Small town grapples with parody Twitter accounts, draws national attention

December 28, 2012

It's the end of the year and, for news organizations, that means top 10 lists galore.

I've lived in Texas all my life and spent four years attending college in Huntsville, what's known as the prison capital of the Lone Star State. (Not a necessarily great claim to fame, I know.) So, naturally, I like to check up on everything there every now and then.

The newspaper there, the Huntsville Item, which I once freelanced for, was counting down the year's most interesting moments. One in particular caught my eye — a Twitter battle of epic proportions.

I'm used to seeing Chris Brown squabble on the internet with people that aren't necessarily his fans, but people in Huntsville, TX?

The Walker County District Attorney launched an investigation into the legality of this anonymous person or persons creating fake Twitter accounts for city council members. Some of the tweets were pretty mean-spirited and petty, but the Twitter bios clearly stated they weren't who their Twitter handle suggested they may be. (I mean, I figured it out fairly quickly after I learned one of these fake Twitter accounts followed me about a year ago.)

The debacle got picked up by the Associated Press and the Texas Monthly, especially after the Texas Rangers devoted a few resources into looking into the matter. And some people started scratching their heads ... Does the DA not know that parody is legal? Has he not seen Tina Fey infamously play Alaska governor and one-time Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live or heard a "Weird Al" Yankovic song?

That's essentially what Katie Newman, a former Sam Houston State University student, said. She later admitted to creating a fake account to poke fun at City Council Member James Fitch.

"Political satire has been going on for hundreds of years, and with modern technology and social networking there’s just new and creative ways to do it,” the newspaper quoted Newman as saying in October.

Read the Item's full article here.

Also, read up on how copyright law in regards to fair use and previous court decisions allow for parody at the Library of Congress here.

Media Bistro, in an article about an insurance company suing a Twitter account pretending to be them, said users can safeguard themselves from legal action, such as this, by simply reading the social media's terms of service.

"Twitter stipulates that all parody accounts should be clearly labeled as such, using a word like 'fake', 'not' or 'fan' in the username and the profile name. They should also be clearly labeled as a parody within the bio, and should not try to mislead users into believing that it is the real company or individual that it is parodying," the site reports.

Do you think it's wrong for people to set up parody accounts of elected officials or do you think that just comes with the territory of being in the public eye?

What sort of parody Twitter accounts are you following?

Oh, and I, of course, had to include this.

And check out what Mashable says is the 10 best spoof Twitter accounts of 2011 here. (I'm sure they'll make a new list after they ring in the New Year.) Enjoy.