|Child Actor Victim of Twitter Hoax|
|By RUSSELL GOLDMAN (@GoldmanRussell)||Oct 25, 2012, 5:49 PM|
When Collin MacKechnie, a 15-year-old child actor who has starred in movies and appeared on TV, created a Twitter account in March, fans began following his posts about everything from getting his braces removed to landing a part in "The Hunger Games" sequel.
Young fans who had seen him in the CW series "Supernatural" or starring with "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Norm McDonald in the kids' movie "Vampire Dog," found him on Twitter and sent messages.
"Collin" quickly replied, peppering his comments with details seemingly only he could know -- yes it was true, a stand-in actually played the drums in that one scene.
He would frequently post photos of himself, sharing publicity shots with his 100 followers, but also more intimate photos friends and family members had taken and first posted on their own Facebook pages.
Over time, however, some of the tweets became darker and, at times, more suggestive, telling young female fans he would be willing to meet up with them and then surprisingly outing himself as gay.
While much of what the tweeter said was true, plenty more was fake. Collin really is 15. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is a working child actor. But until this week he had never visited Twitter, let alone set up the @ColinMcKechnie account. And he is not gay.
"I also still have my braces on and I'm not in 'The Hunger Games,'" the real Colin MacKechnie told ABC News.
"It's creepy to think there's enough out there about me that someone could make this all up," he said. "They could search out my name and open and click on pictures from my friends' Facebooks and take everything."
Collin was the victim of a hoax in which an imposter assumed his identity for eight months, an online scheme experts said occurs with surprising frequency.
"We see these sorts of impersonations all the time," said Parry Aftab, founder of WiredSafety, an organization that aims to protect children online.
Collin is also, law enforcement authorities said, potentially the victim of several real crimes.
"Following any complaint that we get, our officers start an investigation," said Constable Brian Montague of the Vancouver police. "We don't have cyber-bullying specific laws in Canada, but we do have laws about threatening, stalking and harassment, as well as identity theft laws."
The "Collin" tweeter might also be the unwitting front for something more nefarious, a predator using the identity of a child to make contact with other children.
"Often in these investigations, there is a situation where a predator is involved," said Staff Sgt. Mark Sorokan of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "That person may have had no previous relationship with the victim. In a bullying situation, the perpetrator tends to know the victim."
More common than pedophiles impersonating children are kids impersonating other kids in a rapidly growing subset of cyber-bullying called "bullying by proxy."
"We'll sometimes see sexual predators pretending to be kids in an effort to groom children for sexual exploitation, but more often we see kids impersonating other kids," Aftab said.
In a WiredSafety study conducted among 44,000 middle school students in the U.S. and Canada, 85 percent of students reported some kind of cyber bullying. Aftab estimated that as many as half of those students were bullied anonymously or through proxy.
"These impersonations are almost always kids impersonating other kids," she said. "I see 200 cases a day of kids pretending to be the bullying victim and making allegations about their promiscuity, for girls, or homosexuality, for boys."
Imposters have been involved in a series of serious cyber bullying cases, including the 2006 suicide of Megan Meyer, a Missouri girl who hung herself after being bullied by a teen boy online. In reality, that boy was the middle-aged mother of a girl with whom Megan went to school.
When Collin's parents learned about the fake Twitter feed, they contacted local police, his school, the user behind the @CollinMcKechnie account and the fans following him.
Once exposed, the imposter quickly came clean.
"I feel wickedly guilty (and wickedly proud) and for what its worth, i'm sorry. All this coming from a big fan of Collin myself," he tweeted.
"I know you all gonna hate me for this, but you have to admit I was one one of the top 10 twitter impersonators of all time," tweeted @ColinMcKechnie. "I urge you to go out and impersonate an upcomer [sic]. What an experience its been."
When contacted by ABC News, the impersonator responded via Twitter: "I'm gonna deactivate as soon as I get my hands on a pc. Soon I promise. I dont knw hw to find the deactivate option on my cell phone lol."
He did not answer any questions about his identity. He later changed the name on the account from Collin MacKechnie to the Collin MacKe Fan Club.
Twitter would not comment on the details of Collin's case. However, company spokesman Jim Prosser told ABC News that Twitter has a policy that bans impersonators, excluding celebrity parody accounts.
He said the company investigates all complaints and deactivates those found to be fake.
As of Thursday evening, the @CollinMcKechnie account was still active.