Take for example a quick Facebook search (login required) for Tony Blair. Again, at the time of writing, it revealed no less than 99 Tony Blairs, many of whom use photographs of the UK’s ex-Prime Minister. Here’s the profile link to the first item in the screenshot below. And it seems that even Cherie is in on the act too.
But it gets worse. It seems that this Tony Blair is friendly with a certain Queen Elizabeth II:
Whilst this impersonation issue is probably widely known already, as the profusion of impersonators over at Facebook demonstrate, what problems does this pose for the social networking world? Well, if you happen to share a name with a big name celebrity, such as George Bush, Bill Gates or Tony Blair to name but a few, then there is a chance that your social networking user experience is going to be somewhat different from those with less popular names!
I would imagine that you’ll get more folks interested in joining your social network (becoming a friend). Facebook has the concept of a “Wall”, people can “write on your wall”: it’s likely that your wall is going be the subject of graffiti or vandalism if you share your name with a less than popular counterpart. Of course, the more socially popular namesakes might attract a better circle of wannabe friends.
A lot of social networking folks have their “profiles” publicly visible. If you have a famous name, it’s quite likely that you’ll have to keep your profile private, which probably isn’t a bad thing (more about this in a later posting). I’ve just checked a handful of the Bill Gates and Frank Skinner folks over at Facebook, a lot of them have their profiles closed (i.e. private).
This is a topic that George Galloway seems to be well aware of. He has what amounts to a disclaimer on his Facebook profile:
This is George Galloway – all the other profiles purporting to be me are not the Real Deal! I’ll be on this page myself as often as my commitments allow but most of the time the page will be run by comrades. Further information about my activities can be found on my website and my Myspace account http://www.myspace.com/georgegalloway
Galloway’s attempt to add some credibility to his Facebook profile is still not enough, in my opinion. Granted it uses language that I would expect him to use (“comrades”) and it makes reference to an external site that may provide further credibility. MySpace is yet another social networking site, so the credibility offering may be reduced – having said that, I’ve just checked Galloway’s MySpace site and it’s littered with the stuff he rants on about (there aren’t many folks who would want to impersonate him to that level, trust me).
So, at the time of writing, it would seem that we must take care with the social networking sites. Until these sites provide some form of credibility such that the person you are adding to your friends list is who they say they are. Indeed, we must also think about our own registrations on these sites – the time will come when we have to provide further evidence of who we are, something that goes beyond simply reply to a verification e-mail. In the meantime, think carefully about who you adding to your friends list, consider their e-mail address…Tony Blair, for example, is unlikely to have an e-mail address at Hotmail or GMail…