Challenges arise when real-life identity and social media identity are at odds.
Justice Bennett ’16, Tyler Pizzico ’17
The night before Thanksgiving, Brandon Moore ‘17 came out of a movie with a missed call from Dean of Students Mr. Tim Dougherty.
After missing the first call, Moore’s father called Mr. Dougherty back at around 11:15 PM. He informed the Moore family that a Twitter account with Brandon’s name and photos, identifying him as a Malvern Prep student, was posting “horrible tweets.”
“At first he was playing the cards like it really was me,” said Moore. “He [Dougherty] said, ‘We have a really big issue because of these tweets that are coming out of it.’”
The Twitter account had weighed in on the riots in Ferguson with heavily racist tweets. The profile picture, biography, and accounts followed all indicated the account to be held by Moore.
Offended social media users started to reach out on Twitter. According to Moore, they tagged football coach Aaron Brady because they found Moore’s hudl account, even after he had only played for one week of sophomore year.
Dougherty said that he and other members of Malvern’s staff received emails wondering how such hateful tweets were coming from a Malvern student.
Despite Moore’s initial thoughts, Mr. Dougherty explained how he believed he was innocent from the beginning of the incident.
“I looked at the postings and something seemed not right,” said Dougherty. “Things led me to believe that this was a hoax. The student’s response, the grossly inflammatory language, the outrageousness of it, things like that.”
“Yes, it’s my due diligence to investigate, but there were elements that seemed to be suspicious,” said Dougherty.
According to Dougherty, social media users also reached out to Malvern’s staff to tell them the postings seemed “fishy.”
Moore, a member of the Diversity Awareness Club, was appalled and frightened by the hate-filled tweets posted under his name. According to Moore, some users on Twitter even made death threats to the fake account, with Malvern Prep’s address in the angry response tweets.
However, Moore had an idea of who the impersonators actually were from the start.
“I was just surprised and confused,” said Moore. “I had an inclination who did it. Immediately I texted my ‘friends’ – and immediately the Twitter was disabled – which is kind of ironic, you know, I text a few guys and then in five minutes it was deleted.”
Moore could not comment on names since it is currently under investigation. “I have text messages where they admit doing it,” he said.
The repercussions of this incident went beyond the initial tweets. Tweets were retweeted and screenshot. Screenshots were posted on Tumblr where they had over 1,000 reblogs.
Moore’s family contacted the police on Friday, November 28. “They really didn’t have a whole lot to say,” said Moore. “The guy said he was going to interrogate the kids, but nothing’s happened yet.”
According to Dougherty, the process to take down an impersonating Twitter account is ‘byzantine.’ “If I’m being impersonated, I have to send in a photo ID, link to the Twitter posts, you have to submit all this information,” he said.
“They review it. Last year, there was a case where it was pretty quick. In other cases, it takes a couple of days, a reminder email. Last year, I had to fax something, but now you can upload an image,” said Dougherty.
Moore and his family have been working to remove all traces of the impersonation from Twitter and Tumblr. “I’m pretty sure a little bit of it’s still up, but we’re working with cyber-people to get it down,” he said.
Events such as this can tarnish the important online reputation of students. “My mom is still concerned for my future career,” said Moore. “Ultimately everyone has two identities — their one on social media and their their true identity.”
“I have proof that this isn’t me. If any college wants to confront me about it, I have visual proof that it was not me who did it,” said Moore.
“But this really impacted my life,” Moore added, despite his optimistic outlook on the situation.
“The scariest part is this can happen to anyone,” said Moore. “There is no way to stop it.”
Moore believes that the impersonators did not think their actions would have such big implications. “These kids, I know for a fact, aren’t racist. They don’t have these views, and they’re not taught this at home,” said Moore. “Honestly, they just thought it would be funny.”
Moore hopes this can be a learning experience for his fellow Malvern brothers. At a sophomore and junior assembly on January 6, he shared his story and warned the students to “take an extra second before hitting the send button as you can never take it back.”
As for Malvern’s approach to social media incidents, Dougherty is heading a Character and Integrity Task Force which includes a Digital Citizenship subcommittee. He said that the subcommittee includes staff, faculty, and some parents, and will investigate how Malvern currently addresses and educates students about social media and how it could improve.
“Let’s review what we do – then should we change things, should we continue things?” Dougherty said. He noted that the Task Force has been in the works since the middle of the 2013-2014 school year.
According to Dougherty, if Moore had actually tweeted the racist tweets posted on the impersonating account, he may have faced disciplinary action with Malvern. “I think you run into a problem when you identify yourself as a student of an institution that doesn’t share or condone those views,” he said.
Moore believes that Malvern supported him effectively through the incident. “I think Malvern handled this very well. They were very engaged, and Mr. Dougherty was in regular contact with my parents,” he said.
Moore says he has learned that everybody has two identities – their real identity and their identity on the internet. “The bottom line is that this can happen to anybody,” he said.
He offered some advice to his peers. “Think before you post whether you’d want your grandmother to see, or Talbot, or Dougherty. Just don’t be stupid.”
Moore added, “Before you post something, take a second and think about how it could affect what your real identity is.”
Statement from Brandon Moore '17
Statement from Brandon Moore '17
As I googled my name for the first time, I was appalled by the adjectives describing my name. Thousands of people throughout the interface, offended by “my tweets”, called me a racist. I received death threats from multiple people, all over something I had no control over.
Not only was it scary having my identity taken from me, but it was also scary how it happened. In this age of technology, things can spread all over the internet quickly. Anything posted is public and also permanent. A group of kids, without me even knowing, were able to completely tarnish my online reputation. The racist tweets that they posted under my name, seen by thousands, also tarnished the reputation of Malvern Prep.
Social media is a completely different world in which people are able to communicate with one another. However, when used incorrectly, social media can ruin someone’s life. What happened to me could ultimately happen to anyone. It is alarming how this could happen to any person at any time.
There are many things you can do to prevent this from happening. All you must do in order to make sure this doesn’t happen to you is to be careful of what you post, and that you frequently google your own name. If there is a problem you must act fast, because social media can act as a viral and chronic disease.
Luckily, my family and I were able to fix the problem by hiring a cyber worker who scrubbed the internet of my name. However, If we hadn’t acted fast, the disease associated with my name could have spread to thousands of more people.
Everyone must fully understand how powerful social media and the internet really are. These tools may be considered essential for learning and great for everyone to connect today. It is important to realize that your social media reputation is sometimes completely different from your true identity. You must try your best to keep them united.