An embarrassing apology in the Star underscores the need for journalists to be skeptical when verifying identities of online sources.

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It is a now well-established truth of our digital age that anyone can be anyone on the Internet.

Most of us do not dwell on the reality that we cannot know with all certainty who is at the other end of an email, a tweet, a Facebook post. People can lie about their identity and the potential for any one of us to be duped is considerable.

Journalists have long understood — as the Star’s journalistic standards manual states — that the Internet is a “minefield” and we must “proceed with caution.

“Identities must be scrupulously checked as the possibilities for mistaken identity are vast,” our guide states.

The Star fell short of this imperative recently when an intern reporter, working on her first story for the Star, was duped by what would seem to be a dishonest prankster. This person, communicating to the Star through the email address, ljonny32@gmail.comagreed to an email interview about using social media to find places for car sex in Toronto and then identified himself to the reporter with another man’s name.

The man whose name the hoaxer provided to the Star was, understandably, not amused. He believes his is a unique name in Toronto and he was shocked to see it published in the Star in a story about “hot spots” for car sex.

This unfortunate case of mistaken identity resulted in an embarrassing apology being published in the Star this week to make clear that Alex Shivraj — the name the email hoaxer gave to Star reporter Amal Ahmed Albaz — had never talked to the Star about finding places for car sex during his high school years in Mississauga or been sought for comment on the article.

To read the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star’s website, where it was originally published.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at hgwatson.com.