One of my professors this semester told me that when a new digital social platform arrives, make yourself an account before someone else does it for you. I found this quite silly; there is only one of me (Kathleen Bonany isn’t a very common name), and if I don’t want an Instagram or Pinterest account, I don’t need one. My professor still urged our class to follow his advice, saying that even if you never use it, you can protect yourself from someone else posing as you.
I didn’t think there would ever be a point when I would seriously pay heed to his words. Now, I have a very good reason, and all those warnings about “Anything that you post on the Internet can be found by anyone who wants to find it,” no longer rest in the back of my mind as I post statuses or pictures on my Facebook.
This revelation came when a friend of mine from high school, who is now attending the University of North Carolina, found out that even if you do everything right online- have a social and professional presence, and be respectful of others online- you can still be taken advantage of, and your personality—your identity—can be stolen.
On April 6th, Kristin found out her identity had been stolen on a dating app called Tinder. Someone stole a photo of her, called themselves “Kim”, and has used her face as their online identity. While at first it may seem kind of minor, the longer you think about it the creepier it gets- someone is literally masquerading as her. Someone could masquerade as you.
Obviously an online presence, no matter what profession you are pursuing, is terribly important now that most communication is done, and information is found, online. It matters what websites pop up when your name is Googled for a job or internship opportunity, and it is important that you network with the right people as early as you possibly can. But what happens when your photograph from LinkedIn, or Google+, or from WordPress, ends up on a social media app that you want nothing to do with? This furthers the issue of privacy online, and makes me truly question whether or not there is any sort of boundary that exists in the digital realm.
Kristin’s photograph has been treated as though it is a Creative Commons photograph—anyone can use it for whatever purpose that pleases them. This unknown person has taken her face, transplanted it onto presumably a fake personality, and is free to roam around on a not-so-credible social media linked dating app, and do whatever they want. They receive no penalties, but if anything they do becomes public, their actions are linked with Kristin’s face; the consequences become hers.
This is exactly the reason that my professor told my class at the beginning of the semester to get an account on any social media site. It’s a way to tightly control your identity, and, to protect your privacy. Being on the offensive, as exhausting as that may be, can save your face.
If you can, please help Kristin find the person behind this account! I also encourage you all to make a profile on whatever social media platform is out there, if only so you can control your identity. As distasteful as it may be to me, it’s time for me to go create those Instagram and Pinterest accounts, and maybe even get myself a Tinder…..