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Social media impostors make real money

A close-up view of the homepage of the microblogging website Twitter.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Greg Galant's name. The text has been corrected.

Author Philip Roth made a splash this week when he came out of retirement and started tweeting.

No, wait. It wasn't really Roth. It was an impostor -- someone who apparently has a reputation for mimicking famous people on the Internet.

Turns out social media spoofing is an old trick. And if you do it right, it could make you some money. Remember Chuck Norris Facts? Ian Spector brought renewed fame to the action hero before Twitter was even born, with witty one-liners like: "Chuck Norris discovered cold fusion by pouring two beers into one glass."

Around 2005, Spector's website caught fire and since then he's written five Chuck Norris fact books. The most recent one came out on Election Day.

"So it's really taken on a really crazy life of it's own," said Spector, who would not say how much money he's banked from his Chuck Norris spoof. It's not enough to live on, he said, but it was enough to get his young career in technology start-ups off the ground.

Greg Galant's Sawhorse Media gives out the Shorty Awards to prolific social media celebrities.

"Orson Wells did it on the radio. Mel Brooks did it in movies," Galant said, referring to the evolution of Twitter as the next frontier for parody. "If it's successful there's still a whole variety of outcomes where it can either be leveraged into a book, or a successful comedy career."

So digital shenanigans make sense if you're trying to build a brand for yourself. But sometimes impostors are also malicious thanks to a small tweak in a real person's name.

Social media consultant Mari Smith says an impostor tweeted on a variation of her name for two years before she was finally able to shut it down.

"It would spring up as Mari_Smith, or Marii Smith," she explained. "I definitely was concerned. I had some serious concerns about the impact of my business."

The poser attacked Smith professionally and engaged with her clients. She didn't file a lawsuit. But Smith warned legal trouble is often an unexpected land mine for social media impostors.

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Seriously it's hard to trust anything about social media these days. Facebook does not appear to enforce many of its supposed rules, people have hundreds (thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of fake pages, and who knows what's true. Personally we would not be investors....

NJ Grant
The Free Grants Community at
www.gofreegovernmentmoney.com

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