Attack of the Fake Twitter Accounts


“Imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery.”

So uttered Charles Caleb Colton, the eccentric British vicar and writer, back in the 19th century.

Once I destroy your corporate headquarters, I'll start the fake Twitter account.

Now we have @BPGlobalPR, the fake Twitter account pretending to be the PR team for the embattled oil corporation.  The parody account has racked up more than 180,000 followers with wry commentary such as:

“The only harmful chemicals in our dispersant are the ones you inhale, silly.”

Or

“No more offshore drilling? Fine. We’ll make our own shores, just like we make our own rules.”

@BPGlobalPR  struck a nerve and went viral because of confluence of events – an enormous environmental disaster, a period of great distrust in corporate and political leaders, criticism of BP’s initial communications efforts, and launching on the heels of an energy bill passed in the U.S. that included provisions for more off-shore drilling (not to mention a movement in the U.S. of “drill, baby, drill” boosterism).

It also didn’t help that New Orleans was the focal point – the hard-luck city facing yet another environmental disaster after regaining its footing after Hurricane Katrina.

@BPGlobalPR also happened to be well-written and quite funny – no matter what your politics.

Success, as Colton noted, breeds imitation.  Now it seems as if every fledgling comedy writer and social media whiz is creating fake accounts pretending to be a company or brand.  These people are known as Phweeters.  Other fake Twitter accounts targeting corporations include Goldman Sachs, Yahoo, AT&T, Facebook and Virgin.  The fakes are popping up like mushrooms these days.

So what can a company do to battle against these fake accounts?  The social media experts at Weber Shandwick (where I work) recently compiled a comprehensive list of procedurals that companies can use to take action if believe their brand has been brand-jacked on Twitter.

  • Start with Twitter.  The company’s terms of service and rules of engagement include provisions that can be used to protect brands.  Twitter has a group called the “Trust and Safety Team” that can be contacted for help.  You can find links to Twitter’s terms of service and a link to report violations directly to Twitter below
  • Twitter’s terms of service forbids trademark violations. Any fake or parody account that uses trademarked materials, including logos, can be shutdown for violations.  However, Twitter may ask the account to remove the offending materials rather than close it down.
  • Any fake account that “misleads or confuses” readers can be suspended.  Twitter can also ask fake accounts to clearly identify themselves as fake or as parody accounts
  • Twitter requires parody accounts to distinguish themselves from the actual accounts (with words like “fake” or “not”).  The bio field must also state in some form or fashion that the account is not real.  The fake account must not engage in behavior to mislead or deceive readers that it is, in fact, a real account

It is also important for brands to keep fake Twitter accounts in perspective.  If a fake account has less than 10 followers and only sporadically posts content, it might not be worth the effort to shut it down.  Each fake account needs to be monitored, of course, and a decision made on an individual basis.

Even BPGlobalPR, with more than 180,000 followers, is a rather small number of people when compared to the massive exposure to billions of people around the world that the deluge of media and online attention the company is receiving.  And nearly 50,000 followers less than New Age guru Deepak Chopra and 20,000 less than the FOX-TV show “Glee.”

What are your thoughts about fake Twitter accounts?  Do you enjoy them?  Are they are distraction?

Links:

Charles Caleb Colton’s Wikipedia entry

Fake BPGlobal PR Twitter account

Fake Corporate Twitter accounts (via Huffington Post)

Twitter’s terms of service and guideline documents

Twitter’s violation report ticket

Photo by Ian Myles (via Flickr)

Deepak Chopra Twitter account

Glee Twitter account

Weber Shandwick

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One Response to “Attack of the Fake Twitter Accounts”

  1. The one account i love the most is the fake steve job

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