When I decided to professionalize my web presence, I ran into an old demon. This particularly heinous creature plagued me in the past, spamming up my—professional—email inbox and almost preventing me from joining Twitter. Exasperated, I exorcised the monster yet again.
My name isn’t that common. According to How Many of Me, there are fourteen Kristian Wilsons in the United States. Still, a few years ago, I felt lucky to have snagged a firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Unfortunately, with my undergrad nowhere near completion, I neglected to create a professional niche, and the account slipped out of my periphery.
That changed whenever I decided to join Twitter. I had insulted the platform on more than one occasion—because, what can you really say in 140 characters or less?—and felt a sense of pride in keeping my head above the fray. MySpace had burned me once; I wasn’t about to get burned again. Unfortunately, Twitter became a lasting powerhouse in social media, forcing me to swallow my pride and sign up.
Then Twitter informed me that I already had an account. What? No. I don’t drink. I don’t have black outs or asshole friends. There was no explanation for it. I visited the account that was supposedly me. It belonged to a fan of Jaden Smith and LeBron James, two people I care nothing about. Although the picture was grainy, the impostor appeared to be a young kid who used Twitter about as often as I used the email address he’d somehow stolen from me. He claimed to be from South Carolina. I checked my email, and immediately saw that Demon!Kristian was using my email address for more than just Twitter. While my private accounts showed no suspicious activity, alerts from online games and communities I didn’t even know existed—all targeted toward tween males—filled the inbox. They were all unread.
I was baffled. How had he managed to sign up for so many accounts without verifying the email address? Surely, online communities with a juvenile demographic were more secure than my inbox showed. I hazily recalled my mother writing a letter to Neopets so that 11-year-old me could join.
I started doing damage control, submitting support tickets to each of the game sites. My explanations went something like this: “A young kid, or someone presenting him- or herself as a young kid, has been using my email address to create accounts on websites like yours. I have never heard of you. I do not want to play this game, or receive emails about it. I would like to close this account, and block my email address from being used to create a new one in the future.” On the few games that didn’t have easy-to-use contact forms, I changed the passwords and closed the accounts myself. Over the next few days, one or two support team members replied. One told me that he couldn’t block my email address from being used to create an account; I questioned his company’s web security.
Finally, I went back to Twitter, following the same strategy: change password, sign in, deactivate account. It was a strange experience, but I shrugged it off. After all, it’s not like Demon!Kristian was stealing my web identity. It was just an email address. I changed the password and made my own Twitter account using a different email. Life went on.
I had almost forgotten the incident until I deactivated my account this week. Myname@domain.com had become a spam depository following the social media exorcism, joining a few other email accounts occupying the same echelon of importance to me. As a result of this shoddy email practice, it is sometimes difficult for me to remember which address is connected to a particular account. By sheer dumb luck, email@example.com was the first thing I typed into Twitter. After five log-in attempts, I told the little bluebird that I had forgotten my password. I didn’t realize I was barking up the wrong tree until I’d successfully accessed the account.
There he was, the same young kid who barely used his Twitter, but followed Jaden Smith and LeBron James. The picture was a bit better this time around; he actually looked a little like Jaden Smith. I deactivated him. As I read Twitter’s caveat—if I changed my mind, I could log in again any time within the next 30 days—I felt defeated. How had he managed to do it all over again? How was he able to activate his accounts without accessing my email inbox? If he was—very politely—logging into my unwillingly shared account and only looking at the emails that came for him, why didn’t he just get his own address and leave me the hell alone?
I sat staring at the deactivation message for a few minutes. I couldn’t let it happen again. If he wanted firstname.lastname@example.org so bad, he could make it himself. Just before I killed the account, I felt my pride welling up in my spine. This was my name: email@example.com. I—one of only fourteen mes in the United States—made it. How Many of You claims that 99.9% of all Kristians in the US are female. Statistically speaking, then, it was likely that Demon!Kristian wasn’t just stealing my email address, but my name as well. I let myself be quietly confused and angered by it, one last time. I clicked delete.
What about you: have you ever had an impostor or email or social media? Let me know in the comments!
“Man’s enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.”