What is still true in a world where there no longer exists a barrier between the real and the digital world? Last week the Dutch Minister of Finance (Wouter Bos) in the Netherlands launched his own Twitter account. Soon it appeared to be a fake account, but not everybody was aware of that. Within a few hours about 300 people started to follow the tweets of the Minister. Even the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, paid attention to it. He even started a little quarrel with the fake Minister.
Thamarberber @Maxime Verhagen: I assume that @wouterbos is fake …??
MaximeVerhagen: @Thamarberber completely fake.
WouterBos: @MaximeVerhagen. Liar. I tweet so I exist.
MV: @wouterbos no wouter told me himself that he feared to get into trouble when he starts to use twitter
WB: @MaximeVerhagen Openness and transparency are important, so I changed my mind. Twitter is an excellent communication channel with my supporters.
MV: @wouterbos I know wouter as someone who is tenacious. This would contradict with what he previously said in interviews about twitter.
WB: @MaximeVerhagen I know perfectly well what I said in the Financial Times. However I can change my mind.
MV: @wouterbos within a few weeks?
WB: @MaximeVerhagen your trifle with the leaked photo of the Treveszaal showed me the power of this medium.
Of course this is not new. The hijacking of identities takes place continuously. It starts to become a worry when nobody doubts the virtual identities and people start to spread stories about them without any thought. On the Internet everyone has the power to pretend he is someone else on the internet. Celebrities have even hired flacks to feed content into their Twitter streams, their blogs, and the various other online channels of faux authenticity. Just imagine what could have happened if this fake Minister of Finance tweeted about a certain Dutch bank that about to collapse due to the crisis? And people started to believe this! Could this fake Minister be responsible for another crash in the financial system?
In the last years we have seen many new communication channels. People and companies are using MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Qik, Digg, Del.icio.us, Gmail and so on to communicate with each other. And this is not even a complete list. Just think for example of all the virtual worlds out there. Almost every day a new communication channel is launched. How can you keep up with the pace of the Internet? And how can you keep up with all your virtual identities, assuming that they are all yours.
I don’t have the answers to the questions above. I do think however companies should be aware of the problems that could pop up due to the fact that people can discredit their brand by using fake identities. In these modern times Corporate Communications must have a policy for monitoring and controlling virtual identities! As we have discussed in the book Me the Media (download the book for free or buy the hardcopy version on Amazon) everybody becomes a broadcaster and receiver at the same time. Empowered by the Internet. So mark my words, this story will continue…
Note: On the end of March the fake Wouter Bos Twitter account was given to the Communications Department of the Ministry of Finance. The real Wouter Bos has since then posted one tweet.