It can happen to anyone with a Google alert: You’re minding your own business when you’re informed someone with the same name is polluting your search results with tales of misconduct, or perhaps–even more maddening–evidence of their apparent successes. (“No,” you tell your parents for the third time. “I did not secretly score a book deal.”)
Of course, when your name doppelganger is an ex-Houston police officer who was convicted of raping a waitress, things get a little more complicated.
A Texas TV station called KHOU wrote an article about Abraham Joseph, a former Houston cop who was sentenced to life in prison for raping a waitress in the back of his squad car. Like most news stations these days, KHOU embedded a Twitter widget on the page that aggregates all mentions of #abrahamjoseph on Twitter. The problem with this decision is that in addition to pulling in all hashtag mentions of “Abraham Joseph” (not that many), it also culled the tweets of a New York journalist and producer named Abraham Riesman, whose Twitter handle just happens to be @AbrahamJoseph. The result is that, by just looking at the KHOU page, it kind of seems like Mr. Riesman is the same “Abraham Joseph” as the convicted cop.
“So yeah, a Texas TV station put up my Twitter feed next to an article about a convicted rapist named Abraham Joseph. This’ll be a fun day!” wrote Mr. Riesman on his Tumblr.
Mr. Riesman attempted to appeal to KHOU by tweeting at them, a plea which was retweeted by NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin. Betabeat decided to hop on the phone with Mr. Riesman to suss out his side of the story. At the time, the Twitter widget was still pulling in all of his tweets.
“This is a classic example of old media folks desperately trying to understand new media and basically falling on their faces,” Mr. Riesman, who previously worked for two years at NY1, told Betabeat by phone. “Basic logic dictates that there is no way this is [the real Abraham Joseph's] Twitter feed. For one: look at my avatar. It’s a really white, red-headed gentleman with glasses and the fact that this is a TV station would convey they have some visual sense of what this convicted rapist would look like. Also, how would I be tweeting? And perhaps even more importantly: why would I be tweeting at midnight about Homeland?”
Mr. Riesman said he had tried calling, emailing and tweeting at KHOU, but had not heard back from them. As he was explaining this by phone, Betabeat refreshed the KHOU article and–poof!–the feed was magically gone. Mr. Riesman pulled up the article on his phone and confirmed that he could no longer see the widget.
“My long national nightmare is over,” he quipped.
Perhaps the true irony of this debacle lies in Mr. Riesman’s own desire to increase his Twitter following. Just last night he tweeted, “Guys what I gotta do to get to 900 followers.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Mr. Riesman advised. He has since reached 901 followers.