It's been a tough week for Laura Ingraham. And for Lauren Ingram.
Laura Ingraham is the embattled Fox News host currently on what the network is calling a pre-scheduled vacation after her comments about Parkland survivor David Hogg sparked social media outrage.
Lauren Ingram is an Australian journalist who wound up on the receiving end of a lot of that vitriol.
On Twitter, the Fox News host is @IngrahamAngle, the name of her show. The Australian Ingram is @laureningram. Both are verified accounts with the blue check mark next to their names. Both have profile photos of blond white women. People got confused.
For almost a week, Ingram said, she was functionally unable to use Twitter because of the onslaught of angry tweets directed at a different journalist on the other side of the world. They came so fast that she wasn't even able to see tweets from friends and people who actually know who she is.
She got abuse and threats even after she clarified, multiple times, that she was not Ingraham. In some cases, that made it worse.
"When I tweeted saying, 'I'm not Laura Ingraham, I'm a feminist journalist from Australia and I don't like guns,' then I started getting abuse from Trump supporters and supporters of Ingraham," she said.
In an ironic twist, she said, she's on the same side politically as most of the people rage-tweeting at her.
"My political views could not be any more opposite than Laura Ingraham," she said. "Everything I've ever heard her say, I've disagreed with."
In the digital age, the distinction between who you are and who you are online is blurred. Mark Marino, an assistant professor of writing at USC who studies digital literature and social networks, said young people “absolutely” consider things like their Twitter handle part of their identity.
Of course, what we put online is a curated version of our day-to-day existence: You’re more likely to post a photo of a delicious meal you cooked than the sink full of dirty dishes afterward. But our digital existences are still an extension of the lives we lead both online and off, and our handles are how we functionally connect with other people.
“Our Twitter handles are more than just names,” Marino said. He likened them to doorbells, or mailboxes — “direct connections to us in a way that even our names are not.”
In the past, it could be a funny coincidence or mild nuisance if you happened to share a name with someone more famous than you. But, Marino said, you wouldn’t start getting that person’s mail. Now, we’re all one keystroke away from a rage-filled tweet storm meant for someone else.
Ingram said that people on Twitter had started confusing her for Ingraham around the 2016 election cycle, but that it’s never been as bad as it has in the last week. She has been subjected to thousands of hateful messages, including violent threats. She described the experience as “overwhelming.”
A 2017 Pew study on online harassment found that experiencing severe harassing behavior on the internet had a negative effect on people’s mental health, and that the effect could be similar to experiencing a traumatic event.
Ingram said a lot of people suggested she just change her Twitter handle. There are a few issues with that: If you have a verified account, you can’t change your handle or else you risk losing the blue check mark, the prestige that comes with it and the exclusive access it provides to Twitter analytics tools. And in Ingram’s case, she has purposefully made her digital presence consistent across social media for professional reasons.
Also: “It’s my name. It’s not like it’s a handle you’ve made up or something,” she said. On Twitter, she invoked an infamous scene about name changes from the movie “Office Space”:
There isn’t much Twitter can do about this particular issue: The company is not responsible for people’s errant tweets. But, Ingram said, Twitter should do more in general to combat the types of messages she’s received.
“Even when it’s not meant for you, it’s unsettling to get abusive messages, especially threats,” she said.
Ingram said she reported some of the worst offenders to Twitter, but the sheer volume of tweets made it impossible to report each one that was offensive.
Of course she’s not the first person to be confused for someone else on Twitter. A financial planner named George Papadopoulos — not to be confused with the former Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI — reached out on Twitter: “Stay strong Laura!”
Another person who feels her pain: Jeffrey Shih, a video game streamer in Austin, Texas. Though streamers rarely go by their given names, they choose their handles carefully, and it’s a big part of their brand online.
A couple of weeks ago, another streamer, who goes by @Amaz, complained that people were tweeting at him about their Amazon.com shipping problems.
“Oh boo hoo,” Shih responded. His Twitter handle, which he’s had since 2011, is @TrumpSC.
Follow me on Twitter @jessica_roy.