Journal

One More for the Road...

Twitterkins lead me down another thought path when he tweeted me "who'd impersonate me when they'd gain nothing? Do identity thieves twitter? Like, to make it 'look good?'" I really don't have a good answer to this question. Also, I figured that this question deserved more than a simple 140 character answer. So, I figured I would poke this topic one more time to see where it leads. I have to preface all of these statements by saying that Twitterkins is Paul F. Tompkins. He seems like a nice guy and technical whiz. First, it's pretty obvious that spam has appear in the Twitterverse and other microblogging communities. The question that comes to mind is why spam when the spammer has nothing to gain. Could it represent something viral? Could it make the spammer feel that they are control of the network by feeding it information or misinformation? Could it make the spammer feel that he or she lead the network to another source that could make the spammer money? Being a sociologist, I can not speak on motive. I can argue that it depends on the type of community, the information being shared and where the links used by the spammer take the community member. Second, let's approach the second question asked by Mr. Tompkins, "do identity thieves twitter?" I would focus on the term "identity thief." According to the wikipedia, an identity thief is anybody that uses fraud to "stealing money or getting other benefits by pretending to be someone else." So, yes there are identity thieves in the harmless sense on Twitter. I can interact (and have had conversations) with the characters from the West Wing, Studio 60 and Mad Men. I doubt that the actor or actress who plays those characters are typing the Twitter posts. The benefit to those playing the characters on Twitter is that they get to play the characters they see on television. Mr. Tompkins is a famous cable show and someone could want to "play" PFT. Others have done research on being a "fakester" by adapting another persona. I have not research on this subject nor read deeply this research. The question I have is "is somebody using Twitter for a more harmful purpose (stealing money from others, causing harm)?" I doubt it, but I can't speak for certain.

Identity Validation Online

I was having a conversation with my wife about the Twilight Zone. Every year the Sci-Fi channel as a 24-hour marathon of most of the episodes. My wife was telling me about her favorite episode "The Changing of the Guard" and how it makes her cry everytime she sees it. During this talk, Paul F. Tompkins (PFT), the host of Best Week Ever and @twitterkins on Twitter was doing a running commentary on the episodes that were playing on Sci-Fi. I sent him a reply telling him my wife's favorite episode and he replied back quickly asking me about the episode. I explain the plot and told my wife that I was telling Paul F. Tompkins about the episode. She asked me the $64 million question... "How do you know its him?"

Hmm, that's a fair question. I told her that there were contextual clues present in previous postings done by @twitterkins. For example, he was having a Twitter conversation with John Hodgman (@hodgman on Twitter). PFT presented himself as an authentic to Hodgman and Hodgman validated him as being PFT. Hodgman talked about his Twitter experience on This Week in Tech. Therefore, I had good idea that I was replying back to PFT. However, let's say I had no real world methods of validating a person's online identity. How would I validate that the person I was talking to was actually the person I was talking to? If I had no real world contacts with the person, I guess the simplest way to validate the person's identity would be to look for virtual artifacts that already have been validated as being created by the person and look for similarities between those artifacts and artifacts presented to me by whomever I am talking to.