A few months ago a friend emailed to say that he’d searched for me on twitter and found twenty accounts using my name, photo, and bio. I looked, and he was right: I was being impersonated. But here’s the thing: the actual twitter handle – the thing that starts with an @ – wasn’t some permutation of @adamminter. Rather, it was always @XHnews plus some random string of letters. As many of my readers know, @XHnews is the official, verified account of Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, purveyor of news and propaganda to the world.
Why would someone want to make a mash-up of me and Xinhua? I have no idea. But anyway, Twitter doesn’t make it easy to get rid of these accounts – you have to fill out a form for each one. Still, once I finished complaining about the first, I couldn’t stop, and after 20 minutes or so I’d dutifully complained about each Minter/Xinhua mashup, and a few days later they were gone. Or so I thought.
Because a few weeks later they were back. Only this time, it wasn’t two dozen mashups – there were more than fifty. This time I filed a single impersonation report with twitter and added a note explaining this curious situation, and begging that twitter delete every Adam Minter that starts with a @XHnews. And they did …
But it didn’t last for long. Last night I searched Adam Minter on twitter, and look what came up:
That’s right: 95 Adam Minters! Or, to be more precise, 95 Adam Minters with twitter handles that start @XHnews followed by gobbledygook. The clone war, the mashup mystery, has returned, with more Minter zombies than ever before. I’ve been cloned/zombified/twittered. I’m not upset. Nor am I flattered. I’m just kind of – I dunno – curious. Why me? Why Xinhua? Why bother? Anyway, I’ve once again filed a report with twitter on just one of these. And I’ve called up to Xinhua in Beijing, just to see if they’re aware of this, and whether they might know what’s going on. Not expecting an answer, but you never know. In the meantime, if anybody has any insight into what’s happening here – especially the Xinhua angle – I’d love to know. And if you’ve made it to the end of this post, and want something more edifying to read, might I suggest my new feature for Sierra Magazine – Clearing Skies? In it, I explain why I think there’s reason to be optimistic about China’s prospects for conquering its air pollution. [UPDATED 10 March 2015 — After publishing this, I started hearing from other foreigners doing media in China (PR, journos), all of whom had been cloned in precisely the same way – legit twitter handle of another China entity, followed by random numbers and digits (see here, for example). Who’s doing it? What’s it amount to? I have no idea. I’ve reached out to twitter’s media folks, and perhaps they’ll be able to clear it up. In the meantime, one of the other China expats – a journalist – put me in touch with twitter’s spam team, and they helped to clear out the Adam Minter clones. I guess we’ll see if that takes care of the problem.][UPDATED 10 April 2015 — Twitter’s media people got back to me with this: “We don’t comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons, and we only share IP addresses with law enforcement in response to valid legal process.” That’s too bad – since writing them, the impersonation accounts started up again, cloning me and several other China-based journos and academics. Oh well.]