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Every industry has it's well known people('notable person'), who are respected. Their word is taken as truth, and getting compliments/advice from them is huge honor for intermediate and beginners. They also get massive social status when entering a site, users will go the extra mile to answer there questions etc. As a result there is huge incentive for users to pretend to be those people.

If a person claiming to be a 'notable person' appears on your site, is it necessary to confirm that they are who they claim to be?

Part 2:

Lets assume that their identity needs to be confirmed. How do you go about confirming them without being intrusive, demanding or offensive?

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  • Rather than adding part 2 here, it would be better to start a new question.
    – ChrisF
    Jul 31 '14 at 9:07
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This varies a lot based on the kind of community this is about.

For non-professional communities - say, random web fora or similar - the name should always be taken as a pseudonym. As long as the user isn't actively impersonating someone (and, even then, the usual line is drawn at impersonating moderators), usually no action is necessary.
Of course, if someone is actively impersonating, contacting them and asking them about it might be a good idea, but I'd still largely leave it be with said notion of pseudonyms.

Professional communities, on the other hand - knowledge bases, industry fora, things like that - can have a problem with impersonation. Here, confirming the identity may be crucial. The tales of Jon Skeet and Jeff Atwood users on SO are astounding, and that's not even that professional a site.

As for how to confirm: Obviously you need some form of end point that you can definitively note as belonging to the person you're trying to identify as. Be that an email account (although, SMTP shenanigans and all ... you know what, don't use email for that.), a twitter account, or the IT favourite GPG signatures - these all work, as long as you can confirm that these are actually validated by the "notable person".

If you cannot identify the user as said "notable person", but your community requires it, you need to do two things - and you need to apply these throughout the forum, regardless of the "fame" of a given person:

  1. Have a rule set up that confirms this requirement.
  2. Anonymize the user until identification can be provided.

If the user cannot identify in a sufficient manner for the requirements of the given community, their account must use a different pseudonym. Let the user pick a new name, at least temporarily.

(This all of course also doesn't address the matter of "Hey, I have the same name as that guy!", but it's a good rule of thumb that, if laid out well enough, should be sufficient for most instances.)

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  • I'm think the intentional impersonation, as in use the same avatar and such. Jul 30 '14 at 3:38
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Many existing online communities have codified processes for confirming a notable person:

If you're expecting notable people to participate in your community, it may be worthwhile to similarly codify some procedure for verification. With the prevalence of these procedures in large online communities today, I would expect truly notable people (or their handlers) to expect at least a simple request of "proof" when entering an online community.

How you want to enforce it is largely dependent on how important it is in the context of your community. For example, /r/IAMA is entirely focused on sharing people's experiences. Because of this, they don't let anyone claim to be anything without going through the verification process.

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