Meghan Trainor, 45, has been an exhibiting artist and performer for more than 15 years. She’s worked in 3D printing, brain-computer interface, robotics and medieval technology. Drone metal outfit Earth is her favourite band and, this week, she was locked out of her social media accounts for 'impersonating' Meghan Trainor – that is, herself.
Meghan Trainor, 25, is a pop singer-songwriter probably best known for her single 'All About That Bass', which dropped five years ago. When that song was released, “everyone I ever met in my life decided to send me that video,” Trainor the artist told Gizmodo. “I was very aware that single happened.” She said she wrote off the other Meghan as a one-hit wonder and had a sense of humour about it, but after a few years, she realised that Trainor the singer wasn’t fading into obscurity. “But it never occurred to me that it would impact my ability to do my job.”
And while Trainor the artist has achieved her own renown – she characterised herself as “mildly famous” – with an online aesthetic easily distinguishable from the pop singer, that didn’t matter to the social networks. Within a 24-hour period, she was locked out of her YouTube, Gmail and Twitter accounts.
Photo: Meghan Elizabeth Trainor
According to screenshots Trainor sent to Gizmodo, her Google account was disabled on Thursday for violating the company’s policies. The email she received from YouTube (a Google subsidiary) that same day was more specific – it said that her account was terminated because of what the company found to be a valid impersonation complaint. And while trying to use Twitter to draw attention to her problem, her account on that site was also briefly suspended on Friday. Asked for comment, Twitter confirmed to Gizmodo that her account on their site had been flagged for impersonation.
Ultimately, she was able to get her Gmail and Twitter accounts back, but Trainor wasn’t sure what the URL of her long-dormant YouTube channel was, which made it impossible to dispute the termination.
“The level of unforeseen interruption into my basic ability to work and function was mind-boggling,” Trainor the artist told Gizmodo. “I am not naive to digital space but the degree to which that happened, and I had no recourse, the swiftness of it is terrifying to me truly.”
The elder Trainor is a freelance artist, so being locked out of her email account threatened her ability to do her job. Without her account, she couldn’t communicate with her clients or access her files. Up until now, she said, she was able to see the comedy in sharing a name with a pop star. And she’s been making art for much longer than Trainor the singer has. In fact, Trainor the artist said that years ago, before the singer’s big hit, the other Meghan tried to buy her domain, meghantrainor.com. Trainor the artist turned her down. “That’s where all my work is,” she said. (The singer is instead at meghan-trainor.com).
Photo: Logic Gates, Meghan Elizabeth Trainor, 2019
“It’s very easy to tell that I’m my own person with eyeballs right away,” Trainor told Gizmodo.
Trainor the artist said that after people shared news of her Twitter suspension, the “second most famous” Megan Fox, who works in tech, tweeted at her, saying that the company won’t give her a blue checkmark because she shares her name with the actress. “This policy is butts,” technologist Fox tweeted on Friday. “Social networks absolutely can not keep doing this. Nobody’s name is unique (sorry).”
When my editor told me that Trainor was locked out of her email, YouTube, and Twitter accounts, my first thought was, how was she able to let people know she’d been silenced online? Trainor said because she also works in digital strategy, she knows how to work around being locked out of her accounts. “But again, this is me. What if it’s someone else?”
Across online platforms, tech companies have seemed more willing this year to moderate their platforms – as long as it keeps influential brands and advertisers happy. In January, YouTube’s support team tweeted vaguely that it was “in the process of implementing additional measures to prevent impersonation” after a series of high-profile incidents, which may have been what triggered Trainor’s account termination. And just this week, Amazon announced it was letting brands pull listings for products they say are counterfeit from the site.
The unsettling expediency with which Google and Twitter edged someone out of their digital life simply because they shared their name with someone famous suggests that social networks’ moderation of impersonation cases hasn’t gotten better, just heavier-handed. It also points to a world online where sheer coincidence – and tech companies’ willingness to bend over backwards for important brands – can render you completely voiceless on the major platforms.
Update 10:40 p.m.: Asked for comment, YouTube told Gizmodo that Trainor’s account has been reinstated. “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make mistakes,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “When an error is brought to our attention we act quickly to reinstate the videos or channels in question.”
Featured image: Meghan Trainor/Google/Getty