On October 20, the Atlantic published a profile on Mitt Romney, in which the Utah Senator admitted to having a secret Twitter account. Slate’s Ashley Feinberg, who had previously unmasked James Comey’s anonymous Twitter, quickly went to work and identified Romney as tweeter Pierre Delecto.
Far be it from me to make Feinberg’s sleuthing more difficult, but the two had some commonalities that helped her track down their accounts. If you’re in the public eye but want to keep some social media private, here are some tips to keep it secret.
Don’t follow your relatives
This was Romney’s biggest mistake. It was by investigating his granddaughter’s nearly 500 followers that Feinberg was able to find Pierre Delecto, and from there, the evidence only piled up. “The Pierre Delecto account’s very first follow was eldest Romney scion Tagg,” according to Feinberg. She traced James Comey through similar means. Trail of breadcrumbs, thy name is the family follow.
Do follow a mix of people
Delecto did follow a number of late night hosts (no Stephen Colbert, though) but mostly stuck to politicians, pundits, and reporters. But this is your secret identity! Maybe take the opportunity to learn about a new field. Cheese Twitter, historian Twitter, teacher Twitter, branch out and learn something new. Also, part of why Feinberg was able to discover Comey’s identity is he followed the College of William & Mary, his alma mater. Maybe if he’d followed a few more colleges, it would’ve muddied the water a bit.
Don’t just tweet about yourself
As Pierre, Romney only tweeted 10 times, all replies. They weren’t all about himself, but most of them were. If your alter-ego is obsessed with your real identity, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be caught. Maybe also tweet about basketball or your thoughts on the Cats trailer.
Pick a good pic
Not going to lie, leaving Twitter’s default silhouette isn’t a bad choice. It makes you blend in among all the other random accounts. But if you do want to showcase a little personality, choose something that can’t be easily associated with you. Do you love Succession? Make your icon Buster Bluth from Arrested Development — it’s tangentially related to your tastes, but not exactly the same thing you talk about incessantly in the real world.
Don’t send photos of yourself
This was one of Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger’s many mistakes, but the fact that he did so to underage girls makes his behavior vile and criminal.
Make up a (good) random name
There’s a Mary Higgins Clark book where the main character has to go into hiding but can’t resist playing squash when she settles into her new identity. Again, sticking to old habits will be your downfall. James Comey’s secret Twitter alias was Reinhold Niebuhr, a theologian whom the former CIA director had written his thesis about. Come(y) on! That’s way too obvious in the age of Google. On the flipside, Pierre Delecto isn’t obviously Romney, but it’s not a cool nickname, either. If you can’t think of anything on your own, use a random name generator.
I can’t promise you won’t be caught, so if you are, you want to make sure you’re not being a total jerk, even when you think no one is watching. Dance upon the keys like your tweets will one day be chronicled, one by one, in the Washington Post.
Make sure you switch accounts
This is a lesson from many a social media specialist, whose worst fear is accidentally tweeting something from a brand account when they meant to do it from their personal account. Check twice, tweet once.
Just use lists?
If you’re just going to lurk and not tweet, you can create a private Twitter list of people you want don’t want to publicly follow. Maybe you want to keep tabs on a nemesis. You don’t need a whole new account; just add them to a secret, hate-follow list.
Keep it secret
Pierre had only eight followers, and as Feinberg notes, they don’t seem to be the random assortment a seldom-tweeter might garner. Instead, one follower also followed other Romney family members. This is your secret account. You don’t need to beg your friends and loved ones to follow you.
Make it private
If you don’t want to be found, then you can make it more difficult (though not impossible) to keep your secret identity hidden by making your account private.
Maybe get a journal instead?
Famous people have feelings, too. If you think your response to Soledad O’Brien is too petty to be said publicly, maybe just write it down offline.
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