Last week I started receiving Facebook messages from people wondering why they were getting a friend request from me when I was already their friend. It turned out; I was the victim of what has become a very common thing on Facebook and in social media: Somebody was impersonating me without my knowledge or permission.
Someone had lifted an online picture of me, and some other public photo’s of mine, and put together a Facebook page, using information about me available online. That person then opened a Facebook account pretending to be me. The only thing the phony got wrong was my gender. For some reason he/she listed me as a woman! This last mistake was a red flag to people who actually knew me.
Why do this? Why pretend to be someone else online? There are several reasons someone might want to impersonate you in social media. If someone is tricked into accepting an imposter as a “friend,” then that phony friend has access to information posted for friends only. It’s a way of data-mining, as the practice has come to be called. It also gives the imposter fake credibility, since he/she can make comments or give advice pretending to be you, thus tricking people into taking the imposter seriously. More disturbingly, it can be a way of smearing someone’s character, since a person impersonating you can post things supposedly from you that make you look bad.
I reported it to Facebook several times, and when some of my friends started reporting it, the fake account was closed down. A big “thank you” to my friends who reported the imposter! So if you have a friend being impersonated, report it right away.
You may think this is a new problem, but it goes back to Jesus’ day. There are many books claiming to be written by Paul, Peter, Andrew, Judas, Mary, and a whole host of early followers of Jesus. These books were almost certainly written by people pretending to be them. If you’re interested in reading these books check out one of the online collections of “Pseudepigrapha” – the fancy name used by scholars for the library of ancient books written by imposters.
.Jesus himself warns against those who would impersonate him!
Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray (Mark 13:5-6 NRSV).
Not everyone speaking for Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or the Apostles, is really speaking for them. And to spot the imposters, there are some simple things to look for.
Jesus is all about love (of even enemies), forgiveness, healing, and grace. Anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking with the mind of Christ. And since Jesus is a reflection of God, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking on behalf of God. And since the Holy Spirit is the power of Jesus and God at work in the world, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities isn’t speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit. And since the Apostles were filled with and moved by the Holy Spirit, anyone who doesn’t speak with these qualities probably isn’t speaking on behalf of the Apostles.
When it comes to me, and other friends of yours, don’t be fooled by an imposter. And when it comes to Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or any aspect of your faith, it pays to be extra careful.
In God’s Peace;
The Real David