The case of Santiago Swallow is intriguing. Swallow was born in Mexico, took up residence in the USA, and rapidly rose to prominence as a respected and influential guru in the world of social media. Now 42, Swallow is a veteran of the TED and SXSW conference circuit, and regularly tweets out his wisdom and insight to more than 76,000 Twitter followers. His recent nuggets have included: 'The first cloud computer was us' and 'to write is to live endlessly'. Swallow's eagerly awaited book - entitled Imaginary Identities in the Age of the Internet - has been predicted to have such impact potential that it will define an entire generation. Indeed, Swallow has been hailed by some commentators as 'one of the greatest thinkers of the Millennial Generation'.
So just who is Santiago Swallow?
The answer, surprisingly for his many followers, is that Santiago Swallow doesn't actually exist - he is in fact a fictional character. Swallow is the alter ego of Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer who is famous for coining the phrase 'the Internet of Things.' If you search on Wikipedia for Santiago Swallow right now, you will be redirected to Ashton's page. The whole Swallow charade was concocted as a social experiment, a way of exploring how many people online create their own legends, often by buying Twitter followers, creating false email accounts and generally masquerading as someone else. It was easy to create the legend of Santiago Swallow, Ashton says in his blogpost 'How to Become Internet Famous for $68'. He first created a new gmail account, and then a Twitter account.The next stage was to acquire 90,000 Twitter followers for a small sum of about £33. A Wikipedia page was created, and the final step was to construct a Swallow website with its own domain name for another £12. Others soon noticed Swallow's presence and started to follow, assuming that he was indeed who he said he was. This fascinating social online experiment has revealed how easy it is to fake an identity, or in this case, simply create a new one from nothing but a germ of an idea.