Update: On Thurs., June 26, Facebook finally reversed their decision and took down the fake account impersonating Shamontiel. See image photo gallery for details.
MTV's "Catfish" is an odd show. Viewers tune in each week to see what naive person fell for the okey doke and financially supported or fell in love with someone they don't know. These people usually don't have video cameras, computer cameras or valid cell phone numbers. The "Catfish" victims are either in deep denial about why their significant other is so mysterious or want so badly for Mr./Mrs. mystery to be telling the truth that they'll just believe it's true regardless of how creative the lies become.
But what about the people whose photos are being publicized without their consent? What's pretty useful about "Catfish" is TV hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph usually contact the source of the photos when they can narrow it down to a specific person. Then they verify whether it's that person. But for the everyday person who doesn't spot themselves on an episode of "Catfish" or pre-"Catfish," how can they avoid their photos being used all over social media sites by creepy people who would rather hide behind someone else's identity.
Tip 1: Keep track of first, last and middle names on Google Alerts. Always know how a government name (or nicknames or specific aliases) are being used. Google Alerts allow people to set up immediate, daily, weekly or monthly alerts. This comes in especially handy for people with uncommon names.
Tip 2: Search for face and/or body photos to see if they're being used without a government name. It's much more difficult to identify someone using another person's photos if the names don't match. But Google's Search by Image option helps out tremendously, especially for social media fans who post lots of photos to the public.
Tip 3: If a fake account is identified (such as this one), pay attention to the pattern of the fake account's Facebook friends, Twitter followers, Google+ followers, and so forth. Look for anyone recognizable to see if that can narrow down who could be the culprit.
Tip 4: If no one is recognizable in the social media accounts, send a message to all of that fake account's social circle notifying them that the account is fake. As tedious as this may be, especially if the fake account has an exorbitant amount of friends, if this fake user is using someone's government name and photos, there's no telling what they're saying to these people. Immediately regulate the situation.
Tip 5: Contact the social media channel to report fake accounts. Be willing to provide any real-time proof that this account is fake. Remember when MySpace used to make users hold up signs with their MySpace address on them? Yes, do things like that. Try to use a camera with a time stamp and/or date on it. If that's not possible, which is sometimes the case for cell phones, write the date on the sign.
Tip 6: Monitor the fake account until it is closed. It's too easy to think that once messages have been sent and a social media site has been notified that all is resolved. But if someone has been using this name or photo or identity for some time now, chances are too risky that they'll continue to use this account but under a new name.
Tip 7: While this may be risky, contact the fake account holder to let it be known that the account is fake. Now this can possibly work against the real person. For the more sociopathic trolls, being outed may appear to be a game. Then multiple accounts could possibly be set up just to rile the real person. Or, the fake account user could back up completely and move on to the next person.
Tip 8: Pay attention to the Facebook friends of the fake account who refuse to respond to fake account accusations. For example, one Facebook friend quickly accepted a friend request within a few minutes. But as soon as he was informed about the fake account, the messages were read, there was no response and then the real account was unfriended but still kept the fake account as a friend. It is possible that maybe one of the friends on the fake Facebook account are involved in updating or are the source of the fake account. However, other Facebook friends of the fake account responded immediately, asked for details and immediately unfriended with empathy for the real person.
The bigger picture here is someone's identity should only be that of him or herself. While being a publicist is a reputable job, anyone on social media accounts, in a career field or in everyday life should be their own publicists. Always be in charge of the brand. Don't associate a name with something not to be proud of. And don't let anyone else ruin a name because of their own hesitancy about themselves.
Additional Notes: As entertaining as "Catfish" is, it's not amusing to find out someone is using your face for their own accounts. I found out today that a fake Facebook account, which appears to have been updated as late as May 2013 wishing the unfriended account (mentioned in Tip 8) a happy birthday, is using my picture (watermark included) with Facebook people I have never seen, met or talked to. I've also never worked for AT&T, lived in Montgomery, Ala., studied at Sidney Lanier High School or attended Alabama State University.
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