"The New Yorker" cartoonist Peter Steiner put it best: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." It's tough to figure out an online persona's real identity, especially on sites such as Twitter, where all you need to sign up is an email address. Unlike Facebook, which requires a real name and some identity verification, Twitter allows you to start an account with any username, profile photo and content. If you run into a spammer, a follower who's impersonating a friend or a fake celebrity account, it can be easy to get duped.
Look for the blue "Verified" icon on a Twitter profile page. Celebrities, large businesses, politicians and other notable users get this identification badge directly from Twitter staff to let others know the account is legitimate. If you don't see the badge, it doesn't necessarily mean the person isn't who he says he is; account verification is only open to a small number of popular users.
Visit the official website of the person you're trying to identify, if you know the address. If the site links to an official Twitter account, see if the link matches the username you're investigating.
Glean context clues from the profile. Twitter has many parody accounts of businesses and celebrities, such as the infamous @BPGlobalPR account, which tweeted fake updates purporting to be from BP's real public relations department after the 2010 oil spill; however, most people with a sense of humor could figure out that any real BP employee wouldn't be behind the account. Same goes for any account impersonating someone. If you can't verify the identity, don't follow the account and block it or report it for spam if necessary.
Tips & Warnings
- Never click on links from Twitter users whose identities you can't verify. The site's many link-shortening services make it easy to disguise spam and malware.
- Photo Credit Joe Corrigan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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