Melissa Bachmann has a message for the venomous haters who have been attacking her on Twitter: “I didn’t kill any lions.”
In a frightening amalgamation of Twitter witch hunt and mistaken identity, Bachmann, a grad student who asked that her location not be identified, found herself on the receiving end of vulgar insults and death threats this week after a controversy exploded around a big-game hunter with a nearly identical name.
The hunter Melissa Bachman, who hosts the show “Deadly Passion,” became the target of relentless Twitter scorn after posting a photo of herself smiling alongside the corpse of a lion she’d killed on a hunt in South Africa. For the last three days, Twitter users have been berating the hunter with obscenity-laced, 140-character tirades. Many are wishing for her death. Caught in the crossfire is the other Melissa Bachmann, who has spent the last few days fending off Twitter attackers mistaking her for the hunter.
“Hope next time you are in contact with a wild animal it eats you slowly so you die painfully, murdering b--ch,” one user wrote.
“Someone should shoot your kids and take pics,” another one wrote.
In an email to IBTimes, Bachmann said she’s tried numerous remedies to get people to let up: She explained the mistake to some users and blocked the accounts of others. She even changed her profile description to proclaim that she is “not the not the Melissa Bachman in the news.” The mob-style harassment continued, however; so much so that Bachmann said she began to fear it would spill over into the real world.
“If people didn’t take the one minute it would take to see that I wasn’t her on Twitter, who knows what will happen if my address gets out there by mistake,” she said.
Even after being told of their mistake, some users were unapologetic.
â€” Zoe Wood (@ZoeWood7) November 20, 2013
The ordeal calls into question how active a role Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) should play in ensuring its users are not harassed. Twitter’s terms of service prohibit users from making specific threats, as well as targeted abuse and harassment, but the company tends to take a hands-off approach to blowups aimed at people in the news. Its policy in the case of mistaken identity is less clear.
A request to Twitter for more information was not immediately returned.
Bachmann said she contacted Twitter to explain her situation, but she has not received a response outside of automated replies when she blocked individual offenders. “How can Twitter expect me to submit each and every one for review?” she said.
The experience, Bachmann said, has left her frustrated with the social network to the point where she has considered shutting her account. “I am a little disappointed in Twitter,” she said. “Anyone can see by looking at my account and typing in my username that there have been countless threats and aggressive remarks. I am not sure what has to happen, but for two days I haven’t felt safe.”
When controversial figures blow up in the media, mistaken identity on social media is not an uncommon form of collateral damage. Earlier this month, when Paul Ciancia opened fire at Los Angeles airport, multiple people took to social media to proclaim that they were not affiliated with the suspected shooter. Ciancia himself left few digital footprints, leaving journalists and amateur sleuths scouring the Internet for anyone who shared a name with one of his relatives.
Dear Twitter: I am not the sister of the LAX gunman, thanks for the calls though.
â€” Jenna Pizzi (@JennaPizzi) November 1, 2013
In Bachmann’s case, the situation may have been compounded by spelling differences. Bachmann the grad student spells her name with two n’s. Bachman the hunter with one n. Thanks to endless news stories surrounding Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, newshounds used to seeing the two-n spelling probably typed in “Melissa Bachmann” when searching for the hunter, thereby finding their way to the grad student’s Twitter account.
Bachmann the grad student said she doesn’t support what Bachman the hunter did. “Personally, I have never really understood the ‘sport’ of hunting,” she said. At the same time, being on the receiving end of Bachman-hater wrath has given her sympathy for her namesake. She said she’s disheartened by seeing people react in a mob mentality, rather than using their anger toward something more constructive. The only saving grace is that, like all Twitter witch hunts, this one is sure to fade -- just as soon as the next one blows up.
“I look forward to the end of the madness,” Bachmann said. “I like my little life and I want to go back to it.”