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Here's What It's Like When Trolls Keep Impersonating You On Twitter

"What they're doing is not parodying me — they're impersonating me."

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A prominent Canadian women's rights campaigner says Twitter's rules on parody accounts are giving someone cover to impersonate her and damage her reputation.

Julie Lalonde says that about a half-dozen different imitators have popped up over the last two weeks that look almost indistinguishable from her own account. The Ottawa-based activist and sexual assault prevention educator says the copycat accounts tweeted offensive things under her name with the clear goal of making it seem like she's espousing racist and misogynist views.
Taylor Hermiston

Julie Lalonde says that about a half-dozen different imitators have popped up over the last two weeks that look almost indistinguishable from her own account.

The Ottawa-based activist and sexual assault prevention educator says the copycat accounts tweeted offensive things under her name with the clear goal of making it seem like she's espousing racist and misogynist views.

"The bio is the exact same as mine, the pinned tweet is the same, my photo, the background photo, all of that is the exact same," Lalonde told BuzzFeed Canada.

Someone created a puppet account to make me look like a racist, sexist asshole. Please report them.

The usernames were just one or two letters off from her own handle. In one case, the troll even used an uppercase "I" in place of a lowercase "L," so the account's tweets looked to the naked eye to be coming directly from Lalonde.

She appealed to her 11,000 followers to help report the fake accounts. But she said it turned into "a whack-a-mole situation" because new accounts popped up within hours of the old ones being deleted by Twitter.

Here are some of the accounts that impersonated Lalonde.
Twitter

Here are some of the accounts that impersonated Lalonde.

After Lalonde reported several accounts and got them deleted, her copycat(s) changed tactics and started labelling the accounts "parody." This is allowed under Twitter's rules, and the company provides instructions when someone flags your account for impersonation. This, Lalonde said, gave her harasser a way to "continue doing what they're doing without getting deleted."

To those of you asking why these impostor accounts of mine are not being removed? Blame Twitter. 🔥🔥🔥

Twitter has always tolerated parody accounts. But usually those being parodied are public figures like politicians and celebrities, not local activists.

"Even if you think that I have enough of a profile to be worthy of a parody, what they're doing is not parodying me — they're impersonating me," Lalonde said. "They're incriminating me by creating an account that looks exactly like mine and tweeting racist, xenophobic, sexist things at organizations that I work with. It's not about parodying me and my work, it's about implicating me in these things that are horrible for my reputation."

Lalonde, who described herself as "no stranger to being harassed online," said the copycat campaign is especially pernicious because whoever is behind it appears to be very familiar with her work.

Lalonde has previously gotten intense backlash after speaking out on controversial issues like the Jian Ghomeshi trial or the so-called Twitter harassment case. She also suffered online harassment after going public about how she was cat-called by cadets at the Royal Military College in Kingston, where she was giving a talk on preventing sexual assault."There's tons of reasons why people attack me online, particularly on Twitter," she said. "But in this particular case it's so persistent, my sense is that it's coming from someone within my own community [in Ottawa] and that's what makes it scarier."
Julie S. Lalonde

Lalonde has previously gotten intense backlash after speaking out on controversial issues like the Jian Ghomeshi trial or the so-called Twitter harassment case. She also suffered online harassment after going public about how she was cat-called by cadets at the Royal Military College in Kingston, where she was giving a talk on preventing sexual assault.

"There's tons of reasons why people attack me online, particularly on Twitter," she said. "But in this particular case it's so persistent, my sense is that it's coming from someone within my own community [in Ottawa] and that's what makes it scarier."

What has made the whole process even more frustrating for Lalonde is Twitter's process of dealing with impersonation, which she calls "arduous and absurd." Each time she has reported an account, she has had to email photos of her government-issued ID to Twitter.

Lalonde, who has written before about having a stalker, uses a P.O. box and tries to keep her information offline as much as possible. So sharing her ID over email is very uncomfortable for her. "It's a complete violation of my privacy," she said, noting that earlier this year Twitter reportedly shared a woman's address and other private information with the person she tried to report for harassment.Lalonde says she has spoken with police about how to stop the impersonation, but the easiest solution, according to her, would be for Twitter to simply verify her account. She said she's not sure why she's well-known enough to warrant a parody, but not so prominent as to get a blue checkmark."I either have to completely give up my online presence to trolls and allow them to dictate how my Google search looks, or I have to be aware that monitoring my social media for these kinds of attacks is just a part of my life."
Julie S. Lalonde

Lalonde, who has written before about having a stalker, uses a P.O. box and tries to keep her information offline as much as possible. So sharing her ID over email is very uncomfortable for her.

"It's a complete violation of my privacy," she said, noting that earlier this year Twitter reportedly shared a woman's address and other private information with the person she tried to report for harassment.

Lalonde says she has spoken with police about how to stop the impersonation, but the easiest solution, according to her, would be for Twitter to simply verify her account. She said she's not sure why she's well-known enough to warrant a parody, but not so prominent as to get a blue checkmark.

"I either have to completely give up my online presence to trolls and allow them to dictate how my Google search looks, or I have to be aware that monitoring my social media for these kinds of attacks is just a part of my life."

Twitter did not respond to BuzzFeed Canada's request for comment.

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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