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To combat impersonator accounts, the Member or someone who can legally speak on his behalf must contact Twitter, according to its policy. Twitter would then verify that the account is an impersonation and suspend it.
“It is pretty easy to determine whether or not someone is a Member of Congress,” Sharp said.
A related public image problem on Twitter is “name squatting,” as Sharp called it. Lawmakers without accounts could find that handles containing their name and title have already been registered by someone else. For example, it would be against Twitter policy for a candidate to register multiple handles in the name of an opponent. Evidence of name squatting should be reported to Twitter.
Germany said issues such as impersonator accounts and name squatting are the result of the changing social media landscape. “With the increase in adoption of social media tools ... we’re seeing an increase in spam,” she said.
Those Without Twitter
Members who have stayed away from Twitter haven’t necessarily avoided social media altogether. Mica, for instance, maintains a Facebook account.
Germany pointed out that each social media platform has its own advantages. “There’s a definite personality, there’s a definite way of communicating and interacting that goes with each of those tools,” she said.
However, she encouraged public officials to join Twitter so that they can participate in the discussions happening there. “People are going to continue to talk about you,” she said. “If you’re not there, then you’re missing out on seeing what they’re doing.”
There is value in directly communicating with constituents through social media, Germany said. “By not adapting, they lose the ability to speak directly to their constituents without going through an intermediary,” she said.