Assuming identities wasn’t invented with the internet: it just made it easier. Twitter’s recent rise in popularity means that it has been of interest to those with less than honest intent. This is sometimes manifest in spammers assuming identities of the rich and famous. Earlier this year, a co-ordinated phishing attack hacked several high profile accounts. For a short time, President Barack Obama’s Twitter account offered users ‘Free gas’ when they clicked the link in his latest tweet. He’s good, but he’s not that good.

Other ne’er-do-wells scramble to secure a famous name before the famous person gets it. This has lead to using the prefix ‘thereal’ and others to underscore authenticity. One can imagine an increasingly desperate attempt to reclaim an identity: @therealPhilGreaney might become


and would culminate in something like


Before you knew it, all 140 characters would have been used on a name alone.

Sometimes assuming identities has been used to satirical effect. Pranksters used the moniker @Cliffy_B to ape the eccentric Gears of War games designer Cliff Bleszinski. Imagine the power to – temporarily, it turns out – assume the voice and persona of someone else. It’s the Being John Malkovic moment that we all think about from time to time. Eventually it all turned sour when they went a little too far, at least in the eyes of his lawyers: the account was terminated.

Other Twitter assumed identities are less controversial but no less revealing. David Griner wrote:

Late last year, my family found a line-a-day diary maintained by my great-aunt from 1937 to 1941. She was in her early teens, living on a small farm in rural Illinois with her two brothers, one of which was my grandfather.

It’s a fascinating account of life in a bygone era, a time when my family’s only connections to the world were schoolhouse chatter and a neighbor’s radio.

Looking at the terse journal, my sister quipped, “This is the Twitter of the 1930s.” We glanced at each other and almost immediately began planning the Twitter account that would become Twitter.com/Genny_Spencer.

It’s a touching stream of tweets with a great deal of insight and doesn’t exploit the diarist or cheapen her memory. Rather, it brings an identity sharply into focus that might otherwise have been lost and reminds us that we’ve been speaking to one another – sometimes in short, abbreviated chunks of or around 140 characters – for some time.

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