Twin Strangers

You’ve got one too

by Elsa Godtfredsen


Two eerily similar faces stare out from my computer screen as I enter my information. The alluring sentence “Twin Strangers: Find your lookalike from anywhere in the world” glares out in large letters at the top of the page. The web site was created earlier this year for people around the world to find their doppelgangers. As I create my username and enter my face, eyebrow, eye, nose and lip shape, I wonder about the origin of this strange phenomenon of seeking connection through physical similarity.

As I click submit, my personal facial structure and chosen pictures zoom off into the database. Hundreds of options fill my screen, pictures of women with “yes” or “no” buttons next to them and the never-ending question “Your Twin?” adorning every image. A sort of bizarre platonic Tinder atmosphere predominates, with appearance still the priority. Boundaries such as nationality and personality disappear in the search for your “twin.” No face jumps out at me as particularly similar to my own, but successes using the website have dominated Facebook newsfeeds and magazine racks.

Niamh Geaney, Terence Manzanga and Harry English, three Irish university students, began this project after hearing a theory that each person has not one but seven twin strangers throughout the world. The site was originally set up to find only these students’ doppelgangers. After just a week, they received hundreds of submissions and Geaney found a stranger who was identical to her in appearance. This individual, Karen Branigan, conveniently lived an hour away from Geaney, and the two met in a scene reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone.” The same thing occurred again, with Geany discovering a second identical stranger, Luisa, from the Italian Riviera.

After these successes, the website was expanded so that anyone could participate in the project and find their own twin stranger. The project relies heavily on social media and when a “twin” is found, the participant is encouraged to contact them on Facebook. The search for the three students’ doppelgangers does not end until April 27, 2016, so there is more than enough time for Manzanga and English to find their identical twin strangers. The project received large amounts of press with headlines like “These ‘Twin Strangers’ Look Identical, But They’re Not Related” and “Remember Twin Strangers Girl? Well She’s Found Her Look-alike and It’s Freaky.”

Science has some explanations for these look-alike discoveries. Joseph McInerney, the executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics, explains that any two people share about 99.5 percent of their gene sequence. The other 0.5 percent dictates the physical differences between individuals. Actual relations will obviously appear even more similar because they share a greater percentage of their genetic makeup. These “twin strangers” that are being discovered are likely to share more DNA than the average strangers. This leads geneticist Arthur Beadet, a professor in the Genetics Department of Baylor College of Medicine, to an interesting theory: it is possible that twin strangers could actually be distant relatives.

The motivation behind this site reflects the fundamental need for human connection. The fact that people are willing to go onto the unpredictable web to find their “twin” shows how much modern society is starved for profound relationships. The twin relationship is sometimes seen as the closest bond that could be found, and the concept of twin intuition suggests a mind connection between the two siblings. That people try to imitate this bond through the pure coincidental similarity of facial features speaks to the lack of rewarding connections in our day to day interactions.

This project also demonstrates a bizarre parallel of how technology, while enriching our lives, has separated us from each other. As I scrolled through the pages of potential “twins,” I attempted to glimpse myself in these strangers. In its entirety, this project provokes a question of humanity’s future, if technology and globalization will unite us all into a cohesive unit or separate us into lone individuals bathed in artificial light searching for connections through Wi-Fi networks.

Even as the Internet and globalization bring us closer together, the connections made across this shorter distance may leave something to be desired. Coincidental appearance-based similarities alone will not connect the world and promote understanding between cultures. Even as I voice these criticisms, I am still an active member in this bizarre experiment. My destiny in the program is undetermined, as my information and pictures will now be one of the hundreds that appear to each new member of the site. Maybe I will become one of its successes, grinning from news headlines with my newly found “twin stranger.”