Twitter impersonation…an IP Whiteboard investigation

The recent impersonation of Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman on Twitter, is a timely reminder of the substantial scope that exists for people to be impersonated online.  Internet sites such as Twitter and Facebook lend themselves to such impersonations due to the lack of requirements for authentication of identity when registering accounts on these sites.  Twitter impersonation has become increasingly widespread, with other politicians such as Stephen Conroy, John Brumby and Stephen Fielding also being targeted.  So, what can be done about this? IP Whiteboard investigates.

Contact Twitter

Twitter defines impersonation as “pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive”.  If a false account has been set up in your name, and you believe that the account holder is impersonating you in order to deceive, you can make an online request to Twitter (regardless of whether or not you have your own Twitter account) for an account to be investigated.  This request must include your name and contact details, the username of the person impersonating you and a brief description of the impersonating conduct.  Impersonation is considered a violation of the Twitter Rules, and if found to be occurring, may result in permanent account suspension.

However, even if an account is falsely in your name it will be allowed by Twitter if it is considered a parody, commentary or fan account.  Twitter produces guidelines for parody, commentary or fan accounts.  Under these guidelines, it is suggested that users ensure the profile name is not the same as the subject of the account (e.g. to make this clear, users can add the word “fake”, “parody” or “fan” to the name) and that the account does not deceive or mislead people as to its identity.  If these guidelines are followed, it is unlikely Twitter will do anything about an impersonating account.   

Get your own page

If contacting Twitter doesn’t work you could create and use your own Twitter account.  By creating your own account you can ensure that users are able to follow an official account and will be aware that any statements made via false accounts do not represent your views.  Creating a Twitter account may also come with added benefits, particularly in the case of politicians, as it will enable users to spread their message to a large audience in real time.       

Go to court

In the absence of assistance from Twitter itself, there is always the option of going to court.  Last year an American man took legal action against Twitter in relation to a Twitter account that he alleged misappropriated his name. While this case was dropped, it has shown the willingness of users (at least in the United States) to seek redress wherever it can be found.  Twitter users in Australia are likely to be less litigious than their American counterparts, and in any case it is by no means clear that an Australian individual will have an enforceable legal right against a Twitter impersonator (even assuming that the impersonator is also Australian).  In short, litigation in an Australian court is likely to be a high risk, not to mention expensive, strategy.    

Ignore it

Finally, you might simply choose to ignore the account; it may even provide you with some useful publicity at no expense.  It seems Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has taken this option.  When asked about his impersonated account (@Can_do_Campbell), he reportedly shrugged it off saying – “that’s just life isn’t it”.

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