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 Celebrity Posers on MySpace.com (Article)

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PostSubject: Celebrity Posers on MySpace.com (Article)   Fri Nov 21, 2008 2:28 am

Potemkin Visages: Spotting Fake Celebs On MySpace.com
Web Sleuths Verify Profiles So Teens Aren't Taken In; A Sham Pamela Anderson

MySpace.com, the social-networking sensation on the Web, is home to the profiles of more than 100 million members, most of them teenagers. It also is home to at least 12 Paris Hiltons, 16 David Spades and about two dozen Eva Longorias.

The proliferation of celebrity posers frustrates the many MySpace members who use the site to follow news about — and send fan mail to — pop icons and other prominent personalities who join for cheap publicity.

When poet Bryant McGill, 36 years old, encountered a MySpace fake, he felt compelled to do something about it. He had sent a message to what he thought was the MySpace profile page of a well-known author, only to receive a brief reply riddled with errors.

"It was just not the person," says Mr. McGill, author of "The McGill English Dictionary of Rhyme." "Imagine if I was some kid pouring out some sentimental and heartfelt letter, and the reader responds and, God forbid, says something negative. That certainly crosses a line."

So Mr. McGill and Jim Karol — a comedian and self-described "mentalist," or mind reader — set up a group Web site on MySpace called 100% Verified Celebs and MySpace Personalities, which authenticates MySpace celebrity profiles, free of charge. So far, 167 people of varying degrees of fame have had the imprimatur bestowed on their pages. These range from actor Gary Busey to lesser lights like Cher — not the singer/actress but the winner of the TV reality show "Beauty and the Geek, Season Two." Tentatively approved: a Val Kilmer profile.

MySpace, a unit of News Corp., has become an essential part of many teenagers' social life, an online hangout where members can check out one another's profiles, share photos and messages, and show off their tally of "friends" — a MySpace status symbol.

To gain a friend, a member must ping another member through his or her profile page and then be accepted by that person as a friend. Adding a celebrity friend has even more cachet — which makes the fake MySpace pages so alluring.

MySpace regular Morgan Kapassakis, a 17-year-old in New York City, came across Pamela Anderson's profile page and decided to fire off a note to the actress, telling her that she thought she was "hot." Ms. Kapassakis realized she had been taken in when she received a terse reply containing an unsavory comment about her own physique. "I would have felt better if I hadn't gotten a response," Ms. Kapassakis says. "Then at least I might think she was real." (Ms. Anderson's spokeswoman says that the star doesn't have a MySpace page.)

Although MySpace rules prohibit impostors, there's no verification process. To set up an account, users provide an email address, name, password, gender and birthday — all of which can be fudged. As long as the email address, real or fake, hasn't been used before, a page can be created.

Nick Thomas, 24, of Fort Collins, Colo., created a fake Woody Allen profile a few months ago to impress a woman he had a crush on. Not knowing much about the comedian, he did his due diligence on fan Web sites — and other fake Woody Allen MySpace pages. He lifted a black-and-white headshot of the actor from Google. On the profile page, he described his fake "Woody" as having "a passion for complaining" and looking to meet "anyone with some nice poisonallity. Maybe a nice Jewish girl."

"It's amazing how many messages you get asking if you are the real deal," says Mr. Thomas, who checks up on his fake Woody a few times a week and has racked up 21 "friends" on the site.

A MySpace spokeswoman says the number of requests to investigate celebrity impostors is "relatively small," though its staff monitors for copyright infringement and other abuses. She declined to comment on specific efforts to ferret out the fakes.

Mr. McGill and his informal group of researchers pore over profile pages at the request of people who've posted the profiles and seek validation. Applicants for the seal of approval are pelted with questions about the celebrity's work — like who starred alongside him or her in a first film — detailed in professional movie databases. Mr. McGill also checks whether pictures on a profile can be found easily through a Google image search; if so, he assumes the profile is a fake compiled from material widely available online.

Once approved, the verified personalities are listed on a group page at the MySpace site groups.myspace.com/verifiedcelebs, and their profile pages can carry the group's logo.

Mr. McGill's team recently verified the page of former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Jim Breuer (Mr. Karol had stayed in touch with the comedian after being a guest on his radio show). A "Joan Rivers" and a "Robert De Niro" failed the test. "Joan" came clean after Mr. McGill continued to press her with questions about whether the site was authentic (the account has since been deleted). "De Niro" failed when he ignored Mr. McGill's request that he put a link to his MySpace account on the real Mr. De Niro's official home page — another of Mr. McGill's verification methods.

"I am getting obsessed with figuring out who is real and who is fake," says Mr. Karol, 53. "The face of MySpace is changing because we are spreading the word."

An effort to verify Mr. Kilmer's profile page — or at least one of them, for there are several — is "ongoing," Mr. McGill says, even though a mutual acquaintance vouched for its authenticity. The actor's "interests and hobbies seemed credible, though his photos seemed weak," Mr. McGill says. Mr. Kilmer's publicist couldn't be reached for comment.

Certain profiles of New York Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson and first baseman Jason Giambi passed muster with Mr. McGill when a friend of his told him she could vouch for their authenticity. The fact that there were similar-looking profiles for other Yankees helped, too, Mr. McGill says.

But those profiles weren't the only ones for those other Yankees. A Yankee spokesman said this set of profiles wasn't endorsed by the team, and he couldn't verify whether they were created by the players themselves — or by somebody else.

Comments on some of these other Yankee pages suggest the latter: Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez's purported page says, "I dont mean to brag or anything but I like to think of myself as the best player in the game." The page for Johnny Damon, formerly of the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox, says he is relieved to now be on a team "that has the pride of winners."

Mr. McGill concedes that fakes may sometimes slip through. At the same time, some members of the group probably need not worry about impostors. Scott Flansburg, whom Guinness Book of World Records honors as the "fastest human calculator"; Pasi Schalin, a former ice-hockey player turned Los Angeles-based personal trainer to the stars; and Las Vegas magician the Amazing Jonathan have all joined the group.

"We try to follow a loose standard" in deciding who is a celebrity, says Mr. McGill. He defines "well-known people" as those with at least 5,000 fans. "You never know who is someone's hero," he says.

Cher — of the WB network's "Beauty and the Geek" fame — sought admission to stem an irritating flood of daily messages from fans asking her whether she was in fact the reality-TV star. Cheryl Tenbush — her real name — sent Mr. McGill a MySpace message, and he followed up with a phone call. "He had never heard about the show and was very nice about it," says the 24-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles. "I was very convincing." Now, she says, "I typically get messages asking me out on dates."

Vocalist Susaye Greene, a former member of the Supremes, was accepted after stumbling across dozens of bogus Supremes profiles. "There are [imitators] who look nothing like you and who don't know anything about the Supremes," says the 57-year-old singer. "It is kind of heartbreaking."

Some celebrities say they aren't bothered by the fake pages. Talk-show host Carson Daly is a popular spoofing target. Fakes abound commenting on everything from his physique ("6'1"/slim/slender") to his personality ("I like to be on TV a lot ha ha"). But the host doesn't mind. "Fan sites help promote the show virally," says Mr. Daly, whose official MySpace profile has attracted more than 29,000 "friends." "It certainly behooves us to embrace them."

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