As part of the BrandProtect 2016 Elections Project, we’ve been looking at The Donald’s use of Twitter.
Or, more accurately, we’ve been looking at how others have been using Donald Trump's identity to promote their twitter activity. There are lots of them.....
We focused our efforts on the twitter activity that took place in the 24 hour periods starting with the beginning of the last two candidate debates – Republican debate on January 14th and the Democratic debate on January 17th.
We searched for tweets that mentioned a presidential candidate by name from accounts that contained “Donald” OR “Trump” in the twitter handle or Donald AND Trump in the username that were active during the 24 hours beginning at the start of each debate. We reviewed the accounts to eliminate the obvious errors (the “donald ducks,” and the bridge and gin rummy enthusiasts). What did we find???
There are 87 unique accounts tweeting out content about presidential candidates under variations of the Donald Trump name. One of these accounts, of course, is the official Donald Trump account (blue). These others defined a wide spectrum of styles and content. Some accounts were clearly taking an anti-Trump stance (brown), while others parodied the unique Trump style (yellow). There are accounts that steadily tweeted out Donald Trump news mentions (orange), and accounts that were unabashedly supportive of the Trump agenda (light green/dark green).
But most interesting to us were the Donald J. Trump masqueraders. (the eight accounts that appear in red.) They are pretty convincing. And they could become big problems.
These masquerading Twitter accounts have the look and feel of the official Donald Trump account. For example, they use the same iconic photograph of Mr. Trump as their image. These accounts can confuse the marketplace with their tweets, which get circulated and retweeted by members of the public. Here are couple of tweets from our favorite one.
(that's a phone sex number)
(the link takes you to a porn site, and possible malware)
How impactful are these unauthorized accounts - you'll be surprised.
During the times of our study, there was much more "unofficial" Trump activity that "official" Trump activity. Almost 5 of every six tweets received originated from an unauthorized Trump impersonation account.
Identity masquerade attacks like these are not just limited to presidential candidates. They are also quite common for executives and companies. In corporate environments, it can be much harder for the public to decipher the real information from the fake information. The threat of confusion from misinformation, fines from non-compliant communications, or devastating reputational damage from the wrong tweet going viral, is real.
Don't wait to hear about your troubles on the news, or worse, in a late night monologue. The best way to stay safe is to look for these exposures proactively and mitigate them, before they bite you.