Authenticity in the age of bots and trolls
Some Mondays remind you that malicious pricks still inhabit the world. Like the most recent one. The morning opened on a weird note. With a message from Medium, asking me if I’d sent them a message.
No, I hadn’t. But someone had, and they’d used my email address.
Apparently someone wanted Medium to think I was some kinda online cyber-stalker, who’d blackmailed a former porn star by catfishing her. Gaining her trust. Then threatening to expose her past.
So they tried to write a confession in my voice and then sent it through the support staff’s contact page.
I’d never do something like that. Blackmail a porn star? Sounds like way too much work. I’m fundamentally lazy. That’s why I became a professor.
Besides, I like porn stars. Some of my best friends happen to be porn actors. I’m not even joking. Or am I?
Nothing really came of this weirdo’s clumsy attempt to get me in trouble. But the incident marks the upteenth time someone’s tried to fuck with me online. Either ripping off my content. Creating a bot account with my pics. Or (gasp) sending me nasty pictures on Twitter.
Authenticity matters to everyone, especially to writers. But so does privacy. Yeah, I know the irony of wanting to voice my opinion to thousands of people while also safeguarding my personal life.
A girl can try.
So far I’ve managed to avoid most forms of drama. No gamergate bullshit for me. Yet like lots of people, I worry. Maybe I’ll piss off the wrong gang and wind up with a handful of death threats.
You never know what’s going to trigger someone. A column on equal pay. The wage gap. The idea that men can be feminists. That maybe it would be nice for some female video game characters to wear practical combat gear. Not that I mind a little skin. Just sayin.
There’s the rub. The more you hide, the harder it is to prove you’re you. Recently, a group of Russian thugs cloned a bunch of people’s Twitter accounts. Created fake profiles. Stole their pictures.
We mass-reported the assholes. But as a rule, Twitter won’t remove a fake profile unless you can prove your identity. How? By scanning them an official photo ID.
Personally, I got lucky. Twitter tore down my doppelganger account. Maybe it’s because I have 18K followers. Humble brag. But others waited way longer. Because they tweet under pseudonyms.
Not everybody wants to upload their driver’s license to Twitter. Even if your name happens to match.
Every digital copy of your personal information makes you a little more vulnerable. That’s why I hide most of my details. The last thing I need is for some mentally-unstable zealot trying to hunt down my home address. No, thanks. I’ll keep writing under my pen name.
But I give up a little bit of credibility. Sure, I’m a professor. Sometimes people ask me to prove it. How? I’m not going to share that info. I’m not going to tell anyone about whatever articles or books I have or haven’t published under my real name. That’s the whole point.
So, all I’ve got is my word.
There’s not much I can do if someone decides to impersonate me. Maybe I could record a video. But I sort of freeze up in the presence of recorders. I don’t like them. I can give a research presentation to a crowd of 75 people. Turn on a video camera, and I revert to my sixth grade self.
The only thing left: GIFs. So I made some, in anticipation of the next time I’ve got to prove who I am without sacrificing too much personal info. Feel free to peruse my collection.
Last week, someone told me some scary stuff. Soon, video editing will advance to the point you can make anyone say anything. You’ll be able to put anyone’s face on a porn video and get them fired. When that happens, reality will become completely irrelevant. Me? I plan to edit myself into my favorite movies and convince bartenders I’m famous.