Lessons from the front: Stolen identity, media and networks

A student of mine is having the media experience of a lifetime, learning about the compelling draw of a great story, the power of networks and the various degrees of news judgment.

Kristin Shotwell, a junior at UNC-Chapel in the PR concentration, discovered that someone pulled some of her Facebook photos and is masquerading as her — although using the name Kim — on Tinder, which is a dating site. Let Kristin tell the story. Take the moment to read the first and updated versions.

Kristin is a student in my current issues in mass communication class. (I’ve been fortunate to have her in three of my classes. She is an outstanding student.) The day her friends told her about discovering her photo on Tinder, she told me about it. We talked about turning it into her final project for my class. How she could try to track this Kim down. How she could turn her quest into a strong piece about privacy and identity theft on social media, weaving in her story.

She and her friends tried to track Kim on their own, using a variety of search techniques, but they got nowhere. Then Kristin wrote the first blog post and a few of us tweeted it and shared it on Facebook. In class we have talked repeatedly about the power of network connections and how stories go viral. Here we had a real life example, and the combination of a compelling story and a network of social media savvy students makes it almost unstoppable. And it didn’t take long to take off.

That was the first lesson.

On Sunday, we decided to “alert the media.” The campus paper, the Daily Tar Heel, was ahead of us. One of its editors had seen Kristin’s initial post. A reporter interviewed Kristin, me and others Monday. Its story was published today.

WGHP-TV, the Fox affiliate, posted a story on its website Monday. But they must have a lot of trust in UNC students, because, best I can tell, they simply wrote the story off of her blog post with no attempt to verify the story. The Daily Dot asked Kristin for an interview, but by the time Kristin got back to the reporter — she is a student with classes, after all — the reporter had already written and posted a story. Based on the h/t at the end of the story, it was tipped by WGHP.

That news outlets would write straight off her blog was the second lesson.

She talked with a reporter at NBC today.

I messaged friends in the newsrooms of WRAL-TV and the News & Observer on Sunday and Monday, but they haven’t expressed any interest. That surprised me, but I certainly know that news judgment varies by the person and the day. (Update: WRAL interviewed her on Wednesday.)

That lack of interest in what most thought was a good story was the third lesson.

(She talked with a reporter at NBC today.)

As of yesterday, Kristin’s FB post had been shared nearly 100 times. It resonated in Augusta Athens — we originally thought Kim was there. (The campus paper, the Red and Black, is interviewing Kristin today.) But she also heard that people at Stanford were also talking about it. Almost as soon as she posted the Tinder exchange in her second post revealing that Kim goes to UAB, she heard from someone in Birmingham offering assistance.

That’s the first lesson again: Virtual networks work for you.

The comments on her Facebook page, her blog, the WGHP site and others have been supportive, informative and critical. (Father that I am, I warned her to be careful with commenters and emailers — creeps can be found all over the place. She was way ahead of me there.)

That the Internet builds up and eats its own is the fourth lesson.

There likely will be other lessons we learn and talk about. One student just messaged me asking if she could do her final project on Kristin’s experience because it was so real and close. (We’ll see.)

Follow Kristin for more details.

6 thoughts on “Lessons from the front: Stolen identity, media and networks

  1. So I read the comments on the Fox 8 FB post despite my rule to never read comments … and I quickly remembered why I have a rule about never reading comments. Good luck to Kristin in her search for her profile picture thief.
    P.S. If there’s a typo in this comment, it might be because I didn’t re-read my own comment because, as I mentioned, I don’t read comments.

    • I have the same rule, John, and it’s a good one. I did it merely for journalism’s sake.

      And I didn’t reread my own post so, you know, it there’s typo…

  2. Augusta isn’t all that close to Athens — what’s the connection to the Red and Black?

  3. Pingback: Final lessons from the Tinder photo theft | Media, disrupted

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