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Impersonating someone else

By ContinuousPark in Internet
Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 06:56:58 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

This NYTimes piece talks about an interesting hoax performed by an anti-WTO group. I found it to be very amusing and justifiable as a form of protest. But I'm also wondering whether the practice of impersonating someone else, if extended, could cause serious disruptions on our social structures, on the way we communicate with each other, on the weight we give to some opinions over others and on how we build trust. What's the function of hoaxes in society? In what instances is it necessary or desirable to impersonate someone else in order to make a point?

The NYTimes is running a piece on an interesting hoax made by "The Yes Men", an anti-trade organization that happens to own gatt.org. GATT stands for General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and is the predecessor of the World Trade Organizacion. So it turns out that the organizers of a legal seminar on international trade in Salzburg, Austria went to this site, which might lead you to think it's the real thing, and sent an invitation to WTO director Mike Moore. Then, Charles Cushen, a Yes Man, invented a persona and send her to give the lecture with the fake recommendation from Mike Moore itself. They actually went all the way to Austria to give the lecture in terms, of course, not very in line with WTO's policies. It's a long story but the fictitious persona eventually dies, WTO's legal department finds out about the hoax and it ends in the NY Times. Now, I found it to be very amusing and justifiable as a form of protest. But several questions come to mind.

1. The organizers of the seminar should have known better to fall for this but, come on, they saw it at gatt.org. Other more informed people have fallen for something similar, as this example shows (go to the bottom of the page to December 17). What can be done to educate people about this possible situations?

2. What advantages can be found in using a different persona to express oneself? What about cases like this one, when several people are behind one persona? (see this for another example that's somewhat widespread in Europe) Doesn't this give them a stronger voice? Isn't easier and more powerful for somebody who tries to communicate something to post something as a fictitious persona that might have greater renown, a well construed reputation?

3. What ethical, not to mention legal, consequences might arise from doing something like this. What could happen to organizations like the Yes Men, that sistematically use hoaxs of this sort as a form of protest?

4.Could this practice become more widespread? And if it did, could it make us more conscious to pay more attention to what's being said and not so much to who's saying it? Or would it severely distrupt our mechanisms for establishing trust and informing ourselves?


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On the subject of hoaxs, I...
o don't like them because I think it's dishonest 24%
o think it's a genre on its own 14%
o collect them to amuse myself on boring days 8%
o have seen others fall for it 1%
o have fallen for it myself and laughed 16%
o kicked the hell out of the hoax performer 4%
o think this article is a hoax itself 9%
o am a hoax 20%

Votes: 62
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o piece
o gatt.org
o thing
o example
o this
o Also by ContinuousPark

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Impersonating someone else | 9 comments (2 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1 because (2.33 / 3) (#8)
by Gernsback on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 02:44:29 AM EST

It seemed like a good starting point for discussion about other stuff that I can see coming up in the submission queue. Impersonating other people and committing fraud is something that a lot of people seem to take quite seriously around here...
Why anonymity? (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by mattc on Mon Jan 08, 2001 at 03:18:45 AM EST

The obvious advantage of using a fake persona is anonymity. In the offline world, commenting about topics such as religion, politics, sex, race, or anything else controversial can cause you to suffer harsh consequences for your words (loss of job, harassment, or even injury). For example, once I told a next door neighbor I was an atheist (his family was christian) and he never spoke to me again!! Of course that is no big deal, but depending on the circumstances, speaking your mind could be seriously harmful to you.

Another advantage is privacy. There is a certain sense of safety when you are on AIM or IRC chatting with someone, especially if you are a woman. It is virtually impossible to be raped when trying to meet people of the opposite sex online, unless of course you give out your phone number or other personal information. Annoying or harassing people can be easily /ignored away. Compare that to the "bar scene" where who knows what kind of idiots you will meet!

Like most good things, anonymity online can be abused too... "identity theft" is the most common one.. also it is easy for people to anonymously steal copyrighted software online. To a certain degree you can harass people online by sending mail bombs from free email accounts... You can spread rumors and lies, pose as someone you are not, etc blah blah

Personally, I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and anonymity should be accepted online. I know I certainly wouldn't post on this or any other BBS if every post I made had my name, phone number, and address on it!

Impersonating someone else | 9 comments (2 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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