I have been a blogger for some time now, but you probably don’t know my name. I have written a book, but I am not sure how many of you have read it. Apart from that I work my days in an office, which is full of people who have either gone to an engineering college or a B-school. What I am trying to say is, I am just another person with a not at all unusual hobby and surrounded by people who are generally classified as common, if slightly privileged, middle class. I live my life unremarkably, mind my own business. I don’t even share the common craziness of sharing everything about my life on social media. Excepting my blog posts. Basically, I am not at all famous. One would think, I am too non-consequential to be on someone’s radar. One would think my life of obscurity would be enough to be private. After all, there are always enough people more interesting than me out there.
Thus, I was secure in my small world believing I was secure from the prying eyes. Even though I was aware of the problem, aware of the shady affairs that lurked around the corner, I didn’t really care because you know how self-centered we all really are, and how we tend to be perfectly happy as long as our personal space is un-hurt. And over time, with so much increase in time spent gawking at phones and computers, we have become so short sighted that we don’t even notice until it’s too close and too late.
So when I read about online identity thefts, all I did was to forget all about it. Because hey, I am a nobody, a boring nobody whose social profiles have only links to her blog posts! And who reads the musings of a personal blogger anyway? Who would be stealing my identity? What would they gain from it?
But then, out of the blue, I found out, someone did! Indeed! They thought it was fun to create a fake Facebook profile using my name and then use it to be-friend people I knew. Now the funny thing is, my friend list in Facebook is hidden. If a person visits my profile, he would be able to see only people we both are friends with. It in turn means, the person who created this duplicate profile of mine is either someone I know and probably have interacted with or he is my ‘friend’ on Facebook and we shared quite a few common friends.
When I went back to recheck my friend list and prune it, I found I didn’t have many ‘friends’ from the virtual world. My ‘friends’ consisted of classmates from school and college, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and few fellow bloggers! On top of that I found this imposter had befriended only my colleagues – meaning he either was one of them or someone, who knew both them and me. He also knew that I was friendly with them enough to be accepted by them as a “friend” in Facebook, or perhaps, he was just taking his chance. I will never know. This has been going on since 2012 and I have only come to know now!
I did what I could do next. I reached out to my friends and asked them to report the profile. They all did. I counted 1,2..30. Yes, at least 30 friends reported the profile as fake. It’s really easy to tell really, an original one from a fake. In this case, most of the friends of this imposter were fake profiles themselves. A look at the timeline and it becomes clear. I sat back, believing that the complaints will be looked upon and investigated.
But apparently, the profile didn’t violate any “community policy” by pretending to be me and so Facebook didn’t take the profile down. Our profiles on Facebook, after all, are nothing but numbers that can earn them better revenue from the advertisers – the more the better. After all, it takes a lot to maintain those cool looking employees who eat pizzas and throw darts at work. The cybercrime cell too, I was told, acts only if you are really famous and a public figure or if you lose money! What about loss of reputation? Apparently that doesn’t apply any more.
While I was coping with this and deciding on what to do next, another friend of mine reported her picture being used as the profile picture in another profile which was not her own. To add to the woe, the timeline of this profile was full of sexually explicit content. Imagine her distress! She too complained about the fake profile but nothing was done. The profile wasn’t taken down. She sought legal advice and reported the crime to the cybercrime cell. So far, they too have done nothing other than shuttling her file from one irrelevant department to another.
While I keep my investigation on and try to find more details on this, it’s been an eye opener. Stalkers exist, more often than not, in our closest circles. Doesn’t matter who we are, or how benevolent, we can still stir anyone’s fancy or vengeance. It becomes really easy to exploit someone in the social media. It is no longer a thing that happens to others and not me. Accidentally falling victims is different but poses a great possibility in this era of social media too. None of us are safe in our own world anymore. I considered removing my profile from Facebook for a while. But then it doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if my absence will starve or feed the imposter. Also I need the network for my own benefit and all the right reasons. I however, will have to be even more careful about what I share at all on social media. But one good thing has happened from all of this though and I admit it. It has weaned me off Facebook permanently.
To you the reader however, I preach, let this post serve as a cautionary tale. Be wary of everyone. Think well, twice, thrice, even five times before you post or share anything. There’s no delete after you tweet. I used to be complacent in my knowledge of being surrounded by “safe” people. Not anymore. Even things you share within closed communities in strictest confidence online may make you vulnerable to threats.
The Internet makes it easy to casually sculpt real people in the virtual world. Easy to do damage but awfully hard to repair. Your name or mine. Taken. Used. When it happens to you, it’s no small thing, believe me. And when the authorities turn blind to your plight, it becomes even more painful. I am not giving up though, not yet. I urge you, too. Take notice, be vigilant. Don’t take the social media for granted. It’s not a scribble pad. And if you find yourself a victim, don’t run away. Dig your ground, stay back, and see it through. Who knows if we all are vocal enough, maybe the authorities will take a notice?
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