A scandal erupted in the Dallas-Fort Worth area when a hired PR person began using fake social media profiles to comment on a particularly hot topic. When the news broke that many of the commentaries were done in different names by one person, the person’s reputation was in tatters. He damaged his reputation, that of his clients and anyone who inadvertently sanctioned his work.
Unfortunately, technology has it made it easy to take on personalities that aren’t our own. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Businesses can get into big trouble when their hired or volunteer hands use fake profiles to attack the competition. Whether it’s something as minor as a criticism on Yelp or something as major as drafting an op/ed using a fake identity, it’s not right and in many cases it’s flat out illegal.
It seems that fake social media personalities may be adopted for several reasons:
- The poster is able to hide behind the fake persona and not be identified or linked to the post.
- The poster feels freedom to express their true feelings; ones they probably don’t want others to know about.
- The poster doesn’t feel their side is supported and wants to make it seem that they have a larger following than they actually have.
Regardless of the reason, setting up fake profiles – even to respond to criticism – is wrong. First of all, it’s wrong to present yourself as someone you’re not. Second, consider the fact that fake profiles are created to hide something and are sometimes associated with criminals, not legitimate causes or businesses. Third, businesses caught using fake profiles receive lots of negative public scrutiny, resulting in the loss of trust. Lastly, no professional organization, from the Public Relations Society of America to the FCC, consider this a legitimate or ethical practice.
When responding to criticism online, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
- Stick to the facts.
- Apologize when you’ve done something wrong and explain how you plan to remedy the situation.
- Not everything is worth responding to.
- Never misrepresent who you are.
- Never hire someone to misrepresent who they are. When it’s linked back to you, you suffer the consequences as well.
Considering all of the trouble and negative press that can result from using fake social media profiles, it’s best to be yourself and be honest online. If you’re considering posting something that you wouldn’t want associated with your real name, it might be better not to post at all.