Twitter Impersonation Ongoing Nightmare for Teen
Mother of 14-year-old high school student says her daughter has been harassed and humiliated via popular social networking site.
It all started when someone opened a Twitter account using her daughter’s name and likeness and began tweeting.
“They started inciting this other student to fight and saying things about [the student’s] father raping her and terrible, terrible sexual misconduct things,” Kerry Harrell said.
The tweets, which Harrell described as “shocking,” referenced a former friend of her daughter. Harrell’s daughter, who does not have a Twitter account, learned of the tweets from a friend.
“We looked it up and were like ‘Oh my God.’ This is vile,” Harrell said.
Harrell believes she knows who opened the account, but was unable to find proof so she reported the incident to Twitter.
“They took the first account and said that it was impersonation,” Harrell said. “Then this person, whoever it is, opened up two other accounts using [my daughter’s] name and picture.”
After realizing some of the people who followed the impersonator's Twitter account attended Mill Creek High School with her daughter, Harrell met with the school resource officer and asked him to look into the matter.
“And then those two accounts under [my daughter’s] name and picture miraculously and all of a sudden disappeared from the Internet,” she said.
Harrell said Twitter advised nothing could be done from their end at that point since the accounts had been taken down voluntarily.
In an attempt to prevent further harassment and discover who was responsible for the three fraudulent Twitter accounts, Harrell filed a report with the Gwinnett County Police Department. The case was forwarded to investigations, but the results were not what Harrell had hoped. Twitter refused to provide police with any information regarding the identity of the person who had created the original fraudulent account citing the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. 2701). Under this act, GCPD would be required to subpoena the information and show that it was evidentiary and necessary for the case.
According to GCPD public information officer Cpl. Ed Ritter, the district attorney’s office decided not to pursue the matter further.
“Our officers have done all they can do,” Ritter said.
Harrell feels more should be done. Harrell said she provided authorities with the names of the individuals who were following the account on Twitter. Harrell also learned that the IP address of the person who created the first account is associated with an iPhone.
“We’re just trying to put all the pieces together,” she said.
In the meantime, Harrell said her daughter continues to be the subject of harassment -- most recently from the mother of the other girl targeted in the explicit tweets.
“She has approached her at football games, has called and left messages with my ex-husband saying she’s going to sue our family,” Harrell said.
Though Harrell tried to explain that an impersonator had posted the tweets, the mother of the other girl has been unwilling to listen.
“She just won’t believe us,” Harrell said.
The problems have not ended there. Harrell said her daughter has suffered greatly and has not wanted to go to school and face those who have harassed and humiliated her.
“We’re hoping that whoever it is that continues to open them up has gotten bored with it and won’t do it again,” Harrell said. “But it goes to show just how complicated it is to prove the wrong.”
Adding to her frustration is what Harrell describes as Gwinnett County Public Schools’ ineffective anti-bullying policy
“Let me tell you this, if I could move, I would move out of Gwinnett County,” she said. “I have never dealt with people so ignorant in all of my life.”
Harrell said school officials were dismissive of her concerns about the explicit tweets and told her it was not unusual for young people to use obscene words and phrases in their communications.
“I cannot believe how uncaring and how jaded they are,” she said.
School officials and the school resource officer interviewed Harrell’s daughter and several other students, but no disciplinary action was taken.
Jorge Quintana, director of media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said the issue was not a school issue, but one involving students outside of school.
“While disciplinary action has not been taken regarding this off-campus matter, the administration of Mill Creek High and the school resource officer have provided support,” Quintana said in an emailed statement. “They have discussed this issue with the students in an effort to prevent this issue from becoming a disruption at school.”
Quintana added the school resource officer and the administration will assist in the investigation in any way they can.
Harrell remains skeptical of the school system’s efforts to date.
“They don’t take any of this seriously,” Harrell said. “They’re doing it to cover themselves.”
Harrell, however, takes the matter very seriously and is determined to find out who is responsible for impersonating her daughter online.
“I don’t want them to get away with it. I don’t. I’m going to push until I find out who it is and what I can do next,” she said. “I’m just not going to give up.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING HARRASED ON TWITTER
From Twitter’s website:
What happens if my child is being harassed on Twitter? Twitter is great because it allows users to communicate directly with each other, but just as in school or on the playground, there are a few people who want to ruin things for everyone else.
If your child is receiving unwanted communications from another Twitter user, we generally recommend that he or she block that user and end any communication. Ending communication with bullies shows them that you are not willing to engage with them, and often they lose interest. It also demonstrates to others that your child is not involved in similar behavior and that he or she is acting against bullying.
Many bullying or harassment issues online usually start from problems offline. Blocking prevents a user from following your child’s Tweets and can minimize incentives to persist in the bullying conduct online. This help page on blocking shows you how to block other users. Twitter believes that bullying is a serious issue and we have provided all users with the ability to block other users.
That said, since online harassment is usually rooted in "real world" relationships, blocking another user is sometimes just a temporary fix. Determined bullies may create new accounts on Twitter and other social media services, so sometimes it is more helpful to deal with the person or issue offline by working with school officials, the bully’s parents, or other local authorities.
When emailed with a request to comment on the Harrell's situation, Twitter responded with the following:
Thanks for your inquiry. We are a small communications team based in San Francisco within a growing global company. Due to the high volume of requests we receive, unfortunately, we are not able to respond to many inquiries. When our team grows, we'll be able to respond in a more timely manner. For now, we will capture your contact information so that we can be in touch in the future.
In the meantime, follow @Twitter for news, interesting user stories, and updated stats about the company. Note that we currently only release global metrics and do not break out usage data on a country-by-country basis.