Government parody accounts on Twitter

A look at the power clash between those who test the boundaries to impersonate politicians and government departments and Twitter. 

IRL

Published Feb 7, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 7:02 pm CDT

Twitter has some funny standards, and some pretty funny people who test those boundaries to impersonate politicians and government departments. It was only a matter of time before the powers clashed.

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A political parody account was shut down by Twitter in the UK last month, with online activists quick to note the draconian nature of the action.

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Site officials handed  @UKJCP its notice after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took umbrage with the parody and decided to take things into their own hands:

@UKJCP Can you stop RT tweets we have not written – it is not satire and is confusing to customers. It also exceeds your twitter agreement

— DWP (@DWPgovuk) January 22, 2014

When asked to comment, a DWP spokesman said, “We have not asked for any Twitter account to be taken down or suspended,” although did not deny reporting the account and letting Twitter do the work themselves.

The Rules Are Clear

1. Avatars should not be the exact same logo.

2. The name should not be the same and should clearly state that it is fake or a parody.

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3. The bio should also state clearly that it is a fake or a parody.

All three conditions need to be met in order for a parody account to stay on the site. Despite making its comedy credentials clear in the bio, @UKJCP clearly violated the second rule.

The owner of the account has now set up two new handles to roast the DWP, @Director_UKJCP and @departmentofdwp, both of which still appear to break the second rule of Twitter parodies.

It has also been reported that two other accounts mocking the DWP and its humourless secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith have also been shut down. This is not true. Both are now both back, swiping at the ‘Quiet Man’ and his devious department.

Meanwhile, many other mock Twitter accounts which appear to violate the rules are still up and running. There are plenty of Barack Obama parodies (@ThePresObama) and two rather improved social media personae for Chancellor George Osborne (@MrGeorgeOsborne, @6eorge_Osborne),

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Meet the Doppelganger

Before it was shut down, @UKJCP was one of the staunchest and most popular critics of the government’s welfare reforms. Its political intentions were clear, which is perhaps why the DWP took exception and perhaps even grassed it in.

In the case of other doppelgangers, however, the psychology of the parodist—his desire to shock and provoke—isn’t so simple.

“I set up IDS on April Fool’s Day last year,” said Skip, 41, who runs the fake Iain Duncan Smith account which was wrongly reported to have been shut down. “I wanted to have some fun at an MP’s expense, and IDS is the most hated of them all, so I picked him.”

Despite launching vicious attacks on the minister in charge of chopping benefits, Skip appears to have more in common with Iain Duncan Smith than he would perhaps like to admit. He relishes the abuse and death threats he receives from people who often mistake him for the real government minister.

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@trophyeyes1989 well I’m not. Piss off

— Iain Duncan Smith MP (@IDS_MP) January 14, 2014

“The DWP has no real impact on me,” he said by email. “I’m a veteran with PTSD, but I also hold down a full time job so don’t get any benefits. I did have a war pension for a while, but the Government took it off me when I started working full time—the last lot, not these clowns.”

Skip then admitted: “I suspect I’m very much like IDS. We’re both ex-army. Work hard, play hard and fret about bullets, not boxes with words in them.”

Much like Iain Duncan Smith, this impersonator’s real target appears to be the general populace. “[The IDS account] is a moronic lightning conductor. Sucking in Mr & Mrs Angry from Twittersville amuses a great number of people,” he said.

To the people who have sent death threats, he makes no apologies. “I laugh at each one and dunk a biscuit in some tea. I have no ego to bruise and thus am bulletproof to the laughable online threats he gets.”

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As much of an odious troll as a satirist, then. Not that the difference is so clear cut.

#DWP understands @twitter reluctant to explain why it’s ‘rules’ means @UKJCP should be sent down a Memory Hole and UK Gov Satire suspended.

— DWP (@departmentofdwp) February 3, 2014

@trophyeyes1989 well I’m not. Piss off

— Iain Duncan Smith MP (@IDS_MP) January 14, 2014

While Twitter’s actions seem haphazardly applied, its rules are clear on parody accounts.

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*First Published: Feb 7, 2014, 9:00 am CST