Dealing with Fake vs. Imposter Twitter Accounts

Twitter is an online social interaction platform which enables users to share their thoughts and interact with the public and other users 140 characters at a time.  Twitter has grown in popularity exponentially over the past few years, and as part of that, users are seeking to gather “followers” as quickly as possible to draw attention to their account.  Often times, in order to attract “followers” quickly, users latch on to prominent figures or celebrities by mimicking them.  This is motivated by the fact that Twitter users with a large number of followers can be paid large sums of money to “tweet” on behalf of a business, a product, or an event.  For example, Terrell Owens, a former NFL football player, has reportedly been paid up to $20,000 per tweet.  Other times, users simply create these accounts as parodies for enjoyment.

 As a consequence, fake Twitter accounts are quite common, with some causing confusion and potentially harm through impersonation.  Twitter is well aware of the abundant creation of “fake” Twitter accounts.  Initially, in order to combat this problem, Twitter established its “Verified” program which enables a well known user to establish a Twitter account and have it displayed with a “Verified Badge” in order to definitely identify a well known user’s actual account.  The Verified program is very limited in scope and is not open to the public.  Therefore, in order to participate, an individual would need to have a very high nationwide profile.

Despite this effort to promote clarity, Twitter allows “fake” Twitter accounts when used under certain circumstances.  Twitter only draws the line where a user creates an account and uses it to “impersonate” someone else.  According to Twitter’s policies, so long as the account’s profile “make[s] it clear that the creator of the account is not actually the same person or entity as the subject of the parody/commentary” then the account is an acceptable form of user expression.  Examples of how such an account is acceptably designated include: 

- using the words “not, “fake” or “fan” in the username

- using words such as “not, “fake” or “fan” in addition to the exact name of the person in the account’s name

- making the purpose of the account as a parody or fan page clear in the account’s biographical section, or

- refraining from communications which suggest that the user is in fact the real person

 In the event a user is in violation of these guidelines, an account is considered to be an impermissible “imposter”, and Twitter will require the user to revise the account information to bring it into compliance with the above guidelines or face the suspension of the account.  To initiate an investigation into a Twitter account, an authorized user may simply submit an online takedown request.  The use of these requests can be very powerful in ensuring that permissible “fake” Twitter accounts are clearly identified as such to the public to prevent any mistake or harm.

 For more information or answers to any questions you may have, please contact us at Woodard, Emhardt, Moriarty, McNett, & Henry LLP.