Not every message on Facebook or on the Messenger app comes from the person whose name has been attached to it, and some statements have been wrongly attributed to celebrities and public figures. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Not every message on Facebook or on the Messenger app comes from the person whose name has been attached to it, and some statements have been wrongly attributed to celebrities and public figures. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

COLUMN: Fake accounts and wrong attributions spread misinformation

Names of celebrities have been attached to statements they didn’t make

Not too long ago, some friends received rather odd messages from me. The messages, through Messenger, had my name attached and used the same profile picture I used for my personal Facebook account.

Those who replied to the initial greeting and asked about me received the reply, “Doing good but bored with this pandemic, though. Just finished my second vaccination a few days ago.” Those who responded to that comment received a link to a site where they could apply to receive money.

The account was a fake and those who know me should have been able to tell almost immediately.

To begin, I wouldn’t say I’m “bored with this pandemic.” For the last 15 months, I’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of new challenges and unique opportunities, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’m certainly not bored.

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Little grammatical mistakes and typos – misplaced commas, missing capitalization and sentences without periods – were another clue the comments were not mine.

Multiple friends contacted me and reported the message to Facebook and Instagram as coming from a fake account.

This isn’t the first time someone has sent messages from an account claiming to be me.

Usually, imposter accounts are taken down within minutes. This one took longer. I was in contact with Instagram at least six times before it was removed.

Later, I was left thinking about what had happened.

Someone had chosen to use my name and my reputation to make statements I would not have made and to promote something I would not endorse. This happens too often, to too many people.

For instance, a few years ago, a poem about brand names, attributed to African-American poet Maya Angelou, was circulating online. But the language and tone in the poem were nothing at all like Angelou’s writings.

A sweet, sentimental essay, The Paradox of Our Times, has been attributed to counterculture comedian George Carlin. But Carlin, known for his 1972 monologue, Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, didn’t write this piece.

“It’s not only bad prose and poetry, it’s weak philosophy. I hope I never sound like that,” he wrote in response. The essay was in fact penned by Bob Moorehouse, a former pastor in Seattle.

The essay didn’t sound like Carlin. The use of language and the message were both unlike anything he had written or said before. Was this a simple case of an error in attribution, or was it an example of using Carlin’s name and reputation to promote this piece? Either way, the work was not Carlin’s.

“I want people to know that I take care with my writing, and try to keep my standards high,” Carlin once said in response to The Paradox of Our Times.

There are also cases where a fabricated statement – not simply a wrongly attributed quote – is used to discredit or embarrass a person or organization. And there are times when someone’s name is used to shill a product or service.

This is what happened with the imposter who sent messages under my name. In each of these cases, something about the quotation or statement didn’t sound right. That should have been enough to prompt readers to do a bit of research.

That profound quote or inspirational essay might not have come from the person whose name is attached to it. And that puzzling text message may have come from an imposter rather than a friend.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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