Who owns you?

Or more accurately, “Who owns your name?”

Take a brief walk with me into one of the stranger corners of the Internet. Don’t worry, your identity is safe. Just keep your hand on your credit cards and don’t click any popups.

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes listen to political talk radio. (Lately I don’t find it as entertaining, but that’s an unrelated issue.) One of the major Boston talk stations used to have an interesting personality in the afternoon drive slot. For the sake of our story let’s call him Birch Barlow. Mr. Barlow was paid to annoy you to the point you would call in and argue with him. He did his job well for over 10 years. Occasionally he would go too far and get himself suspended.

Last spring Mr. Barlow disappeared from the airwaves without warning or comment. I never knew if his ratings had tanked or if he’d finally made an unforgivable blunder.

The other day the question, “I wonder what happened to Birch?” wandered through my brain. I sat down with Google to find out. The first few entries were news articles covering his departure from The Big Talk Station. At the bottom of the first page of listings, however, was ‘BirchBarlow’.org

“Aha,” thought I, “I can see what Mr. Barlow has to say about it himself.”

And then things got strange.

The website in question uses Mr. Barlow’s name and his picture, but it is not affiliated with him at all. Part of it is devoted to criticism couched in “we love him but. . .” statements. The rest is a 9/11 Truther manifesto.

I knew such things were possible, but I’d never been confronted by one. The Internet is still the Wild West. Anyone can say anything about you, and there is little you can do about it.

Do you own your own name? Why not? Think of the most horrible thing you can, and then imagine it published under YourName.com by your worst enemy.

Not very pleasant, is it?

It turns out that Chadbourne.com belongs to a major international law firm. I can live with that. I doubt they will libel me. My full name was free, though. I immediately bought the .com, .org, and .net versions of it and a few other terms important to me.

Next I did an availability search using the real names of some of the bloggers I read. It was shocking. More than half were available. I could be passing myself off as any one of quite a few fire/EMS celebrities today.

IF YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF INTERNET PERSONA (blog, twitter handle, or your real name) YOU NEED TO OWN IT AND CONTROL IT, PERIOD.

Just ask Birch Barlow.

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