Meet Cheryl Montgomery.
Her Twitter profile shows her as hailing from Marlton, N.J., and she tweets a great deal about U.S. politics.
Her profile picture looks a lot like Catherine Simpson, a Vancouver-based public relations professional.
That’s because Cheryl Montgomery is a Twitter bot created by someone who stole Simpson’s photo from an online news article and used it as a profile photo.
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Simpson discovered the bot after she was contacted by Francis Carr, an investigative journalist with Columbia University, who is looking into the Twitter bot trend.
“I said, ‘No way,'” Simpson said. “I’m typing it in and there’s my picture.”
Carr told Global News he is investigating “the use of automated social media accounts in spreading political messages in the U.S.”
He said it’s remarkably easy to create a Twitter bot.
“You can go online and Google how to make a bot and have one online in two hours,” Carr said.
This particular bot seems to be in favour of former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and opposed to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The tweets from Cheryl Montgomery were relatively tame, but social media expert Jesse Miller said bots with more radical messaging can cause problems for the real people used in Twitter profile photos.
“People have believed the individual was the one behind the keyboard and they’ve actively looked to find the person and unfortunately that internet vigilante justice piece kind of rears its ugly head,” he said.
Simpson noted that if the bot “was retweeting on Canadian politics or local politics I would’ve been much more concerned.”
She said she has contacted Twitter in the hopes of having the account suspended.
Twitter said it recently suspended 1,062 automated accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian “troll farm” that systematically disseminated content designed to influence public opinion during the U.S. presidential election.
A recent New York Times report exposed how some public figures have paid for bots to follow them on social media.
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But it seems that shutting down a Twitter bot is considerably more difficult than creating one.
“I sent them my driver’s licence,” Simpson said. “I’ve sent them all sorts of information but I’m not really having any luck with them.”
Experts say it’s important to flag such bots to Twitter, even if the process is frustrating. It’s also important to be selective about who can see your pictures online.
If not, your favourite shot might be the new face for a Twitter bot.
- With files from Rahul Kalvapalle