If you thought a certain Parks and Rec actor was contacting you on Facebook, you may want to think again. Chris Pratt warned everybody about online predators in an Instagram published on Friday morning. Using his warm humor to begin the post, Pratt wrote, "PERVY DUDE ALERT!!! (not a joke)" and continued to explain how an individual is pretending to be him on Facebook and potentially other places. Pratt claimed that the fake profile is "apparently hitting on a lot of different female fans, trying to get their numbers and who knows what else." His post serves as a powerful reminder of how important it is to be attentive online, but also just how easy it may be for someone to believably imitate a famous figure on social media for nefarious reasons.
The "imposter," as Pratt calls them, is clearly not all too familiar with his acting career otherwise he'd know better than to mess with Burt Macklin, aka his Parks and Recreation alter-ego. Because while addressing the "reprehensible" behavior, Pratt vowed, "If I find out who it is I’ll have their account shut down and seriously would like to punch them right in the GD mouth." Later in the post, Pratt said this behavior "terrifies" him, but added, "If it’s you doing it, I’m warning you. Stop right now or you will be very unhappy with the outcome." Most importantly, however, Pratt used the post to highlight the importance of educating your loved ones about ways to be safe too.
"Look for the BLUE 'VERIFIED' CHECKMARK next to the name. If there is no checkmark by my name that person is an imposter. Tell your siblings. Educate our young ones. It’s probably mostly kids who would fall for this."
And it's a crucial lesson. Not just for our own well-being, but for that of our friends and family, and particularly the younger generation who may be more vulnerable to such deceptions.
Unfortunately this behavior is worryingly common across social media, and on first glance, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish a fake profile from a real one. This fake Twitter account for Ed Sheeran, for instance, is a prime example of one that initially appears to be somewhat legit. In addition to boasting an impressive 21.3K followers, it also features the handle @EdSheeran, bolstering its sense of reliability. However, the account doesn't feature the verified blue checkmark, and it also features tweets primarily obsessed with One Direction. In short, a little research can go a long way.
While some celebrity impersonators are innocuous enough and exist primarily as parody or fan accounts, others come with insidious agendas that can become criminal acts. In the past five years, there have been several cases of men impersonating Justin Bieber online in order to groom young people. In 2012, a 34-year-old man was charged with posing as Bieber and allegedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl online while using the fake account. According to CBS News, authorities believed the individual was in contact online with "many juvenile females" worldwide. Just a year later, a 35-year-old British man was jailed for 14 years after he was caught allegedly sexually abusing children online while pretending to be Bieber; he pled guilty.
Meanwhile, Techwalla offers a comprehensive checklist of points that individuals can use in order to know if a celebrity account is real or not. They recommend checking out the About section of the profile to see if it has detailed information such as work titles, professional and academic accomplishments, or personal messages to fans. They also advise checking the overall content, since repeated spelling and grammar errors could be a sign that the profile is fraudulent.
While we'd all love to believe that our favorite celebrities want to slide into our DMs and say something nice, in all likelihood that's never going to be the case. As Pratt's post reminds us, we should always try to be smart about our online habits, and educate our loved ones to do the same. That includes blocking and reporting any accounts that seem fake, abusive, or potentially dangerous. Stay safe out there, ladies and gentlemen, because unfortunately, Burt Macklin won't always be there to have your back.