Welcome to Faceborg - today I invite you to learn with me from my misfortune.
I've written a lot here on identity. My previous posts, Who Are You: Part I and Part II dealt with the ideas of the persistent, static identity we create for ourselves.
What I did not mention, and it appears I may have failed to consider, is the identity others create for us.
One of the aforementioned posts contains a quote I now feel falls into the "practice what you preach" category:
"You have, or soon will have, an online identity. The technology is evolving so rapidly that there will be few ways the average person can be anonymous. The question now is how you choose to manage your identity"
I'm naturally a fairly shy person and that carries over into the Internet. I enjoy creating content and being part of communities online but I tend not to do so under my real name. It's safer that way, right?
What has happened to me was that an individual with some unknown grudge against me (I'm not generally a hateable person so this was a surprise) chose to create an identity for me. For a period of over a year this person created profiles and posted as me in various places across the internet. None of the posted information was true except the pieces that would uniquely identify me: my full name, city and occupation.*
My caution in keeping my profile off the Internet was exactly the thing that made me vulnerable to such an attack! Anyone searching for my name and location would, in fact, find those pages sooner than any legitimate information about me.
The lesson learned here is that only by establishing a legitimate profile for yourself with accurate information can you protect yourself against misinformation.
The most crucial piece in lending legitimacy to your profile is its connectedness, by which I mean the links that you have with profiles on other services and with your online "friends", who are hopefully real-world friends and family as well.
Connectedness is something these lone wolf attackers can't fake. The presence of a real profile, built-up over time and connected with real people renders the false profiles, if not completely harmless, at least obvious.
Of course caution is still wise when choosing what we put on the Internet but please learn from my mistake: we cannot be so cautious that we are caught with no defenses when someone else, for whatever reason, chooses to paint a different picture of us.
Yes, it's horrible that someone would do such a thing. It's illegal, it's immoral and it crosses the line of what a well-adjusted person would generally do. It happens, and will continue to happen, because as I said in a previous post:
It's not that evil is any more attractive, it's just so very much easier.
* If you can't contain your curiousity you can go ahead and google for the offending content. Some has been taken down but some is still there. I won't post (or allow) details here because that would reinforce the link between those terms and my profile in future search results. Since it's all obviously false information, though, it's not like you'll be finding anything out that I didn't want you to know.
Hint: in real life I'm happily married to my wife, Bonnie.