Digital identity is breaking into 2013 hard and fast, with the arrest of an 18 year old who opened a Twitter account in the name of his school district Director. There are sure to be several different arguments against this young man, but ultimately, the judge's ruling will be the determining factor, if the case goes to trial.
Ira Trey Quesenberry III is accused of opening a Twitter account in the name of Jubal Yennie, the Director for the Sullivan County School District, in Blountfield, Tennessee. This has all the earmarks of a senior prank, including the hard-line approach that police are using in response. You can almost hear the conversation between Yennie and the police chief, "Throw the book at him, he needs to learn a lesson, and we'd need to set an example."
Ah, the indiscretions of youth.
The WCYB report says Quesenberry stands charged under federal identity theft laws. And according to thesmokinggun.com news article, Quesenberry freely admitted to opening the account, so at first blush one would expect a quick trial, and (if officials really press the matter) a harsh sentencing.
Yennie has taken a stand that will probably carry some importance until laws are put in place to address the theft of a social digital identity. In this particular case, Quesenberry used nothing more than a name to create an online account. As it stands right now, that is not illegal, except by a very thin stretch of the imagination. In fact, Hollywood personalities have been confronted with the same problem, and been unable to do anything about it. Because of this, it is actually more likely that Quesenberry will beat the charges against him, if he has good legal representation.
Our social digital identity carries a certain personal feel to it, it represents the things that we say, and we are prone to share in social media things that we would not otherwise tell people. Most of us look at it as a form of self expression. But that is not so true when it comes to the courts.
Last year, CBS Boston ran a story about how divorce attorneys have started relying heavily on social media for evidence in court. The husband says he has no money, but his Facebook profile has pictures of a fishing trip in the Caribbean, and him posing with his new BMW. The wife so she should have custody of the kids, but half the photos on her wall are taken from parties, always with a drink in her hands. This sort of evidence may tell a very different story to the court, than the one the lawyers were trying to present. Some lawyers will even sit down with the new client and go over the Facebook profile page to make sure there's no damning evidence posted there before filing the case.
We have become concerned enough about the information that can be gathered about us online, that companies like reputation.com have started gaining in popularity. For a nominal fee, the service will scour the Internet looking for instances of your name.
However, the service may not be truly effective. To test it out, I put my information and the requested, name, birth date, where I work, but the top 40 results you returned to me had only one that was actually mine. And none of the results showed me a few articles I have read over the past three years, despite the fact that every single one of them has my name attached to it. Worse, the one response that was mine was an old outdated LinkedIn account that I had forgotten I created.
New services like this, news stories like the ones I have pointed out here, and laws that are starting to get passed which are designed to protect personal information on social media like Facebook, lead me to believe our social digital identities will become hot topics over the course of the next year.
Until court cases start clarifying the use of social media, and with expectations of privacy we can hope to enjoy online, the best bet is going to be keeping anything personal or awkward off your page. Because once it is out there, you can't take it back. And for most of us there's usually something out there that may not necessarily be awkward, but could definitely be twisted to look far worse by even the youngest of attorneys fresh out of law school.