Ann All spoke with Susan Jacobson, a professor at Temple University's School of Communications and Theater about fraud on Twitter and other new social media channels.
All: Despite publicized cases of misrepresentation of identity, as well as inaccurate or false information, on social channels like Facebook and Twitter, some people often seem to believe everything they read online. Why?
Jacobson: The other communications channels have been around a lot longer, so we know how to evaluate them and deal with them. Twitter and MySpace and Facebook are all new, so we're still developing our understanding. I do think the younger generation seems to have a clearer handle on what is legitimate and what is fake than older folks do. I think older folks get burned more often than younger folks. Remember that kids have been using these channels longer. They know how to game the system, so that just makes them more savvy.
All: Will publicized cases of fraud ultimately hurt the credibility of these channels?
Jacobson: Remember, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube weren't designed to be channels of reliable information. They were designed to keep people connected to one another, people who maybe already knew something about each other. There are people who have figured out how to take advantage of loopholes, but Facebook and Twitter are figuring out how to close some of those loopholes.
"If you wait for a service to catch on or become newsworthy, it's going to be too late. If you're a big company, cybersquatters are going to move in and snatch up names as soon as they become aware of a new service."
For example, Twitter has policies regarding name squatting and impersonation. If you go out and register the name Barack Obama on Twitter and it's clear you've taken it only because you hope to sell it to the real Barack Obama, they will suspend your account. All that Barack Obama has to do is send an e-mail to Twitter and Twitter will suspend the original account, and may or may not assign the account name to the real Barack Obama.
All: So it's contingent on a user to complain?
Jacobson: Yes. If you think some variation of your name is being used maliciously or for profit, you must contact Twitter. One area in which Twitter is different is that it does allow what it calls parody accounts. So if someone is using a variation of your name and obviously doing it for parody, those kinds of accounts are allowed.
All: That seems like a gray area, since some folks may not understand parody sites are supposed to be a joke.
Jacobson: Sure. It happens all the time.