How do you view your social media world?
The first thing that springs to mind is communication.
Communication with your friends, family and other users in groups and forums that share a common interest.
The second is sharing. Sharing of our photos, sharing of our life’s moments and sharing of information about us, how we feel, what we think, where we are going.
The social media world as brilliant as it is, has a darker side. Most know of the trolls, the haters, the cybercreeps and the scammers, but in my business of speaking with victims targeted by these individuals.. one thing is similar in each case, they never thought it would happen to them.
But lets face it .. if you are online, you are a potential target. The world can see you, there is no privacy and the permanent record of your online life, can reproduce itself with every google search.
One of these instances takes the form of fraudulent accounts – phony social media profiles being made in your name, representing you in an exact or very similar format. Same name, same profile pictures and likes. The accounts display personal information about you, causing anxiety, unrest and stress.
In most cases they are information stealing ‘revenge accounts’. Usually made by people you know, who wish to attack at the very jugular of your confidence. For the victims who endure this, it is initial shock and worry, followed by a sense of helplessness and feelings of humiliation.. they can’t control the situation and know full well it may take time for the social media company or other organisation to assist in removing the counterfeit profile.
During this time victims try to comprehend the situation, with fear and emotional destruction weighing in as their mind spins with proposals. What can be done? How do I fix it? What else will they post? Where are they getting the information from? Who would do this to me and why?
Who would do this? The majority of fake accounts are made by those who are known to you. Friends that have had a falling out, adults who wish to make another feel uncomfortable and cause undue worry. There are a small number of users who are simply out to troll for nothing more than to cause anxiety, so yes on occasions it can be someone you do not know. But mostly fake profiles are made up are someone you do know.
It was recently published that fake accounts are being made as a new trend to use for cyberbullying.
This is not a new trend, it has been going on for some years. Teens make fake accounts to target individuals who they may be annoyed with over a social situation, or to cause a stir or anxiety to the original account holder….because they simply don’t like each other. At times there is no thought process, it is simply a case of jealousy.
Some accounts are nothing more than an annoyance, a copycat of the original profile, with no harmful posts or damaging content. Others are more aggressively targeted with more than one profile being made and placed on dozens of social media sites and unsavory websites.
It’s not new it’s been the way things are managed by teens (and some adults), when they wish to cause upset and distress to another. In their minds they feel this is a better way of attack, because of their thoughts on anonymity and a selfish component of wanting to control the targets reactions, usually close enough to watch the emotional roller coaster unravel.
How do we fix it – here is my advice:
- Change your Password! This is why sharing of passwords needs to be taken seriously. The consequences that come from giving away the key to your social media personal life.. can be devastating. I know a number of teens are getting the message and are not sharing passwords, however with access to social accounts being easily accessible on mobile devices, do ensure you have a passcode and try to cover the log in to better secure your device. If you think someone has hacked your Facebook account this link may be of assistance.
- Lock down your account settings and Log Out– it may be a hassle to keep logging into your account but this is one of the safe options to securing it.If the fake account is using your same cover photo or profile picture, change yours so friends can decipher between the two. All Facebook cover photos and profile pictures are public, so where possible use an avatar photo that does not identify you. Clean up your friends list. If you believe your settings are all in place, then information is likely to have been gleaned from someone in your friend list.
- Just breathe.Your mindset will be spinning, your emotions will be chaotic. So immediately you are aware… seek help. Talk to someone you trust that can help you and get you the appropriate assistance. It is wise to see a medical practitioner, or call a Help Line if you are not coping in these circumstances. It is also a good idea to alert those around you – especially trusted family, friends, school teachers or work colleagues, as they can offer emotional support and are mindful of your situation. Although difficult try not to ponder and manifest the situation in your thoughts. Incidents like this unfortunately happen on a daily basis around the world, but one thing is for sure, this time will pass… Just breathe.
- Report them. A lot stems from the account being able to ‘get ground’, meaning it can’t fly if it has no wings and is best ignored. Any mutual friends who are asked to connect with the account, should always check with their real friend via alternative means, to verify the accountability.Friends who connect with fake Facebook profiles can place their account in jeopardy too.
Check when the account was created and although some of these accounts will attempt to gain or buy fake followers to boost the account status, social media algorithms are now in a better position to flag these accounts and close them.
Report them and block.
These links can be of assistance to report fake social media accounts.
This link may be of assistance for Friends to report a fake Facebook account.
Report an imposter Facebook account, or if you do not own a Facebook account.
Report imposter Twitter Accounts.
Report imposter Instagram Accounts.
A recent report mentioned that children as young as 10 are victims of fake accounts. If this is your situation – the following links may assist parents.
Ensure the child is reassured that it is not their fault and monitor their emotional wellbeing. Take time offline to do fun things and make special moments. Follow steps above in getting medical assistance and help from sympathetic and supportive friends if needed, both for yourself as a parent/guardian and for your child.
- If emotionally able – take ownership. Although not easy at this time, but be brave. Nothing is more dis-empowering to the creators of the phony account if they do not get a reaction. This is what they are seeking.. so shut them down.. give them nothing.. take away their strength… and show them up as the cowards they are. If you involve authority agencies to deal with this situation- take screenshots and note the date, time, the URL, fake account name, who you involved and what has occurred, as this can be helpful to an investigation.
All the best and stay safe online – Janita.
Janita Docherty is the founder and Director of – CyberActive Services. A recently retired police officer of 21 years’ service, Janita conducts internet safety presentations in Australia and the United States, assisting with proactive measures to protect users and their children online. Janita is a specialist in Facebook for personal use and safety and has conducted training for law enforcement personnel both in Australia and the United States on social media investigation. Follow her on Twitter and join her on Facebook.
This article is an advisory piece for information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice, legal opinion, or in lieu of gaining consultation from relevant organizations or authorities for assistance with an online incident.