Burner Accounts 101: Experts Tell How to Keep Your Fake Twitter Account Hidden

Natalie Weiner@natalieweinerStaff WriterJune 5, 2018

FILE - This June 24, 2016 file photo shows Philadelphia 76ers President Of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo speaking during a news conference in Philadelphia. Colangelo has a pair of potential cornerstone players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and the No. 3 pick in the draft. He has also has a fan base ready for The Process to turn into something more than a championship pipe dream years down the road. Colangelo sits down with The Associated Press to discuss his first year on the job and what’s ahead. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo isn't the first public figure to allegedly get caught slipping on social media, and he won't be the last—though the output from the five burner Twitter accounts described in a report by The Ringer was much more damning than most online snafus. There are numerous stories about athletes' attempted seductions via DM (beware the screenshot). And there was the time Warriors coach Steve Kerr tweeted a criticism of the NBA seemingly intended for a direct message.

New celebrities—in sports, draft picks—have to be prepared for instant social media scrutiny by online sleuths looking for evidence of the dreaded "milkshake duck." The best precedent for Colangelo's situation (which reports say may involve his wife's use of the accounts in question) might be when Kevin Durant sent the internet on a quest to find his burner accounts after he accidentally tweeted from his personal account in the third person (not surprisingly, he declined to comment on Colangelo).

None of them were leaking inside information or attempting to sway reporters as Colangelo reportedly might have been, but according to social media experts, he's unlikely to be the only person in sports who maintains anonymous accounts. "People are like: 'This is so crazy. I can't believe it,' and for me like, it's Tuesday," said digital strategist Shane Barker, who runs his own consulting firm. "It doesn't really shock me." According to Ingrid Elfver, founder of Born Celebrity, it's fairly common for celebrities to have three or four anonymous accounts. Kim Kardashian, for example, has said she has a secret Snapchat.

"For the most part, it's to be able to function online like a private person," Elfver said. But how do they do it without getting found out? Here are some pro tips for those considering an alt account—and those who might need to rein in their personal one.


Don't do it.

Prevention is the best medicine. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective form of birth control. Pick your cliche, and it applies here: If you don't want to get embarrassed by a burner gone public, don't open a new account. "People often ask if they should have one account for work and one for personal use that they can disguise, and we generally suggest no, just from a personal brand perspective," said Mel Carson, founder of Delightful Communications. "It's much more authentic to just have one. Plus so much can go wrong—if you're not completely focused on what you're doing, something can come out from the wrong account."


If you're going to do it, set up your account like a Twitter detective.

So you've decided to create a burner, knowing that at the slightest hint of impropriety you could be exposed. "Use an email account that's not associated with your name at all—not even with family, something totally different," Elfver said. Same goes for phone numbers—in Colangelo's case, it appears his wife's phone number was attached to some of the accounts. If it has anything to do with you, your family, your workplace or anything else that could be traced back to those parts of your life, you'll inevitably be found out.

Bryan Colangelo's alleged use of multiple anonymous Twitter accounts has left his future as the Sixers general manager uncertain.
Bryan Colangelo's alleged use of multiple anonymous Twitter accounts has left his future as the Sixers general manager uncertain.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Online sleuthing can escalate quickly: Make sure your location settings are off on whatever platform you're using, and depending on where you're posting, IP addresses could even come into play. "We worked with a client who was found to have been saying positive things about himself in a comment section while acting as somebody else," Carson said. "What he didn't realize is the comments could be traced back to the IP address of a company he'd been fired from."


Don't overthink the username.

You may think it's easier to disappear into the online masses with a handle that looks like it belongs to a bot: SportsDork9367290. But according to the experts, those efforts are an exercise in futility. "The internet is full of people who are trying to figure this stuff out—I don't think it really matters what you name your account," said Stephanie Cartin, co-CEO of consulting firm Socialfly.


Trust no one.

Many celebs have locked accounts they share with friends and family "so they can behave like a normal person online without being seen," in Elfver's words. But even those are far from foolproof.

"Beyonce had a secret Snapchat account with her mom, and her mom accidentally exposed it," Elfver said. "So even if you do all the right things, it's the other people who might wind up sharing it."

Added Barker: "The only way to keep a secret between two people is to kill the other person. If you decide to start an anonymous account, don't tell anyone. It sounds like someone leaked the information in Colangelo's case, and it became a way bigger deal than it should be."

Kevin Durant stirred followers on social media when he challenged them to discover the anonymous accounts he used on Twitter.
Kevin Durant stirred followers on social media when he challenged them to discover the anonymous accounts he used on Twitter.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press


Don't post or like—just lurk.

The more you do with your anonymous account, the riskier it is. Someone could find a common thread in your posts or even your likes, and then your anonymity is toast. "I don't recommend tweeting or posting on an anonymous account," Cartin said. "The minute you start posting—there are a lot of internet sleuths out there, and they're going to find out it's you. It always happens. Nothing is really anonymous anymore."


If you post, post like you're public.

Resisting the temptation to do inadvisable things on social media is near-impossible—especially when you think no one will be able to tell it's you. But if you start posting, and people start noticing, the possibility for a domino effect grows exponentially. "Anything can go viral, and next thing you know, you're in the media," Barker said. "Ten thousand retweets, and suddenly your sponsorships or your job are in jeopardy."

Added Elfver: "Even when you don't think people are going to hear you or see you, know you're going to be discovered and seen. There is no privacy in that way anymore."

Concluded Cartin: "It will get tied back to you. All the celebrity gossip sites have people who just sit in a room and watch what's happening on all of these accounts because that's news."


Better still: Use someone else's account.

If you're the type of person with your own entourage, make them take the fall: Assistants and family are all possible social media mercenaries, according to the experts B/R consulted.


Best solution: Step away from the app.

The real question behind Colangelo's alleged burner accounts is why—why, if indeed they are his, would he risk so much for what seems like nonexistent reward? And that's the question experts recommend asking yourself before diving into the world of burners: Why do you need a reason to spend even more time online?

Beyonce learned of the perils of running a private social media account when her mother inadvertently revealed a previously hidden Snapchat account.
Beyonce learned of the perils of running a private social media account when her mother inadvertently revealed a previously hidden Snapchat account.Matt Rourke/Associated Press/Associated Press

"This definitely sounds like a case of social media addiction," Cartin said. "My best advice is just to set certain times of the day where you'll allow yourself to be on social media and take time when you've put your phone away. I can imagine as a public figure that's really hard because people are talking about you, but you definitely have to set boundaries for yourself."

Barker had another suggestion in light of Durant's comment section battles: "Maybe you need to just go work out a little more or figure out some other way to vent because when people know they're bothering you, you're basically asking them to come back tomorrow. Once you engage with them, they've won. Everyone has an opinion, and you just have to take it with a grain of salt. Figure out how you're going to spend your time. If it's looking at Twitter and getting sucked into the drama that's there, you're going to have a lot of sleepless nights."