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A Rose By Any Other Name

On the internet you are often known by a name and/or an icon. Normally, even if someone is functioning under a banner not their own, you expect people to choose a unique name and build up the reputation from scratch.

That’s not true for everyone though. Some people choose names of real people who carry weight or follow George Orwell’s recommendation and choose words that create positive and impressive images to create a name borrowing on someone else’s weight. This is the same as the way people use quote magnets to make quotations sound more impressive.

A round about example was Betty White. A Twitter account started in her name and she didn’t know anything about it. Valerie Bertinelli tweeted out that it wasn’t an official account and that people shouldn’t follow it. Turns out that some of White’s publicity staff had started it in her name and just not bothered to tell her. Or was that just a joke Betty played on Valerie? Either way it just shows you often don’t know who you are really talking to online. (Her Twitter feed is still up, but rarely used.)

Frankly Anne Frank

During the 2016 election and afterward there was suddenly a new strident voice on Twitter calling out political missteps and mistakes by Republicans and leading many charges of Twitter users against them. How did this group gain such authority? Why they used Anne Frank’s name of course! They certainly showed up in my Twitter feed and I found it odd that the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam would have such active and loud opinions on American politics. I was right, it would have been odd, but in THIS case that’s not what was happening. It was another organization using Anne Frank’s name. So explains this Atlantic article from April 2017:

“The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, known until about a year ago as the Anne Frank Center USA, is a small organization of about nine staffers. It is independent from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which memorializes Anne’s hiding place, and is not connected at all to the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss organization that owns the rights to Anne’s diary. Before Goldstein officially became executive director in June 2016, the center was an obscure educational organization with a tiny storefront museum in New York City that few visited. And though the organization claims it was founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, in 1959, the organization’s own historical documentation and people who were part of its founding say it was actually started in 1977, and Otto Frank had no direct involvement.”

(Since the story was originally published, they dug up some paperwork that indicated Otto Frank – Anne’s father – may actually have had knowledge of the organization setting up, but people who worked with Otto Frank near the end of his life and the people who actually did the organizing in the late 1970s and the people who ran the organization prior to 2016 do not remember any such connection. See the article for more information on both sides of the issue.)

The article goes on to explain that until 2016 the organization really hadn’t been political at all. However, in 2016 the organization got a new board chair, a new executive director, AND a new combative social media system policy. It became the outspoken voice and began acting as a self-proclaimed “authority on anti-Semitism and American politics.”

And It Worked

And trading on Anne Frank’s name – and who doesn’t know and respect who Anne Frank was – they established a voice for their organization. They established it more quickly and solidly than they could in any other way simply by using someone else’s name.

And So It Goes

To finish the story Goldstein abruptly stepped down to become a rabbi in Fall 2017. Anne Frank Center still has a Twitter feed, but has returned to its previous focus on Anne Frank, Jewish History, and positive steps you can take to make the world a better place.

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Stop and Think and Dig

So the next time you see someone online saying things that don’t feel right, don’t just assume it’s a heretofore unknown part of their personality, look into who it is that is actually doing the talking.

Sarah Uthoff is a reference library at Kirkwood Community College. LIKE the Kirkwood Community College Library on Facebook and find links to Sarah all over the web at her About Me Profile.