The Story of My Imposters

I started As a writer in the early 1990s, the internet was important. I have existed for a long time without a social media profile, let alone a website to promote my brand. Then—around 2009—my publicist encouraged me to join the 21st Century. I had the opportunity to present my work to a new generation of readers! I thought Why yes, I would like to do that.

I was teaching at Oberlin College and hired a student who was double majoring in creative writing and computer science to make me a website. A student showed me how to get the URL of and suddenly I had this domain, web presence, a border town in my name. My student helped me paste my accomplishments and accolades into a sort of virtual scrapbook, and he showed me how to blog my thoughts publicly.

I was determined to create a likable persona and be active on social media and maybe even get invited to the hip literary parties I heard were happening in Brooklyn. But I never actually did anything. I have never blogged. I have never developed a lovable personality. Logging into my website was always a hassle because I could never remember the password to the dashboard and after a while I more or less abandoned it. I rarely visited the site more than once a year.

That’s why I didn’t know I lost her for a long time. It turns out that just buying a URL is not enough. Someone is renting it out, my lease was up. In the early summer of 2021, I decided to check my website and found that was no longer mine and I couldn’t get it back. My domain was owned by another party.

How strange! Why would anyone want to pay for other than me? When I told my internet-savvy friend about it, he shook his head. “It’s a scam,” he said. “They will try to sell it to you at a very high price.”

“Ha!” I said. “Let them have it. I’ll just find a different URL.”

So I cleverly took over Now what are you going to do with your worthless site, extortionists? I reflected and peacefully returned to my usual life in Cleveland—walking my dogs, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson; make soup; I was looking out of the office window and thinking about the new project that I haven’t written. But it turns out isn’t done with me yet.

I was still staring out the window in September when I got an email from the web designer who built my new site. The subject was “SERIOUS MATTER”.

He explained that the new owners of are upping their game. Google is the first result that comes up next to the words my name and site DAN CHAON | OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE WRITER.

This website is amazingly designed. Click on that and you’ll see a photo of me at my best, a photo taken by a professional photographer at a festival in Paris – a photo I don’t own, but the owners of have cavalierly stolen. The publications page is accurate and the press page includes choice review quotes on tablets like words of wisdom. The blog is a copy of the album I made for the original website. The connections are a bit dated – I have a new publicist and speaking agent. The biography is not true, but it is written in a strange style — Google translate is a mess, artificial intelligence could be at work: “The future master of the word was born on June 11, 1964 in Sidney, Nebraska. .” Elsewhere it continues: “Den’s passion for literature began when he spent most of his time reading books in elementary school. Later, as a high school student, he began to try his hand at writing by submitting his short stories to magazines. Unfortunately, they were all rejected.”

It’s terrifying to have my life interpreted by an alien entity, especially one whose American letters and concept of fame sound hearteningly optimistic: “Dan Chao’s most famous books Among the missing (2001), and You Remember Me (2003). The first was a finalist in the National Book of the Year competition. The latter was called “one of the best books of the year” by many famous publishers.

These lines strangely appear in a section titled “Dan Chao’s School of Writing.” Apparently, my fakers have never heard of an MFA and seem to believe that I invented the idea of ​​a creative-writing major: “Dan Chao had a brilliant idea earlier this year. A seasoned author of world-renowned books and stories and a college professor, he came up with the concept of a writer’s school. The idea soon became a reality, and the Dan Chao School of Creative Writing at Oberlin College opened its doors.”

My brilliant mind not only created the Dan Chaon School of Writing; I also designed incredible classrooms: “The educational process is like a regular school. But after a closer look, you can clearly see that it is different. Instead of classes of twenty or more, students work in small groups. The rooms are generally not filled with tables and chairs that create a harsh atmosphere. Instead, they look more like Victorian living rooms, with armchairs and sofas. This allows for a more relaxed thinking process because students feel more comfortable. “It’s easier to create imaginary worlds and stories when you don’t feel the pressure of a standard school or college,” says Dan Chaon.

Although I have not taught at Oberlin College for several years, I must admit that I am fascinated by the fantasy of my biographer. I like to imagine a bunch of ugly Oberlin hippies lounging on Victorian sofas, their thought processes supremely comfortable.

“HeOh my God” said my sister. “You attractive? Have you lost your mind? These people are cheating you! They are using your name to deprive people of money!”

“But how?” I said. Granted, there were advertisements for “essay writing services” on the site, but I couldn’t imagine that it was particularly profitable. Anyway, I had already tried to trick the website owners by sending them a message from a fake email address. “Hello!” – I said pretending to be a freshman of the university. “I need essay writing services! I can pay up to $1000! Please help me!” But I didn’t get any answer.

“Maybe it’s more like this kind of weird, friendly trolling,” I told my sister. Ironically, a number of my books are about scammers and identity theft. “It sounds like something out of a Dan Chaon novel,” said one acquaintance. Maybe it was a tribute from a black hat hacker fan – an honor of sorts.

“It could be,” said my designer. “But the fact is that this website is the first thing that comes up in a Google search. Representing you with false information. Your official website appears far below the fake website.”

At first, he hoped it would be an easy fix. I should have reported it to Google, he said, to explain the situation, ask them to show my new URL as my official site and flag the old site as malicious so it doesn’t show up in my search results. According to him, according to Google, “It was important to claim my Knowledge Panel, the data boxes that appear on Google when you search for entities (people, places, organizations, things) in the Knowledge Graph.”

But it turns out that despite the evidence I provided, Google didn’t believe it was me. A member of the Google Knowledge Panel Support Team told me, “The website appears to be correct through the Search Console that we link to for automatic validation.” “We recommend checking to make sure you’re trying to claim the appropriate knowledge panel you represent.”

My web designer was pissed off. “No, no,” he said. “These people have no authority. They just follow an algorithm.” We need to find someone a little higher up who is allowed to make decisions, he thought.

So we embarked on a months-long search to find a real live person who worked at Google. I asked my former editor – he and his colleagues were listed on the fake site – and he contacted the lawyers at Penguin Random House, but they didn’t even know how to break into Google’s impenetrable tower.

My web designer and I sent messages to friends asking if they knew anyone at the company, and several of my Twitter followers responded. But it seemed that Google’s policy was that if you knew someone personally, they weren’t allowed to help you – perhaps as a safeguard against nepotism and unfair bias.

That’s probably a good thing, I think.

In the following months, other means were proposed. I was told that I can file a UDRP (Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy) complaint with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), but usually the claimant is a registered trademark. I could contact the IC3 division of the FBI to report illegal internet activity. If I wanted to be serious, I could stop and refuse, even if I wanted to buy super seriousI could sue the website creator and then use the courts to subpoena billing/user information from the web host to identify the fraudster or fraudsters.

But all this costs money. Furthermore, it is difficult to explain what is actually malicious about What exactly are they doing that is illegal?

There is no law against emulation. I could dress to look like you if I wanted to; I could even use your name and take a picture from your Facebook page and pretend your kids are my kids and your wife is my wife and post my day-to-day fantasies and what would you do to stop me? Think about it: Is your Instagram or Twitter account a tangible thing that you can call “you” property? Is it as much a part of you as a kidney or a bank account? Now that you’ve released yourself on the internet, you’re more or less open source, right?

Ii wrote They were asked several times by my scammers if they would let me take the website back. But no one answers. I wonder if they are already there.

Maybe they set up this site as a joke, scam, or tribute. Perhaps they did it for no other reason than to improve their web design skills. Maybe they abandoned it long ago. However, like the Ozymandias monolith, it remains the most visited site of any I’ve ever actually created. Just now, as I was preparing this essay, my editor went to grab a link from my online bio to paste into my byline, and she accidentally copied the first thing that popped up: a link to my fakes. It is a fake monument that will perhaps live well after me, the real Dan Chao — Oh, me! Myself!—cease to exist on this Earth.

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