Massucci's Take: Fake Twitter users are good for Twitter, bad for you

Think of Twitter as another in-box. By following someone on Twitter, you are electing to receive mini Twitter e-mails, known as Tweets, from those new pals. But there is a growing problem: Those new pals may not be who they say they are.

Fake users are not a big problem for Twitter - they help the company's growth. But they are a problem for users. I exchange Tweets with about 500 people on Twitter. If one of them sends spam or attempts to sell something, I'll likely un-follow them. No problem. Tweeting with fake users, on the other hand, isn't always so obvious.

"There are a lot of frauds on Twitter," musician Wyclef Jean said at the 140 Character Conference in New York last month. His pals call him the "Twitter police," he said, because he has been busy "finding frauds" on Twitter.

Jean spoke of celebrities who have had problems because someone is posing as them and doing a pretty convincing job of it, such as Oprah Winfrey, before she joined Twitter, famously sending her first Tweet on her show.

Recently, when reporting on Howard Stern's radio broadcast not being on the Apple (AAPL) iPhone Sirius XM (SIRI) software app, his producer, Gary Dell'Abate appeared to be offering credible information on Twitter. In his tweets, he explained why Stern's contract kept the show from being available on the app. We didn't report the information because we couldn't confirm whether that account was valid.

Many folks on Twitter, and some on the Web, did pass Dell'Abate's information along. His account looked real. But a Sirius XM spokesperson confirmed the account was fake. The next day it was suspended by Twitter.

On Twitter's site, it says non-parody impersonation is breaking terms of service. Accounts with "the clear intent to confuse or mislead" will be permanently suspended. Twitter has an impersonation policy and allows folks to report impostors through

As more folks join Twitter, though, non-parody fake members will multiply. Can Twitter keep up with the number of accounts needed to be shut down? None of Twitters three co-founders responded to e-mail requests sent over the past week. One co-founder, Jack Dorsey, on June 24, did post on Twitter that The Onion writes funny fake news. True. Not funny, though, when you're the one being faked.

Miami Dolphins receiver Davone Bess -- not a household name, even in Miami -- had an impostor fool more than 1,200 followers into thinking they were following him on Twitter. Bess is considering legal action against the impostor, not Twitter, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The impostor, posing as Bess, challenged NFL running back Chris Johnson, of the Tennessee Titans, to a foot race. Johnson accepted.

"One problem is that Twitter is full of fakes and impersonators," Yuli Ziv said at last month's 140 Characters Conference in New York. "There are more impostors on Twitter than fake handbags on Fifth Avenue."

Speaking of handbags, fake products have been a problem for eBay (EBAY) in recent years. The company has been ruled for and against regarding liability of the fake products being sold on its site. Twitter, to help stave off the inevitable wave of lawsuits to come, recently started verifying accounts of well-known users after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa sued the company because someone posed as him on Twitter.

Fake accounts are an issue for Facebook and MySpace as well. Twitter is getting more press and notoriety for the number of fake accounts proliferating in recent months possibly because it's the fastest-growing social-networking site over that same time-span. Fake accounts help beef up those growth numbers for Twitter, the same way that click-fraud helped Google (GOOG) grow years ago.

Fake users can be a form of identity theft for those being faked and may be more than annoying for Twitter users being fooled. For Twitter itself, though, it's not so bad because it helps increase its user numbers. So don't expect the problem to be solved anytime soon.

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.

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