When social media destroys a career — The business case for being a fake

A guest post by {grow} community member Leslie Lewis

Leslie Lewis is not my real name. You don’t need to know my real name, and you may never know it.  Here’s why.

I’ve worked in social media since 2005, and I knew I needed a tightly controlled message and presence online.   You could Google my real name and find my blog, or find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, or Facebook.

Like you, I used my real name, shared real stories, photos, and details from my life.  I was as transparent and authentic as I preached to my clients that they needed to be.

All of that ended in early 2010 when someone launched an online smear campaign against me, with allegations that were wholly baseless and untrue but were professionally damaging.

I contacted law enforcement officials, but they were helpless to stop the flow of fake accounts being created in my name due to issues of state, federal and international jurisdiction complications.

After consulting with several lawyers I was told that civil action would be a long, disruptive, and expensive process.  In the end I was advised that my best option would be to directly contact Google or LinkedIn every time a new one appeared. Not very practical.

The end of my brand

My career nearly ground to a halt. After several months, I consulted with friends, family and people in the social media community, and I decided I needed to go “underground.” I locked down, and in several cases deleted, my social media presence.

Five years of community building and establishing a brand behind my name were gone.  For nine months I had virtually no social media footprint, but at least the attacks finally stopped.

The transparency that we all advocate to our clients was what was used to harm me.  While going underground brought an end to the attacks, it has hurt me professionally.  Social media strategy is a practical discipline: We show that we are able to do for our clients by doing for ourselves.

In December of 2010 I inched back online, using Twitter with a pseudonym.  As I began making and rebuilding connections the pushback I have received from social media professionals on Twitter has been unexpected.

When my email address and Twitter name don’t correspond, I am frequently met with stark skepticism of my intentions or the implication that I am “doing social media wrong.”

As social media professionals we tend to conflate the concepts of “transparency” and “authenticity.”  Frequently they are used as synonyms, or, that if one is not present it invalidates the other.

Transparency is not the same as authenticity and authenticity is not dependent on transparency.

Moving forward

In the real world we meet people every day and accept them at face value, rarely stopping to question their identity.  In real life we don’t demand the type of immediate transparency of each other that we do online.  The neighbor with the unlisted phone number, the friend who goes by his middle name or the parent with a different last name than their child; we don’t (or at least the polite among us don’t) demand explanations of them.

We shrug our shoulders at these incongruities and don’t allow them to take away from our enjoyment of, or the credibility of these individuals.  Why then, don’t we do this online?  I could just as easily be an SEO mole as the neighbor with the unlisted phone number could be a bank robber.  Why don’t we explain away similar incongruities in online identity that we do offline?

These are issues that are not new to online communication, yet they seem to linger.  We have all seen social media go wrong and unfortunately we have all seen it used as a weapon of destruction.  My situation is, sadly, not all that uncommon.  As a profession we need to move towards a framework wherein privacy and security concerns are not trumped by demands for transparency and authenticity.

Don’t we?

Leslie Lewis is a digital media strategist working in public health, social marketing and behavior change at a Washington, DC based
NGO.  She’s still trying to get this pseudonym thing worked out and is accepting suggestions

Illustration: citypeoplefashion.com

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  • I have been depressed and low in energy due to some personal problem, but after reading your article today, I suddenly felt a boost within me and guess what there was a sudden change in my behavior, that’s because your article gave me the best solution for solving the problems in my life. Thanks!!!

  • Some time ago I wrote a blog post wondering when we would start seeing companies offer “social clean up” services for people who had posted stupid things in their youth which would back fire later in life. 

    But never thought of how somebody could purposely damage somebody else’s reputation like this, which makes  company like that even more tangible. What a crazy world we live in.

  • As someone
    who is just about to launch an online business, with strong reliance on social
    media, I find this kind of post worrying. There is a real need to be authentic
    and transparent on the internet, more so than with your neighbour, because with
    your neighbour you have so many other touch points where you can
    understand what they’re like. I think the real issue that this post highlights
    is not so much how people need to protect themselves on the internet against
    this kind of cyber-impersonation, more that the beauty and strength of the
    internet is being used against it so that this kind of impersonation can go
    unpunished. Nobody has jurisdiction and ‘civil action would be a long,
    disruptive, and expensive process’. That’s the real problem – hiding ourselves away
    on the internet is just going to make the problem worse. 

  • Wow, Leslie, thanks for sharing. What a horrible experience you had, and it is frightening to think of how potentially easy it is for someone or something to orchestrate such a campaign, and be untouchable. 

    Outside of Facebook and LinkedIn (which I kept highly private) I have only been engaged in social media in a public format for the past year (blog). And twitter for only about 4 months. I tend to be very trusting of my fellow human being. Your post is sobering from the standpoint that while the great majority of us are trustworthy, and want to form our social relationships in an open and transparent way, we must always be wary of those with not-so-good intentions, and find a way (as a society) to keep ourselves, our families, our businesses (and in my case my patients) safe from on-line predators.I need to disagree with BenB about the neighbor analogy. I may trust my neighbor, but I still lock my doors at night. I have an alarm system for my home. I walk around downtown at night but with care and caution. I do agree that we need to find a way to make the internet a safer place in which to be transparent, but in the meantime I don’t spontaneously walk up to strangers on the street or in the mall and hand them my personal information. We must all be careful in all aspects of our lives.

    Good luck in getting your equilibrium back. I can see you are motivated by a desire to do the right thing and so you will, in the end, prevail. I know it.

  • Anonymous

    Social media reflects the human condition. So it is likely to include everything from complete depravity to glorious inspiration – and everything in between.

  • Hi Ben,Thanks for your feedback, I disagree slightly with you on the point about the neighbor.  I’m not sure it’s that there are more datapoints, but the quality of those interactions is different.  I think innately we give more weight to in-person interactions than we do to virtual interactions.  In the real world when something doesn’t make sense we default to simple explanations.  The neighbor may want their phone number unlisted due to their job.  We jump to those simple conclusions and then accept our interactions with them as authentic.  Online, when something doesn’t line up, we jump to suspicion as opposed to explanation.I’d like to propose that as we work in the digital space all day long that we examine why we do this and if it’s helpful in the end.Leslie.  

  • Anonymous

    What an awful experience for you Leslie! Your willingness to share is admirable. I know that I approach social media with a sort of naive abandon. I jump into a lot of water before testing it out with my toe. Perhaps I’ve been lucky. Your post motivates me to slow down a bit and keep my eyes open if not slightly wary. Perhaps my wonderful 82 year old Mom (sorry Mom) is more right than cute when she signs her emails LM.
    Claudia

  • You may find more work in this area than you originally thought.  I know of one other person who had a similar experience to mine and has been trying to clean up her online reputation over the past few months.

  • Thanks for your kind words, Alice.  I agree with you about the safety precautions we take in the real world not really translating to the digital world.  This experience has made me re-evaluate how dogmatic we can sometimes be about transparency and authenticity online, yet don’t demand the same in our everyday interactions in the real world.

  • LL – Very interesting post; terrible that you had to endure as much as you did – especially after working so hard building up the presence & reputation.

    I’m curious, as I’m sure others are, as to what you felt caused the initial character smears? Was this from someone you knew, or just a random, senseless attack?

  • I am sure that’s the case. If you have any examples I would love to see them.

    If I put my cyberpunk scifi hat on I can easily imagine some of these companies using illegal methods to for hack’n’remove purposes as well.

  • Hi Eric,

    The attacks were done by someone who was close to me and knew the impact the fake accounts would have when they created them.  Needless to say the person wasn’t mentally well.  The person had launched similar attacks on others before they went after me and since then, they have attacked others online.  One, I know, has launched a civil suit against the person. 

    When given my options to end the attacks and have some stability in my life, the pseudonym has been the simplest way to go about it.

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  • Wow. That’s terrible…thanks for sharing.

    Cheers to you for your perseverance.

  • Anonymous

    This is sad. All the best to you. Hope you rock as before soon.

  • Leslie, It is a very bad thing when one has to endure hurtful and untrue statements about them online. I have been in that situation before in the past when one or more jerks decided to attack me online due to viewpoints I shared in a blog post. And most of those who attacked me did not have the guts to meet me in person to talk it out. That goes to show how much of a coward some of those who attack people online really are. I hope you can put the pieces back up and rise up even stronger. 

  • Leslie, It is a very bad thing when one has to endure hurtful and untrue statements about them online. I have been in that situation before in the past when one or more jerks decided to attack me online due to viewpoints I shared in a blog post. And most of those who attacked me did not have the guts to meet me in person to talk it out. That goes to show how much of a coward some of those who attack people online really are. I hope you can put the pieces back up and rise up even stronger. 

  • I appreciate your honesty about what happened to you, as well as why you need a pseudonym right now. I think you’re right to share them because it’s important for people to think long and hard about their digital footprint and how to control it, especially with so much attention being paid to privacy changes and who gets to see your information whether you realize it or not.

  • Leslie,

    Stunning. I’m really sorry to hear about this.

    There are two things that come to mind about this type of action. First, decide what platforms are most valuable to your business. It’s easy to say “all of them,” but that’s just not the case. Twitter works great from some, Facebook for others. Find which ones work best and start slowly. For me, my blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn work. Facebook? Not so much. So I don’t put accounts everywhere. I have more control over everything that way.

    Second, I see absolutely no problem with using a pseudonym. Most authors and actors don’t use real names. Why should we? We seem to be caught up in the honesty of social media. In reality, I don’t care what your name is. I care how you treat me. Leslie? You could be named Dawn or you could even be Mark Schaefer. The name doesn’t matter. The reputation does. Unfortunately, whatever name you choose will be linked to your reputation. However, privacy and protection are paramount.

    I really hope you climb out of this, and that others read this as a lesson.

  • Casudi

    Leslie, what happened to you is really frightening & I think many of us fear something similar. I certainly council those I mentor to be very careful.

    I had an experience early on in twitter which brought home to me how something like this might happen. My scenario is in comparison not really “harmful” as such, but it sure made a point: I did a blog post interview for a high profile blog writer and on account of haste on their side (not reading what I wrote) my interview was published with an inaccurate and erroneous title! It was inappropriate and not really damaging as such but because the writer had so much weight it showed up top of Google and even after 3 years it still makes it to the top once in awhile! I was upset about this inaccuracy and advised to put out a lot of accurate info about me to counteract it. Which I did. It sure brought home the fact that if someone put out something malicious about me it could stick around forever and I do keep an eye on reputation management companies, just in case. Not sure really how effective they are.

    All I can say is you must have been doing such an effective and tremendous job to have been attacked so viciously. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Leslie. I’m so sorry you went through this awful experience. It’s amazing how far some people will go to hurt others–and to be willing to do that, I think those people are usually mentally disturbed to some degree or another.

    I agree with you regarding authenticity and transparency. When it comes to a business, yes there should be some degree of transparency/authenticity. I think businesses should say if they are having someone tweet on their behalf. That includes a personal brand. If Lady Gaga isn’t doing her own tweets, she should say so. That goes to trust.

    A pseudonym is a totally different thing. As others have said, it’s like those used by authors. As long as everything comes from you under that pseudonym, I think it’s fine. As for authenticity, it’s something of a crock. From the 12 year old to the 90 year old, anyone on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is painting a picture of themselves, managing their own image. Most people don’t post that they had a fight with their husband, that their business is struggling, that they are feeling lost. They paint a picture of confidence, success, and high social status. Authenticity is a fine line. I think people should be far more accepting and take others on the merit of their content and interactions, rather than their name or avatar. 

    Good luck to you, Leslie!

  • Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the feedback.  I absolutely agree with you in regards to choosing platforms wisely.  I think it’s advice that can be heeded well beyond the confines of this conversation and for digital strategists as a whole.

    I appreciate your feedback on the use of my pseudonym.  I took the same perspective as you and received push-back from a handful of people when my professional email address didn’t line up with my twitter handle, or when they couldn’t find anyone with my name, and general description in this profession online.

    Hopefully we can tilt the concepts of transparency and authenticity in social media a little bit!

  • I wonder how many realize that the incessant calls for “transparency” and “proof of identity” are to condition us to accept a National ID system, biometrics, tracking, RFID chips – the whole ‘Big Brother’ scenario – and leading up to the proposed National Strategy for Trusted Identifies in Cyberspace. We all need to be aware of where this is all leading and the resources in this post is as good a place to start as any:  http://www.growmap.com/ftc-coppa/

    We have been doing ecommerce online for how many years now? Are not online sales continuing to grow? I have made a living entirely online being paid in advance via PayPal since leaving IBM in 2000. Why exactly do we need “trusted identities”? 

    Is Mark Twain any less a brilliant author because his given name was Samuel Longhorn Clements? What does him using a pen name REALLY indicate about his character or trustworthiness? Anything?

    Is the work of James Chartrand of @Menwithpens:disqus any less professional or the quality or her writing any less now that we know that to be the pen name of a woman than it was when we thought “she” was a “he”?  I highly recommend everyone read the revelation on Copyblogger at http://www.copyblogger.com/james-chartrand-underpants/ about WHY she used that pen name – especially if you believe we have achieved pay parity and equal rights. 

    When IS the last time you asked someone you met in real life to show you a picture ID? How DO you know that ANYTHING they tell you is true? Why are people afraid they might be conned online but believe they can tell who they can trust in physical life? (If you think YOU can, watch interviews of neighbors of known serial killers who usually say something like, “he was such a nice, polite young man” – not about all serial killers – some really were obviously creepy – but often enough that you know great con artists are excellent liars whether they are online or off.)

    How gullible people are to buy into this “prove who you are online nonsense”. How do you know whether whatever name someone uses is “real” or not? What is “real” anyway? If you’ve gone by your middle name or a nickname all your life is that any less “real” than whatever name is on your birth certificate that you wish wasn’t? 

    There are many people who need to protect their physical location for VERY good reasons with abusive ex-whatevers being the number one threat. Their very lives depend on it. Anyone who checks in everywhere they go and wants their photo everywhere has no idea how dangerous that can be. And don’t even get me started about people who put GPS devices on their children. What a brilliant way to make them easy to track BY ANYONE and especially the people you don’t want to grab them. How about using a little uncommon “common” sense?    

    Q: WHY do people believe “you HAVE to use your photo” online? A: Because we are being conditioned to believe that – NOT because there is any real need for it. NO, you do NOT have to use your photo. I am proof of that. I don’t use one even on my LinkedIn profile. If that causes some people not to read my blog or hire me so be it. As it turns out, the ‘mystery’ seems to intrigue some people if we judge by this excerpt from an interview published about me on Technorati:

    “While Gail Gardner is not particularly famous in mainstream circles, in
    the small business and marketing blog world, she’s made a name for
    herself as one of the most influential bloggers out there. From her
    house somewhere in Texas, she’s managed to create a network of bloggers
    who listen to her every word, and in turn follow her posts as if they
    are gospel. What is even stranger is that no one has actually met her,
    and she’s never been to a single convention or spoken at a single event.
    Her entire influence has been built online, one post after another,
    often making major waves with what she says in the marketing community.”

    As I tell people who question why I choose not to travel or speak publicly any more or use my photo online, judge me by what I do and what I write. “By their fruits you will know them” – not by whatever name, nickname, or username they use. Your online identity is just as much your brand whether you use your “real” name, a pen name, or any other brand.

  • Thanks Christine, I agree with you.  While I had created a digital footprint I was proud of, prior to January 2010, I was more than a little surprized at how difficult it is to gain control over it, once it has gone awry. Getting an actual human being at LinkedIn and Google took hours and even then I had to keep going “up” the chain to get the profiles and posts taken down. 

    Once your online identity has been taken over, it has truly been taken over and it is truly difficult to gain your privacy, and in my case, my identity, back.

  • Hi “Leslie”, 

    After some time treating your pseudonym as real and making everything you do online consistent with it hopefully it will grow on you and everything will smooth out. The sad fact of life is that evil has the advantage so we just have to persevere. 

  • How frustrating!  I know the frustration you’ve been dealing with.  There are still a few “hanging chads” from the attacks that mention my actual name and I’ve accepted that they just won’t come down.  Have you tried to contact the blog owner, or Google?

  • More than one person and company has contacted me because their reputations are under continual attack by others. One had the misfortune to make enemies of a group of black hat SEOs. What will eventually have to happen is that Internet users will realize you can’t believe everything you read and you have to evaluate the credibility of the attacks. (Attacking is usually NOT a sign of stability or wisdom and should make an intelligent person do further investigation – not just run the other way as many currently do.) 

  •  Hi Neicole,

    Thanks for your feedback, I found your thoughts rather interesting.

    The way I see authenticity used online is to your point of “trust” and accuracy.  We want to have an actual connection with someone online whose motives we can generally assume to be unambiguous.  If Lady Gaga isn’t writing her own Tweets, then we can’t assume what her motives are.  Does she want to use Twitter to connect with her fans?  Is someone at her record company tweeting for her just to ratchet up her reach and  make her appear more impressive?

    Creating an airbrushed version of ourselves online is something we all do in our daily in-person interactions with each other as well.  We can have a conversation and you can withhold a thought you have to ensure I have a positive impression of you, yet still have an authentic interaction.  

    Although, I agree with you that it is a fine line to walk.

  • Bonifer

    re your pseudym: some variation of Punky Brewster, an anagram or something: Brewsy Punkster?

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  • Nobby McNobson

    Trolls love pseudonyms. People behave respectfully in online communities where you’re required to use your real name and you’re only admitted if an existing member knows you in real life.

    As for an author using a nom de plume, there’s no problem because their publisher knows their real name, and we can choose to trust the publisher’s judgement or not. But if an author invents a persona to go along with the pseudonym, that’s when they get into trouble: eg Helen Demidenko. 

    Let’s be quite clear about this: it’s not about the ‘voice’ an author uses in a book, it’s about who they purport to actually be. As a broader society, we seem OK with the idea of a woman posing as a man. A man posing as a woman is considered suspect – unless he’s a romance writer? 

    I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader to work out the relative ‘culpability’ of a straight woman posing for commercial reasons as a lesbian, an Israeli as a Palestinian, an American of European background as a Native American, and a middle aged millionaire as a disaffected and impecunious twentysomething.

  • You’ll get push-back, I’m certain. When I worked in retail, it was referred to as the “idiot factor,” that small percentage of people that you simply cannot please.

    I was in a fraternity in college, and I was called Potsie (from Happy Days.) Most people didn’t even know my real name. Some even called me Potsie J Weber. I don’t even know if that was Potsie’s real name. I didn’t care, and it didn’t change who I was.

    Social media is about reaching beyond those you know, and developing relationships with those you don’t know, those outside your Facebook circle. At that point, the name is only a way to separate you from other people. It’s how you behave that will help you build your reputation.

  • I and others oppose the way the American Library Association’s [ALA] Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF] misleads communities, like by using plagiarism, as the ALA just tacitly admitted, to promote “Banned Books Week” to try to intimidate people into not protecting children from inappropriate material.  It’s legal to protect children in various ways, but by intimidating people, some won’t even try in the first place.

    Both the ALA and it acolytes regularly use social media to harass anyone who is not intimidated by the propaganda.  I know someone who lost a job as a result of the online onslaught from the “free speech” people.  I know another person whose entire family, including young children, was harassed as a result of her efforts to have her public school remove inappropriate material it is legal to remove.  I know another person whose family was threatened even worse requiring police protection.  Heck, I’m banned from Wikipedia as a result of the ALA’s actions, though that is not so bad as those more serious cases.

    I suspect if the haters knew the people personally, they would not attempt to destroy them.  The computer adds the anonymity needed to allow people to go on the attack and to make it hard to stop.  And in the ALA’s OIF, there seems to be no controls in place regarding such behavior, so it continues unabated.

    I’m sorry, “Leslie Lewis,” that people destroyed your business and that no one adequately helps in such circumstances.

  • Leslie:

    Given that you’re not the first social media person who I’ve heard of going through this experience, I suspect that it happens more often than most of us would imagine.  

    Ruminating about your experience…successful internet personalities commonly portray themselves as go-getters, hard workers, organized, and – most importantly: *in the clique*.  

    I think that this common experience and perception that many of us believe is necessary to succeed online makes us lean toward requiring others to “pay their dues” to be able to achieve the same level of success – to be in the clique.  Part of paying social media success dues, as you pointed out, is authentically putting yourself out there, for better or for worse.  

    There are good reasons for authenticity, but you’ve discovered and pointed out that there are good reasons for privacy as well.  

    All this is to say that I think you should consider that your current detractors are people who are probably well-intentioned, but also probably looking for reasons to be suspicious and to discount you.  It allows them to keep their clique more exclusive, thus maintaining their own value.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of room out there for all of us – but when rubbing up against certain people online, it can sure feel like we’re squeezing into an over-crowded internet elevator…and everyone has sharp elbows!

    My opinion: do what feels right to you, and don’t try to convince your detractors of your value.  It’s there whether they believe it or they don’t, and there’s only so much value that you can achieve from that fight.

    Cheers, and best of luck,

    Mac Bartine

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  • Hi Mac,

    Thanks for your feedback.  It’s great to hear from you!

    I think there may be a bit of a “pay your dues” or clique mentality with some.  I do think that as social media professionals, as a whole, we can quick to be critical of one and other.  Perhaps this goes to Ben’s point about the quality of interaction online vs offline.  We’re all just black text on a white screen.

    There’s a definite, “Social Media: You’re doing it wrong!” vibe that I think we are all guilty of sending out from time to time.  We have very specialized knowledge in a discipline that is in demand right now.  

    When we have these dogmatic pillars like transparency and authenticity and see someone who’s supposed to be one of the group, the initial reaction for some seems to be to push back and let the person know they “don’t get it” as opposed to rationalize why the information about the person isn’t matching up.  

    I think this is where your sharp elbows metaphor comes in!

    Thanks again, for your feedback!

    Leslie.

  • I have a fraternity brother everyone called Scooby or should I say that for 30 years now everyone has called him Scooby including his employers. Some of this is just nonsense.

  • WazBee Starlights

    A great warning to any one starting or who would like to start in Social Media. Thank you Leslie Lewis for the advice and insight. The one nightmare is still out there and until you can catch the person. Coming online will always be that bit more risky. It is never pleasant to loose this bad. The best part about Life … “Is what goes around, Always comes around.” You might never know who, but the person that digs a hole for someone else, will always end up at the bottom themselves. The bright side is that you are back, disguised as “Cat-Woman,” but back never the less. Social Media feels like an addiction, if you don’t get your share out there – You have not had your fix for the day. Keep looking forward Leslie Lewis, cause that’s were your keyboard and monitor are at. Always great to hear of people trying again.    

  • Anonymous

    As someone who’s building a brand behind a pseudonym, and is concerned about privacy, I relate to this.

    We have a right to control how we present ourselves to the world, and how much information we share. Advocates for transparency often confuse transparency with privacy. 

    I would define transparency as “this is how I work,” and privacy as “this is who I am.” Now, I don’t go around telling everyone in the street who I am, sharing political or religious opinions — those are private. Whoever upholds complete transparency is playing into the hands of multi-billion dollar corporations who want to know everything they can about you in order to sell ads. 

    Only the other day a CNN blogger wrote, “You are not Facebook’s customer. You are its product.” I have a problem with being someone else’s product. If I am a product, that means they control me. Because these huge corporations move faster than governments and assorted lawmakers, they find it easy to violate every law in spirit, if not in the letter, and know that governments are often too busy to catch up.

    Also, consider identity theft. The more you post about yourself online, the more you open yourself to identity thieves. Is that desirable?

    You can easily reinvent a brand, but not your personal identity.

    It’s high time Internet denizens rediscovered privacy, and started drawing some lines that have been smudged over the years.

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  • Hi,

    You raise some very interesting points.  I’m interested to hear more about your thoughts on “this is how I work” vs “this is who I am.” 

    You’re right about the customer vs product analogy.  I’d first heard that last year after @andlewis:twitter  commented on Meta Filter regarding Digg’s new redesign.  I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on the catch-up game government has been playing with digital media and how corporations are using it. 

  • Thanks for your kind words.  This experience has been amazing.  I was in knots before this post went up expecting to be told that I was “doing social media wrong” or that I must have done something to have brought what happened on myself. 

    The support and encouragement I’ve received here has been amazing.  Instead of looking at this situation as a forced bifurcation, I think I will take your view and think of myself as “Cat-Woman” (only less villainous).

  • Anonymous

    Let’s go with a comparison (albeit a simplistic one):

    Take two different social networks, LinkedIn and Facebook. 
    LinkedIn is all about “this is how I work. This is what I do. This is what I have to offer. These are the opportunities I am looking for.”
    There are boundaries here which are relatively easy to understand.

    Facebook, on the other hand, is all “Look at me. This is what makes me laugh. This is me being silly. These are the games I like to play. Oh, here’s a picture of my favorite cocktail.” 
    One of the main issues with “this is who I am” networks is that some people don’t know when to stop. They don’t realize that their disregard for privacy should not extend to the privacy of others. 
    On ‘friend-based’ social networks, identity & privacy boundaries are porous and difficult to preserve.

    Let me elaborate on that a little. 
    Take a battered woman who’s left her abusive partner and, for obvious reasons, doesn’t wish to be found. Advances in facial recognition technology, coupled with corporate demands for ‘real names’ on social networks, would really complicate her life. 

    What is she to do? Become a digital outcast? Wipe all traces of her presence from the grid? Is that even possible anymore?

    This dogged insistence on commodifying people means that citizens are more exposed and vulnerable than they ever were. Vulnerable not only to corporate exploitation but also to smear campaigns from people with a chip on their shoulder. Not to mention employers with misguided notions about privacy.

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  • Hi Nicole and Leslie,

    I agree with both of you in that authenticity & transparency are used as a filter to trust. Lacking the visual cues to gain a better understanding of people, we rely on proxies, like emails, names, web site, etc., which as you have described can also be used to sabotage another.  I don’t know that authenticity necessarily leads to trust and perhaps another benchmark for establishing ‘trust’ needs to be established, which probably would unpack a pandora’s box of problem as Gail Gardner described.  But there has to be some online method for validating ownership of our online lives and content.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Jennifer @collectual:disqus

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  • Thanks so much for sharing your story! I work in marketing, but my true passion is anti-stalking advocacy with my charity, Jodi’s Voice.  I began after a close family friend was murdered by her stalker, but the work led to my own stalking case which began in 2009.  I went social media silent for some time as well.  Like you I was concerned the information would be used against me by my stalker.  

    Transparency is extremely important, but so knowing your community & maintaining some privacy.  I would love to have you share your cyber-stalking (that is what it sounded like it truly was) on http://www.jodisvoice.org too.  

  • Rufus Dogg is also not my real name for all the same reasons you cited above. Yet, Facebook and Google Plus are now aggressively enforcing their “real identities” policies as the market for selling crap to real people gets tighter and tighter. Even now, I am slowly cultivating various identities for myself to be ready for the day when someone decides to take a hard kick to my ribs. It will happen. 

    “Transparency” and “authenticity” advocates only look at the face of the coin, forgetting it is inseparable from the ugly tail. When people are that hardened about pushing for one-person, one-identity you know there is a selfish agenda behind it — mostly to package and sell you… After your carcass has been picked clean by the “free market,”  the government steps in to exert control over you. In that order kids. 

  • “Transparency” is not an option for everyone.  And it’s no guarantee of “authenticity.”  But I’m not allowed an account on G+ due to their “real names” policy.  When people begin posting their medical records, we will have true transparency. 

  • An important distinction. I think people expect honesty, not transparency.

  • I fail to understand how anyone could run a smear campaign less successfully because you use a fake alias online. Anyone that knows you can still create new profiles using your real name, or run the smear campaign using variations of the fake name. 

  • I think you’ve missed the crux of the issue. I lost the ability to use my real name due to harassment from an individual.  As long as I continued to use my real name, that person could stalk me online and continue to harass me.  By using a pseudonym that person can no longer (in theory) find me online.  I’m aware that if that person discovers my pseudonym, they will likely launch another campaign.

    The issue of what could have been done to stop the harassment in the first place is discussed here: http://www.digitalgood.net/dg/2012/01/the-abbreviated-guide-to-online-reputation-management.html  

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  • Anthony

    Leslie,
    I am dealing with the same type of issues right now and they are affecting my professional career to the point it’s endangering my safety. I would love to chat with you sometime regarding strategy and what you would recommend further now looking back. I’m at my whits end and have already spend thousands trying to bury google results. If you have any suggestions please contact me or feel like you could point me in the right direction.

    Thank You

  • benedict cumberbach

    The real fact of the matter is that Leslie Anne Waghorn/Free has a long history of harassing former family and friends. Her narcissistic and destructive nature has alienated her from such people in her life.

    Leslie “Lewis” (a name lifted from her grandmother’s side of the family) has had victims that included her father, mother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and family friends.

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