Username Squatting and Online Impersonation: How to Stop and Avoid
Impersonation and username squatting have increasingly become a common problem for companies today. As companies strive to maintain an online presence, they often become vulnerable to unwanted online behavior like impersonation and username squatting. Impersonation generally refers to the improper use of a username on social media platforms with the intent to mislead others into believing that the account belongs to another (e.g., user registers an account under a celebrity name and proceeds to post updates as if they were that celebrity). In contrast, username squatting typically involves the preemptive registration of a specific username or account, with no genuine intention to use that account, followed by attempts to sell the username back to the affected/named party at an inflated price. Another strategy is to divert online traffic that otherwise would have gone to the victim of username squatting.
Because there are no uniform legal statutes that address this issue, social media platforms are free to respond to these problems however they want. As such, navigating these obstacles can often be confusing and time-consuming for companies that need to retrieve specific accounts or usernames in a timely manner. Most major social media platforms provide take-down mechanisms and related processes. However, some social media platforms allow for parody accounts, which make it difficult to take down or retrieve certain kinds of these accounts.
If success cannot be achieved directly with the social media platform, a victim may need to consider hiring an attorney to pursue a trademark infringement, unfair competition, online defamation, or related claim against the impersonator. One of the quickest paths to getting resolution is hiring an attorney familiar with the in-house attorneys at the social media platform. Often, a phone call or email can resolve basic issues quickly without need for litigation. For more complex username squatting and impersonation issues, a lawsuit may need to be filed. Texas is one of the few states that allows for pre-suit depositions. So rather than filing an expensive lawsuit, a victim can file a proceeding to take the deposition of the suspected impersonator/username squatter. Often, the threat of that proceeding or a lawsuit is enough to gain quick assistance from the social media platform.
One of the best defenses to impersonation and username squatting is to proactively register social media usernames preventing the impersonation or squatting in the first place. Additionally, internet attorneys can help protect brands by implementing procedures to deter unwanted third-party behavior or through litigation as necessary.