It was finals week of my first semester at Kent State University in 2011. Naturally, I was creeping on Twitter and doing everything I could to not study for exams. I clicked on a hashtag in a tweet I had posted earlier in the day (for no apparent reason) and was shocked to see the exact text from my tweet posted from another account. The account had my picture and the name “Lauren Ashley Cook.”
At first I thought my computer was switching names and images, that Twitter had a bug, or that I accidently duplicated my account somehow. It never crossed my mind that someone had made the account with my image on purpose.
I clicked on the profile, which had hundreds of tweets and a significant amount of followers. Looking through the account, I could see that all the tweets were copied from my account. The Twitter bio had a link to a Facebook account under the same name, also using my pictures and information.
Things got even weirder when I saw “Lauren” and her “friends” posting on one another’s walls. Her friends were using pictures of my friends. Not only did they talk to each other, but the conversations were identical to posts and comments my friends and I had left each other. I called my friends and told them what I had found. Five of us gathered around the computer and looked through all the different photos, statuses, and comments on the pages. Finals were the last thing on our mind at that point. “Who would do something like that?” and “Oh my gosh, how does she know that inside joke?” were some of the questions flying around the room. My friends and I were all beyond creeped out. I decided to Google the name “Lauren Ashley Cook.”
Lauren Ashley Cook had multiple websites using my pictures, and she had created quite the life for herself. She was very social on Facebook and Twitter, but posted dark and depressing things on Tumblr. “Lauren” would post pictures of my ex-boyfriends and me and post about how much she hated them. Most of her posts were made-up scenarios or stories revolving around one of my photos. One post that stood out to me was a blog entry about her “deceased brother.” Lauren posted a photo of an old friend and me. Underneath the photo she wrote about how much she missed her older brother and how she would see him again one day. The boy in the photo is not my brother, and he is very much alive. Many of her posts revolved around depression and death.
As if this wasn’t alarming enough, I came across a blog under Lauren’s name that had been active since 2007. I was only 14 when this started. How had I not known someone somewhere was taking my information and pictures for five years? To my knowledge, my social media accounts were private, and only people I approved could view my information.
One name popped up on every website, talking to Lauren and comforting her when she was depressed. His name was Mike, and it was very obvious he and Lauren had feelings for each other. Although nervous about what his reaction would be, I reached out to him under my real name. I wrote him a very long Facebook message explaining that Lauren was not real and that someone was taking my pictures. At first, Mike thought I was impersonating Lauren and wanted me to prove I was real before talking to me. He asked me to take a photo holding up a sign that said, “Hi Mike.” Once I did this, he messaged me things like, “I can’t believe this” and “she lied to me.” I told him I was so sorry that someone had done this to him, but I wanted to find out who was behind this and I needed his help. He started telling me all about Lauren.