Not Hillary Clinton: A Case Of Mistaken Twitter Identity : All Tech Considered First-name handles on Twitter can be easily misused. @hillary provides a timely case in point. "I get called a lot of nasty names," says Hillary Hartley, who owns the handle.
NPR logo Not Hillary Clinton: A Case Of Mistaken Twitter Identity

Not Hillary Clinton: A Case Of Mistaken Twitter Identity

Hillary Hartley gets a lot of mistaken Twitter mentions, most of which are meant for Hillary Clinton. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Hartley gets a lot of mistaken Twitter mentions, most of which are meant for Hillary Clinton.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

@hillary is not @HillaryClinton. Her Twitter bio once noted as much, but that was "mostly just for a bit of cheek," @hillary herself admits.

Hillary Hartley joined Twitter back in 2006. As an early adopter, she was able to grab @hillary as her handle. For comparison, the @HillaryClinton account was created in 2013.

Because only one person can own a given handle, first names became sought after as Twitter gained popularity. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the "nerd cachet" of owning this particular kind of digital real estate in 2011.

But, as the article goes on to note, there's a downside to first-name handles that others aren't faced with — erroneous mentions. Take a scroll through recent mentions of @hillary on Twitter and the issue will become apparent. There are many, many mentions of the handle, most of which are explicitly an attempt to tag Hillary Clinton. And as campaign season kicks in, these mentions are unlikely to abate.

So what's it like being on the receiving end of tweets meant for another Hillary? During Clinton's last election bid, in 2007 and 2008, Hartley says it "wasn't really an issue" because Twitter was so much smaller. But now that having a Twitter presence is basically essential for anyone in the public eye, the comments come more frequently.

"It can sometimes be frustrating," Hartley says. "I get called a lot of nasty names."

Of course, these nasty names aren't meant for Hillary Hartley, and she doesn't believe that the issue is people mistaking her account for Clinton's, exactly. Rather, she thinks the issue is that people who tag @hillary in tweets about Clinton don't understand how to use Twitter.

Besides simply not understanding what putting an @ symbol before a name does, there is also the issue of people treating Twitter tags like Facebook tags. Hartley has noticed that some users appear to think that naming works the same way on Twitter as on Facebook — where a space appears between users' first and last names.

So while the mentions can be frustrating, they're also pretty fascinating. "Twitter probably is (or should be) watching many of the first-name accounts for user research," Hartley says. "It's a testament to how many people are using their platform without really understanding it."

Hartley is far from the only person who faces this issue on Twitter. Jon Wheatley, who has the handle @jon, says around 95 percent of all his mentions aren't actually for him. And Katie LaRue, @Katie on Twitter, told Digital Trends that she's been mistaken for Katie Holmes, Katie Price and Katie Couric. Couric actually responded to these mistakes by inviting LaRue on her show.

These days LaRue gets so many mentions that she rarely checks them. "It's frustrating for sure, but can be entertaining because some [of the comments] are a bit ridiculous or funny," she says.

As for Hartley, all those erroneous mentions mostly just pile up. But sometimes she feels compelled to take matters into her own hands. "If people go on extra-long rants ... I point them at her [Hillary Clinton's] actual handle," she says.

Hartley has also specifically mentioned users who leave the nastiest comments. And in at least one case that user account has since been deleted — "I like to think that sometimes calling people out actually helps," she says.

There is one question that seems to be universal when people hear about the @hillary predicament: Has the Clinton camp asked Hartley to sell her handle? The practice is not so uncommon — Digital Trends discussed the high prices some are willing to pay for a first name handle. But Hartley says she's never been approached. She's also not sure they'd have a reason to ask. The Clintons own @HillaryClinton, @BillClinton and @ChelseaClinton, so they "have a lock on their personal brands," Hartley says.

For now, Hartley addresses the mountain of mistaken mentions with humor. "I always know when Hillary Clinton is making headlines without having to read the news!" she jokes.

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier is the social media intern at NPR.