Remember the time someone stole one of my photos and pretended it was a photo of them?
Yeah, it happened again:
Wow, I have a twin called Susan! Living in Stoughton, MA! And not just a twin: a totally IDENTICAL twin! Only… no, not really. It’s just another idiot, stealing my photo and pretending it’s theirs. I would be flattered by this, but seriously. Seriously. It’s like I have some kind of invisible sign on my head saying, “Oh, hai, if you’re totally duplicitous and like pretending to be someone you’re not, feel free to use MY photo!”
As with the last time this happened, I only found out about the impostor because someone emailed me saying, “By the way, did you know someone is impersonating you on the internet?” The site in question is called She Writes, and is a social network for writers. My “twin” had been chatting away to people there, asking them for help with her writing endeavors, and, from what I can gather, trying to get them to exchange email and phone numbers with “her”. All pretty innocuous, you might think, but the person who contacted me about it tells me that “Susan Veltri” is actually a man, and to be honest with you, “man posing as a woman in order to get women to speak to him, and perhaps email/phone him” is just a little creepy to me. And sad. Very, very sad.
This is a network which requires you to register before you can do ANYTHING. I couldn’t even contact whoever owns/runs this site without being a registered member, so I was forced to set up an account (it took around 24 hours to be approved, during which time “Susan” was merrily pretending to be me), after which I posted a message asking “Susan” if this is the only site s/he’s impersonating me on, or if s/he is pretending to be me anywhere else on the internet. Then I went out for the day, and funnily enough, when I got back “Susan’s” page had been deleted, although whether by “Susan” or by the site administrators, I have no idea.
So, all of this has got me thinking. This is the second time in a couple of months someone has stolen my photo and claimed it was them – that I know of. The only reason I found out about these Impostor Ambers was because someone realised what was happening and emailed me to tell me about it. Needless to say, I’m now starting to wonder how many other people are passing themselves off as me that I don’t know about. And, you know, you could argue that the two cases I DO know about weren’t that serious in the great scheme of things. One was an insecure teenager trying to impress boys on a Sonic Youth forum, the other was a man talking about crime writing on a women’s network. (OK, that actually IS a little creepy to me, but whatever.)
But what if the NEXT person using my photo is posting on, say, a forum for neo-Nazis. Or for paedophiles. Or for people who… gulp… wear Crocs for non-gardening-related purposes? THAT would be a little more serious, no? What if I’m walking around town one day and someone comes up to me and smacks me in the face because “I” have been making highly offensive statements on a forum for white supremacists or some such thing? And yeah, it’s unlikely. But that’s what I thought the FIRST time this happened. I thought, “Well, that was pretty trippy, but bound to be a one off. Because what are the chances of THAT happening again?” And yet, here we are, just a few weeks later. Of all the photos, on all the websites, in all the world, the idiots HAVE to choose mine, don’t they?
So, now I’m starting to wonder: what do I do about this?
The thing is, there’s really no way to stop people stealing your images if they really want to. You can right-click disable them, but that’s so easy to get round that it’s barely even worth doing. You can watermark them, although, as I’ve seen with the images I use on The Fashion Police, that doesn’t actually stop people stealing them. (And I sincerely hope that the people who steal images that are licenced for my use only get a nice fat bill from the image agencies who own the copyright, once they find out about the unauthorised use. And trust me, they WILL find out…). Also, putting a whopping great watermark over my own face kinda defeats the purpose of posting the image in the first place. And if it’s NOT over my face, they can just crop it out.
In the end, the only real solution to this is to stop posting photos, and delete my Flickr account/Twitter avatar etc. And, I don’t know… I could do that. But I resent it, to be honest. And not just because I have LOTs of photos I was planning to post this week. I think my blog would be a lot less personal if I was some totally anonymous chick, who could be a guy called “Susan Veltri” for all anyone knew. It’s well known that people don’t like to interact with Twitter accounts that have a generic avatar rather than a personal photo. And I’m a big believer in transparency on the Internet. I’ve always used my own name, and I’ve always used my own photos. I think that if everyone did that, the Internet would be a much nicer place.
But, of course, the Internet ISN’T a nice place. I knew that, obviously: I’m not totally stupid. But until this year, it didn’t really occur to me to worry about these things. No, seriously. I’ve never been particularly paranoid about things like posting photos, for instance. I don’t really know why. I know lots of people who are absolutely horrified by the idea of posting their photo online. Some of my real life friends have asked if I worry about it. And my response has always been, “Worry about what? That people will know what I look like? So what? When I go to the supermarket, people can see what I look like. Every time I step outside my house, people can see what I look like. What does it really matter if a handful of people who read my blog ALSO know what I look like?”
And the fact is, it doesn’t matter that the people who read my blog can see my photos. (Well, other than when they write to tell me how ugly I am, obviously.) But it DOES matter that people steal those photos and try to pass them off as their own. I find that creepy and disturbing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lying awake at night worrying about it or anything. I will be very surprised if this ever happens again. But I do wonder who the next person will be to decide to pose as me, and this latest experience has got me thinking a bit more carefully about issues of privacy etc. I’m not saying I’m going to stop posting photos or anything, but… it has given me pause for thought, put it that way.
I think my next tagline will be “The REAL Forever Amber: accept no impostors”. All those other Slim Shady’s are just imitating, after all…