The term cybersquatting was coined when websites first became publicy available. People would buy domain names using company or brand names or the names of celebrities and then try to flog them back at inflated prices. A similar thing is now happening in social networks but potentially the outcomes are far more damaging.
Individuals are signing up on facebook, twitter and across the web to the identities of celebrities, and sometimes brands too. It costs them nothing and they are not selling the online persona back to their ‘rightful’ owners they are using them to impersonate. For many the intentions have been harmless but not for all. The fake Facebook account for Kate Winslett in which she apparently called her screen rival and fellow Oscar nominee Angelie Jolie , a “fat-lipped crazy cow” amused Kate apparently but that might not always be the case. A blog called Valebrity has taken on the task of validating celebrities on line and Jonathan Ross has appointed himself as twitter ‘star’ czar.
The act of impersonating others on twitter is also being used for political ends. John Ransford the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association has a ‘Twimposter’ who has been actively defaming him for weeks and the leading light of the Labour new media movement Derek Draper has pointed people in the direction of a fake David Cameron.
Companies and brands should be cautious too, with the growth of the social web and the velocity at which content spreads, charlatans of the social web may be ot there doing real harm to their business.