The Twitter account that poked fun at former Gov. Angus King, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, was suspended Sunday night after King’s campaign complained that tweets from King_Angus could mislead people.
By Monday morning, King_Angus_II was up and resuming the unflattering commentary — and adding accusations of an assault on free speech. It also was seeking more followers than the King campaign’s own Twitter account — AngusKing2012 — which also was launched Monday morning.
The anonymous Twitter account of King’s critic appeared soon after King, an independent, announced March 5 that he would run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Olympia Snowe. The short postings, called tweets, lampooned the former governor as having a big ego.
On Monday, Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the campaign, said, “It was a campaign decision to report this impersonator of Angus King on Twitter, and Twitter, following their own guidelines, decided to pull down this account.”
Although the account’s description included a statement that it was a parody, the anonymous author got an email from Twitter on Sunday night saying the account had been suspended under Twitter’s rules against impersonation.
The rules say Twitter does not monitor accounts but does provide instructions for reporting violations of its policy on impersonation.
Twitter’s rules say: “You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others … Accounts with clear intent to deceive or confuse are prohibited as impersonation accounts and subject to suspension.”
The holder of King_Angus said Monday that he will appeal.
Canney would not say whether the campaign plans to report the latest incarnation of the account.
Social media experts say the Internet has been used to parody politicians and others almost since its inception, and stifling such parodies can be nearly impossible.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that common. But when there are opportunities, America is a culture that loves parodies, so it’s more likely to spread by word of mouth and go viral,” said Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California.
One of the earliest Internet parodies was by someone who registered UntiedAirlines.com, a common misspelling of United Airlines’ website. The site poked fun at the airline’s reputation at the time for poor customer service, North said.
It has become essential for candidates to have a presence online, North said, so the stakes are higher when someone confuses potential supporters. But it has gotten harder for parodies to get a foothold as businesses and political groups have become more savvy.
Many businesses register all of the domain names that are similar to their own and redirect people to the actual site. Political groups register prominent party members’ names, just in case they run for office in the future, North said.
Shutting down a deceptive Internet presence is easier than shutting down one that is clearly a parody, said William J. Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.
At one college in Kentucky, students created fake accounts that purported to be authored by the college president and an athletic coach, Ward said. When the school tried to crack down, the students made it a free-speech issue that drew a following.
“When you try to get heavy-handed and try to squash those type of things, it really only makes them morph into other things,” Ward said.
The person behind the King_Angus parody account said in the email that he will remain anonymous, “because I have a job, and my boss would be unhappy if he knew I was sending goofy tweets during the day.”
He said he has no particular gripe against King.
“I wouldn’t say I dislike Angus King. He’s a politician, so I’ve never met Angus King, but based on his public appearances he seemed pretty full of himself and a good target for parody.”
The tweeter does not expect his tweets to influence November’s election.
Ward said the only way for the target of a parody to deal with it is to join in on it.
“Part of the challenge is those people reluctantly having to have a sense of humor,” Ward said. “Let people know you’re in on the joke.”
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]