The new social identity theft

By James Cook on August 26th, 2013

Perkins raises her USPS employee card to the camera, showing that she is the woman in the profile photos of the Twitter and Facebook accounts named ‘Poonanji Marsha’, but that it isn’t her name.

“I am not Poonanji! My name is not Poonanji Marsha, it is Anna Perkins!”

Perhaps it’s the unsmiling photograph of her that makes the tweets sent by the account so funny. Whoever runs Poonanji Marsha’s pages has become hugely popular, but Anna Perkins isn’t happy. With over 80,000 followers across Facebook and Twitter, Poonanji Marsha has inspired everything from fan art to a Buzzfeed list of her best posts.

Anna Perkins made her feelings about the tweets bearing her image clear in a YouTube video titled “Poonanji Marsha turns out to be fake”. According to the video’s description, she wanted to “expose, uncover and reveal” the “anonymous person” impersonating and attempting to “defame” her.

This still image from the deleted YouTube video shows Anna Perkins in front of the USPS van that she drives.

This still image from the deleted YouTube video shows Anna Perkins in front of the USPS van that she drives.

Just days after uploading the video, Perkins removed it from the internet. Perhaps alarmed by the torrent of tweets and Facebook comments on her personal profiles, Perkins removed any references linking her with the Poonanji Marsha pages. As the comments continued, her Facebook profile was also temporarily deactivated.

When she isn’t delivering parcels for USPS, Anna Perkins runs her own social media marketing business. According to her website, Perkins teaches how to discover the skills needed to make money online. With social media being a major part of her marketing strategy, seeing her face associated with explicit tweets must have unnerved Perkins.

After seeing Anna Perkins’ reaction to the account using her images, The Kernel reached out to the person behind Poonanji Marsha.

“I sometimes feel guilt over using her picture.” Michael is a 15 ­year-­old high school student from America. Throughout our interview, he expresses genuine remorse over the effect that the online identity he created has had on Anna Perkins.

“If I had known that it would’ve grown into such a large audience, I wouldn’t have made it.”

According to Michael, Poonanji Marsha began life on Facebook: “It wasn’t a plan to make an account that would grow to have such a large audience of over 80,000 people. I made it as a joke account around 5am in the morning out of boredom one day, only expecting my friends to see it. I never expected or even wanted it to grow into what it is now, it was a sort of overnight thing.”

Unlike many of the joke accounts on Twitter, an important part of Poonanji Marsha is interaction with fans. The account often posts insults directed at some of the 80,000 followers across Facebook and Twitter. But since these are often shared or retweeted by the recipient, it seems that the account’s fans enjoy the abrasive humour of its posts.

“After a while, I started receiving messages from people saying that what I posted helped them smile when they’re going through difficult times. Knowing that I can make one person smile when they’re sad is probably the only reason I still have the account today.”

Michael posts to the Poonanji Marsha accounts just as regularly as before Perkins’ YouTube video was uploaded.. Instead of trying to ignore the damning footage, it was shared from the Twitter account using her image. For Michael, there would be no shying away from the fact that he had enraged Anna Perkins.

Whenever an article or post about Poonanji Marsha appears, so does Anna Perkins. In an attempt to salvage her image, she is now waging a one-woman war against anyone who believes in Poonanji Marsha.Buzzfeed articles and Yahoo! Answers posts all contain comments from Perkins setting the record straight on the person behind Poonanji Marsha.

That said, The Kernel did not receive a response to our emails from Anna Perkins.

And so the battle between an American high school student and a middle­-aged USPS worker wages on across the internet. Poonanji Marsha still posts tweets about spitting at people, and Anna Perkins is keenly spamming her online marketing blog on Pinterest.

An uneasy truce has formed, each party aware of the other. Yet no words have been exchanged. It’s nice to think that perhaps one day they will sit down and exchange tips about how to use social media to build an audience online.

For now, it’s another case of the new social identity theft. Credit cards and social security numbers are one thing. They can be cancelled and reordered, the damage mitigated.

But what do you do when someone steals your face and uses it to amuse and abuse strangers on the internet?