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Combating Twitter Parodies and Impersonators

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. John Mica, who doesn't have a Twitter account, was parodied by the Twitter account @CongressmanMica. The account was recently suspended.

Verified Accounts
Although Long has found verification unnecessary, the designation is one way to boost an account’s visibility and legitimacy. According to Adam Sharp, manager of government and political partnerships at Twitter, about 90 percent of the Members of Congress on the social network have had their accounts marked with the official blue badge showing verification.

Most users must be the subject of impersonation before Twitter will start the verification process, but that requirement is waived for public officials because they are often targeted. Lawmakers must be active users; complete their profile with a photo, biography and a link to their Senate or House website; and file documentation to receive the blue badge.

One of the benefits of the process is that it clearly differentiates official accounts from impersonators. “While we can resolve those cases [of impersonation] pretty swiftly, it is a reactive exercise,” Sharp said. “Whereas the verified account is more proactive.”

Additionally, verified accounts separate Members from individuals with similar names.

Germany suggested public officials secure that blue badge to help Twitter users distinguish legitimate content from spam or irrelevant accounts. “It’s just going to become another one of those tests that we mentally put ourselves through, whether we recognize it or not,” she said.

Parody Accounts
Even with the safeguard of verification in place, lawmakers are still targeted by parody accounts.

The handle @auctnr wasn’t related to Long when he registered on Twitter, but it later became a parody of the Congressman. Tweets included “Missourians shouldn’t choose the hottest candidate — so they should probably not choose me.” The account has been inactive since May.

Such accounts are allowed under Twitter’s parody policies as long as they obviously distinguish themselves from the target’s account. The biography for @auctnr clearly states that it is satirical.

“You can parody someone, but it has to be disclosed,” Sharp said, describing it as “letting the user in on the joke.”

The account @CongressmanMica was a parody account that largely tweeted about the House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman’s hair.

The account, which had been active since at least April and was labeled as a parody, was recently suspended. Mica’s press secretary, Brian Waldrip, said last week that the lawmaker’s office had recently noticed the account and would contact Twitter to see whether it violated any policies.

On Monday, Mica’s office said the account was suspended because it had failed to sufficiently identify itself as a parody. Because of company policy against commenting on individual accounts, Sharp declined to comment on the status of @CongressmanMica.

Impersonators
While parody accounts are clearly labeled and generally lighthearted, impersonator accounts are defined as those that pretend “to be another person or entity in order to deceive.” They are prohibited under Twitter’s policy.

One example is @RepPeterKing, which targets House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King. The account does not disclose that it is unrelated to the New York Republican’s official account, which is just one letter off: @RepPeteKing.

The fake account takes a dark tone, including the warning, “Muslims not welcome.” A tweet on Sept. 10 said, “As we remember #911, and lock up every #moslem, lets not forget other threats: #mexicans & #Black males. #crime #gangster plz RT.”

King’s office could not be reached for comment on the matter.

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