After the birth of the Saint Kardashian-West, someone created an Instagram account using the name. The article is clearly not managed by the infant- no one seems to know who is behind the account yet- but the account already has 104k followers in spite of this. The account shares funny memes rather than actual pictures, so it’s clearly meant in good fun and not malicious intent.

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Parody/fake social media accounts are a cheap source of entertainment, but when does it cross the line from harmless to harmful?

Exhibit A: an account created/managed on someone else’s behalf as a way to embarrass or humiliate them. High school students in Oregon created several fake social media accounts in their principal’s name, sharing offensive content in his name. The case was dismissed in court (which you can read more about here). Unlike the fake Saint Kardashian West Instagram, it wasn’t clear that these accounts were fake. And, while the students were having fun at their principal’s expense, they arguably knew the content they were sharing could jeopardize his career.

Exhibit B: An account that claims to be something else in order to promote a hidden agenda (or as I like to think of them, wolf in sheep’s clothing accounts). One popular version of this harmful parody account is David Avocado Wolfe. As this article points out, he performs a “bait and switch” maneuver to lure followers in, and begins subtly sharing misleading or blatantly untrue content. David Wolfe has created a social media scheme wherein he shares funny and relatable content, only to eventually reveal his true agenda (which is, apparently, anti-modern medicine and pro-taking people’s money). The article goes on to say “…we should all feel the responsibility to speak up and challenge people like David…otherwise we are tacitly approving of his methods.”

This article explains the link between social media and the spread of misinformation (in relation to the Food Babe): “The many messengers to the single audience entails repetition, from many angles and a different (peer to peer) trust relationship. A message is received (ie, successfully communicated) when I buy into it) the virtues of ownership, empowerment) and then become a messenger retweeting or sharing the message to the next target.” There’s an alarming amount of these wolf in sheep’s clothing pages out there, claiming to liberate the public from false information while generating fear. Basically, they’re really sneaky conspiracy theorists who, in some cases, want to take your money.

There’s nothing wrong with questioning information we’re presented, but it isn’t necessarily a “good guy vs. bad guy” situation- there’s a lot of gray area. Educating yourself rather than accepting stories that go by in your newsfeed at face-value is the best policy when it comes to social media. If something seems like it’s fake or extreme, here are some ways to gauge if you’re dealing with false information:

  1. Weird Name. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, and if something has a fishy Facebook name or Instagram handle, it probably smells a bit fishy. We all know Saint Kardashian West is an infant, he doesn’t even know how to eat solid food yet, so chances of him managing a Facebook account are pretty slim. David Avocado Wolfe: I mean, avocados are great and all, but to me, having it as your middle name is questionable.
  2. Content Clues. Although Saint isn’t managing his account, it could just be his parents managing for him, right? Well, if you take a look at the content you notice that there are no real photographs (which we’ve come to expect with the Kardashians), it’s an account full of memes. Hilarious, but probably not from any of the Kardashians. As previously mentioned, David Avocado also shares fun, relate-able memes…which are then sprinkled with more opinionated content. wolfe_funny_examplewolfe_nonfunny_examplePages that start sharing content like this, even if it seems true, is almost never a good sign.
  3. Is it verified? Twitter and Instagram have the little blue circle next to celebrity and brand accounts to mark them as “verified”- meaning they are the real deal. This at least helps you know that you’re following the account that’s linked to a popular personality, but it still doesn’t guarantee that the information therein is true.
  4. Strong medical or other advice that isn’t really backed by anything. If an account is pushing an extreme opinion about something (medical, political, etc.), chances are they aren’t as unbiased as they’re claiming. Accounts like  March Against Monsanto and David Avocado all have their own agendas, even if they’re pointing the fingers at someone else.  One example of this is Freelee the Banana Girl, who promotes veganism and a raw food diet as a way to lose weight and get healthy.  Sure, you may be thinking, that’s great. But if you look closely at some of the comments on her posts, you’ll find she responds with some strong statements about the moral obligations of eating vegan (including a statement about cancer being “karma” for eating processed foods) and an alarming amount of negativity (yes, trolls suck, but it doesn’t mean we need to resort to name-calling).
  5. Selling something or asking for your money. This is probably the biggest clue that an account isn’t all that it seems. If a page is posting strong or extreme opinions, especially those spreading fear, and then hits you with a product or service to conveniently solve this problem, it’s probably a scam. Or it should at least raise a red flag.

It’s always good to be healthy and well-informed. Keep in mind that, especially when it comes to the internet, things are not always what they seem.