – and repost them to the fake account, again, in an attempt to mimic your activity and make it appear as though you’re the one who is posting. And in many cases, impersonators will then attempt to infiltrate your social network – requesting to follow your friends and family, and even messaging or getting in touch with these people. Again, to make the fake account seem legitimate to your contacts, sometimes, impersonators will brand the account as a “new account” created after your real account was deleted, e.g., they’ll put in the bio of the fake account, “This is my new account! My old account was deleted!” Often, lots of folks in your social network will be none-the-wiser…and will accept a follow request from the fake account.
Now that we’ve established what social media impersonation is, let’s get to the stuff you’re here for – how to prevent it and what to do about it. Here are my brief tips on avoiding and tackling impersonation:
Think carefully about what you share on social media – while, you’ll be glad to know, I’m not a social media impersonator, I imagine that an impersonator would likely target an account that they can easily and effectively impersonate…that is, an account that reveals lots of personal information. If your posts contain your location or other personally identifiable information (where you go to school, what places you like to hang out, your phone number), know that (even if it’s not your intention!) you may be setting an impersonator up to use that information to try to legitimize a fake account in your name. One of the best ways to prevent impersonation – and to proactively limit any damage – is to make it harder for an impersonator to fake being you. And one of the best ways to do that is to limit what’s available about you out there. So before you post, consider: who, apart from your friends and family, might see this, and are you comfortable with that?
To that end, consider making your accounts private – Another key way to make it harder for an impersonator to mimic you/steal your identity is to limit their ability to access your digital content, which you can do by making your social media accounts private. This instantly makes it extremely difficult for an impersonator (unless they’re a friend of yours..in which case, there may be other problems at hand!) to access and re-post the content you’ve shared to your social media. That, again, makes it harder for them to make a fake account seem legit, which can thus make it harder for them to cause any real damage to you or your reputation.
Report the account – Okay, but what if the damage is done, and there’s someone out there impersonating you? What should you do? Report the account. Most social media platforms have policies against impersonation and should (in theory!) remove these accounts. I say “in theory” because, as I’m sure at least some of you know, sometimes, reporting an account that’s impersonating you doesn’t produce an immediate response from platforms. One of the best ways to speed up the process is to get your friends and family to report the account, too. (As is the case with many things, there is strength in numbers!) If all of you consistently report the account (potentially over the span of a few days), you can potentially get it taken down – which, of course, completely eliminates the issue.
Take control of the narrative – In the meantime, though, you also want to take control of the narrative, which you can do by reaching out directly to friends and family on social media, whether via a post or story on your real account. Let them know what’s happening – that you are being impersonated – and clearly identify the fake account (for instance, you can tag the fake account, e.g., @fakeaccount), so they can 1) report it and 2) keep an eye out for it. Encourage them not to follow the account, and not to accept follow requests from the account. By doing this you can both 1) rally your friends and family behind you a source of support and 2) ultimately minimize any damage that a fake account can do – both by hindering its ability to infiltrate your social network and its ability to damage your reputation (as the folks who matter in your life will know that anything the account is posting or saying isn’t coming from you!).
I hope you found this post a helpful guide to what I know can be a scary, difficult, situation. Remember, social media impersonation is not the end of the world – and you can and should take control of your narrative. Whether you now have other impersonation-related questions (which I’m, of course, here to answer!) and want to keep the conversation going or you’re ready to switch gears and chat about another issue on your mind, don’t hesitate to share your questions or thoughts here. Your musings just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! As I often say, it is truly so simple and easy to fill out the form – and I genuinely love hearing from and being able to help you. So whatever’s on your mind, feel free to fill out the form. Oh, and one last thing – when you have a moment, please give our Ask Trish videos some love on social media! Like the videos, hype them up in the comments section, and share them with your friends! Together, we can amplify this incredible #AskTrish community and increase its impact.
Wishing you all a great start to February,