Did More than 2,000 People get Punked on Google+?

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Sir Richard Branson? Nope.


Did More than 2,000 People get Punked on Google+?

 Social Media Opinion and Analysis by Karen Masullo for Firestorm (with contributed material by Eric Gehler)

While we at Firestorm are working on bringing you a more in-depth review of Google+ and associated policy and use analysis, we thought this particular incident presents a good cautionary tale for all.

Earlier this week, a Google+ Profile titled Richard Branson of Virgin Group fame was created.  It carried Mr. Branson’s image, Mr Branson’s links;  more important, Mr. Branson’s “voice”.

In a 2010 interview, Branson described Virgin’s use of social media as such: “We continue to approach social media with a healthy sense of fun.”

The posts on the Google+ Branson profile were just that; fun.
“He” posted “Google+ is fun. Just “hungout” with some old friends. Congrats to Sergey, Larry, and all the developers at Google. Keep up the good work.”

The real excitement started when “Branson” then announced that he would add 5 people to his Circles – those who made him the best pitch to do so.

Hundreds replied with well-thought, sincere comments. People congratulated “Branson” on his level of engagement, and the innovative use of this new platform.

G+ers were commenting on the power of a G+ incubator of Branson-mentored talent.

The excitement was palpable.

Then “he” ramped it up a notch and posted a comment to the effect of “Because all of these replies are so wonderful, I’m going to add all of you to my circles!” There were more than 400 replies at that point (500 is the top limit for comments).

And then the account disappeared.


In a separate G+ thread this evening, I noticed a gentlemen named Eric Gehler lobbying for greater diligence by Google in policing fake accounts:

G+ needs a Verification / Confirmed feature for Celebrities or well known people. Too many fake accounts. Latest victim the “Richard Branson” was a fake account and it is now disabled on G+. But 1000’s followed – 1000’s commented and put real time and effort into their communication under the ruse of this Faker.

Google for the love of God, Please, add a Verification process for the Well Known so that the fakes will not continue Trust is a vital issue to Social as well as privacy. Please help us Trust….

Mr. Gehler, an SEO Consultant, demonstrates in the image below, that by searching out the “Fake” profile in his followed circle, a new image now appears, and the account has been deleted.

Perhaps this image is fake as well and used as a cover? Fortunately, Google has image recognition search tools, and will be able to find the same image on a blog as we did.  Call us if you need us Google.

Mr. Gehler further provided various screenshots of the account and a cached page of some of the original posts.

We read many, many of the original replies to “Mr. Branson” while they were being posted;  they were sincere and candid, as displayed below:
Some speculated today as to the disappearance of the profile, and many expressed disappointment.  One user wrote. “That is too bad. I was really impressed with the things he was saying. If it wasn’t him, the impostor was convincing.”

Was this a real account and the real Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson simply changed his mind? Probably not.

Is this a lesson for everyone?


We can talk about transparency and engagement, but it’s really about trust; we trust that sites are secure, that our data will not be sold or compromised; we trust that there is a level of maturity in the design of the tools and applications we use to work and to play.

Yes we should know by now that everything is suspect, and yes we have to be cautious and aware and diligent, but once in a while we’re going to let our guard down.

It is also understood that this is very early in the projected life of Google+, but surely someone considered a requirement for a simple process to allow high-profile users to pre-verify their accounts.

Many will have the point of view that it’s no big deal – just a guy having some fun.  Maybe the real Mr. Branson feels that way. Something tells me he doesn’t.

Would you?

More important, do you have possession of your name and your brand?

Do you think this person laughed at the “joke?”

Were you one of the hundreds who replied?

Does it change your view of Google+?

Do you want to see Verified accounts on Google+?

Update 07/18/2011:  There’s a new Branson account here – https://plus.google.com/113544226688149802325/posts?hl=en – maybe this time it’s the real thing?  Who knows…


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