Impersonation online refers to the act of creating an online presence in someone else’s name. This is potentially a complex issue as some social media sites permit parody accounts or accounts that are intended to represent real individuals. It is not necessarily illegal to impersonate someone per se, for example comedy, but online impersonation is a growing problem. Many social media sites have anti-impersonation policies, but this is not sufficient guarantee or protection against the risks of online impersonation.

web resources

Web resources

Visit the profile page of following Twitter accounts:

Clearly these social media accounts are not the “real” people. In one case it’s a foundation promoting the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the second is a parody account of Queen Elizabeth and the last example is a mashup-up of the quotes of the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard and reality television celebrity Kim Kardashian.

Social media response to impersonation


The real Jon Ronson

Warning: The following video contains expletives. If you are offended by swearing and offensive language, do not watch this video.

Jon Ronson, journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, shares his personal experiences of a Twitter spambot account documenting the complexities of online impersonation. (Don’t miss the short interview 4:25 minutes into the talk with the academics who set up the spambot account.)

case study

Case study - Catfishing

Catfishing is a the deceptive practice of creating a fictional online presence to lure somebody into a relationship, for example a romance scam.

Dr Alec Couros is Associate Professor of Information and Communication Technologies at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Professor Couros has experienced a number of scams where his personal photos have been used to lure woman into a online romantic relationship for the purpose of “borrowing” or extorting money.

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