My heart sank. I thanked my friend and asked her advice on what I should do.
“Mmm, I think contact Facebook…already three mutual friends accepted. Change your password asap and then put a notification out to your friends that this has happened and that they shouldn't friend the new one - it has no picture - and I will check further when I have time..” she added.
I thanked her and rushed home to warn my Facebook friends.
Within minutes, an avalanche of comments appeared alerting me to what had happened and how they’d already accepted or not accepted their requests. By now the imposter was evidently also using my profile photograph. Several friends advised that they had reported this to Facebook, for which I was very grateful.
But when it came to contacting Facebook myself, I felt hopelessly ill-equipped. I’d heard that it is hard to find your way through the Facebook system so I emailed another friend, who I felt sure would know. She advised me to report it to Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/help/174210519303259 and they would take it down. She also suggested, tongue in cheek, that I use the experience as a segue to a blog post about the imposter syndrome. (I don't think this blog is what she had in mind, but it triggered the idea!)
I went straight to the Facebook website and tried following the instructions. It wasn’t straightforward and I felt increasingly frustrated, inadequate and powerless. By this time, my phone was ringing and dinging with messages from all and sundry who’d been contacted by my nemesis. Some reported on the state of their health and well-being and thanked me so much for enquiring (I hadn’t). Others had been advised that I had won a large sum of money (??) or were feeling harassed by intrusive and inappropriate questions. My blood pressure was rising. I felt obligated to reply to all these calls and messages in the midst of an already busy work day and was feeling increasingly overwhelmed.
Another tech-savvy friend who alerted me to his friend request, replied that I hadn’t been ‘hacked, (as I’d mistakenly described it) but rather ‘cloned’. He also suggested I check my privacy settings and make sure that no one can see who I am friends with ((sounds so easy, doesn’t it?). He added:
“Look up the group called FaceCrooks for advice on how to do this, if you aren't sure”. Ha. Who knew about this? It turned out to be just what was needed - the dummies guide to Facebook.
At least I was learning a lot! After several aborted attempts, by Thursday night I managed to report the problem to Facebook - several times for good measure.
Even though identity theft has happened to other friends, I’ve been genuinely surprised at the level of stress and anxiety it causes. I’ve felt violated and angered on behalf of my friends and family who have shared experiences with me which I have in turn shared on facebook, with complete trust. That now feels like total naiveté. I’ve had two sleepless nights and wanted to avoid Facebook like the plague or take myself off altogether.
Finally, today, Saturday, the imposter has gone, I think! How do I know? Yesterday two old friends contacted me via sms to thank me for being in touch (I hadn’t) and tell me all their news, complaining that facebook wouldn't allow them to respond. So I knew at least the imposter had been blocked. When I searched for my own page this morning, there’s now only one of me. The real one. (For four days there were two, mine and the imposter’s, displaying a lot of my friends who had accepted the friend-request, the wrong birthdate and a lot of apps that I don’t use).
I now know that facecrooks.com is a really useful website not just for dealing with identity theft, but for good advice to protect yourself, something I had avoided because of my fear of the technology. I have taken their advice and changed my email address and password on facebook and will change my profile pics (the old ones feel ‘soiled’ now) to something without my face, if I stay.
It’s been said many times how superficial social media relationships are compared to the real thing, how they provide the illusion of popularity without any of the investment of time and effort that enriches true friendships. I’ve been deeply moved this week by the warmth of the messages I’ve had and the level of personal disclosures friends have made to my clone, thinking it was me taking a genuine interest in them. It has embarrassed me to realise how little real communication and contact I have with so many of my friends compared to how much time I spend as a voyeur in their lives; a spectator and contributor to the passing parade of photographs, homilies, clever comments, complaints and tidbits of news that typify many of our Facebook relationships.
I haven’t decided whether to leave Facebook altogether and perhaps reinvent myself to return at a later time or simply change my profile pics and carry on. Either way, I’m quite grateful for the opportunity this experience has provided to reflect on the nature of friendship and the seduction of social media.
From now on, I’d like richer relationships with my friends rather than simply scanning their Facebook posts for entertainment. Perhaps I will be able to enjoy both again, once the wounds have healed.