Spoofers, Squatters and Spammers

Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:29 | Filed in Public Sector, Scams & Spams, The Pickards, Web, twitter

I’ve come across a lot of the above in the last few weeks, in social networks of varying types.

It’s important not to confuse the three. The first two will always pose as someone they aren’t, in some way shape or form — either by using the same name as someone and attempting to pass themselves off as them, or by joining a network or registering a domain with a name which they believe some person or company will want at some point, and may buy off them in exchange for some cash.

The third variety, the spammer, may attempt to pass themselves off as someone else, in order to promote their products or services. For example, the whole phenomenon of typosquatting — a domain registered as a common mis-spelling of another — appeared thus.

Spammers (or at least this category thereof) and squatters trade off the good name of another, and exploit that to make money. This is obviously wrong.

But then we come to the spoofers. These people attempt to pass themselves off as someone else, generally to take the piss out of them. Is this just as wrong?

Some people would seem to think so.

DOCTOR Who star David Tennant is being targeted by an internet faker portraying him as a big-headed sex god.

His bosses at the BBC were forced to warn fans after online impostor Lisa Valentine used social networking site Twitter to post a series of bogus messages from Tennant.

Sunday Mail

Now, this feed (@TheDavidTennant) is intended as a spoof. The language used in the article — ‘faker’, ‘impostor’ and ‘bogus’ — would seem to imply malice, that she is actually attempting to pass herself off as David Tennant, instead of just lampooning him.

However, she has — certainly at least since she realised some people actually believed she was David Tennant — frequently tweeted that she wasn’t him, and the bio now specifically indicates that it was a spoof (with the name listed as ‘Not David Tennant’). Although I’m not sure how anyone could have really believed David Tennant would say…

Am having a Goblin meat pudding for tea. May deep fry it. Then will watch myself on DVD whilst snuggled up in my Dr Who gown and slippers.THEDavidTennant

Now I happen to believe lampooning public figures such as David Tennant is fair game, as long as it’s at least relatively clear that it isn’t the real person, and the spoofer isn’t seeking to make a profit from it (and THEDavidTennant is encouraging everyone to donate to Comic Relief, which is obviously fine). But how much of a “celebrity” do you have to be to become “fair game”?

Most people would agree that lampooning the Prime Minister (whomsoever it is at a particular point in time), is fair game. Sportsmen, TV commentators seem fair game — or at least our comedians seem to think so. So where do we draw the line?

The line is becoming increasingly blurred, owing to the recent trend of ‘celebrity as commodity’ by the media. Jade Goody is famous for basically being annoying to people she was living with, and yet now we all hear about her struggles with cancer. This is partly because it’s deliberate — the media presence was there to raise money for her to leave behind — and partly because she’s a known figure, despite having not really achieved anything of note. She’s famous just for being on telly.

Similarly, Madeleine McCann. Gerry McCann told parliament that Madeleine was treated as a commodity by the UK press. And it’s simply because once the papers pick up a story and run with it, the people central to that story are newsworthy simply for having been in the news in the past, and therefore they are even more newsworthy.

So can we treat anyone who has been in the media as ‘fair game’? Well, I don’t quite think so. For a start, it depends on how it’s handled. I have been — briefly — on the radio, but I don’t think I’d be too impressed if someone started lampooning me, and suggesting that I wasn’t some sort of über-sexy hot bod, and was say, pretending that I was some sort of dorky geek. I would feel that I was being ‘picked on’; that someone was being unfair, insulting, and mean. Let’s not quibble about things like ‘accuracy’, okay?

But what if I was in a position of power, or influence? Would I be fair game then, even if I’d not really been in the media? What about Sir Fred Goodwin and his unacceptable pension? It’s hardly Sir Fred’s fault that people/banks were daft enough to give him such a ridiculous pension — it’s either individuals or the culture they operate in that was to blame — but that hasn’t stopped him being the scapegoat.

After all, if you agreed a salary with a new employer, and then after the fact, someone else came along and said “oh, that’s not right, we’ll only pay you half of that”, you’d be a bit upset, wouldn’t you? Why the hell should people be allowed to go back on a previously-agreed deal? Of course, a higher top rate of tax which would affect everyone earning over a certain amount would be one option which wouldn’t single him out…

But Sir Fred’s been in the media, and he’s no doubt been lampooned. Is this fair? Maybe. He certainly presided over the RBS not doing particularly well, so it’s probably fair he should take a bit of stick for that at least.

And then you’ve got @localgovernment, which claims to be John Ransford, who is Chief Executive of the Local Government Organisation. Most people at this point would ask who the hell is John Ransford?

Only he seems to have upset someone, because the twitter feed gives the impression he does bugger all.

Looking at my navel@localgovernment

picking my feet - got terrible toe jam today@localgovernment

This poses a much trickier question. Is it fair?

Well, to be honest, I don’t really know enough about John Ransford to be sure, but as Chief Executive of the LGA, he’s certainly in a position of authority, and I firmly believe that people in authority should be open to parody and lampooning. Where this is maybe a more difficult decision is that it comes over as quite personal, and it may not be immediately obvious to everyone that it is a spoof.

It made me laugh when I saw it, because I thought it was obviously a spoof, although I hoped it was real…

Now I wouldn’t like to see this shut down — for two reasons: it implies that the LGA are control freaks, it implies that they can’t take a joke, it implies that they try to censor things that they don’t agree with, it’s kinda funny, and it also implies that I can’t count past two very well. However, I think it’s reasonable for them to expect it to be a little more clear that it’s a parody.

All you’d really need is something in the Bio, or something in the name, as @THEDavidTennant has done. That would do me quite nicely. Although I don’t think it would be fair to pick on someone who isn’t in the public eye, or in a position of authority in this way.

But wait a minute!! What’s this @jackp I see before me? Could it be someone setting up a twitter account simply to parody and lampoon me? Well, no actually, it’s just someone else called Jack with a surname beginning with ‘P’, who happened to set up his Twitter account before I did (hence he got JackP). Although to be fair, some of the tweets could conceivably be a pisstake of me…

wash my face, brush my teeth, facebook status, post a tweet@JackP

wondering when my ratio of social networking accounts to actual friends will tip over@JackP

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3 Comments to Spoofers, Squatters and Spammers

  1. THEDavidTennant says:

    March 12th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Extremely good argument you have there and I completely agree with you. The one thing that annoyed me about the Sunday Mail article in response to the spoof twitter I did on David Tennant was the very wording of it. It implied, as you have stated, that the Twitter was done out of malice and that I had been warned by BBC bosses. Both of these are untrue, but when has the Mail ever been concerned with the truth?

    My original idea for the Twitter was largely down to a friend who is now co-contributer for some of the feeds. We had caricaturised each other on social networking sites before and it became a bit of a competition to ‘outfunny’ each other. Therefore THEDavidTennant was intended as a private joke, I would send feeds to him, make him believe that Mr Tennant was contacting him and see how far I could push that belief. But I underestimated how popular Twitter was and before I knew it, 600 fans of David Tennant were avidly following every word I wrote. I made the feeds more and more ridiculous in an attempt to ’shake off’ the fans, but I was still getting messages asking for an autograph etc. It was then that I outed myself. Instead of the angry backlash I expected, his fans were actually in possession of a sense of humour and asked me to continue spoofing their hero. This I agreed to so long as I could tie it in with doing some good - more to allay my guilty feelings. Therefore I linked it with Comic Relief and agreed to doing an interview for the BBC Magazine.

    Since then, various other tabloids, most notably The Sunday Mail and The Scotsman have picked up on the story and re-worded it to tie in with their haughty opinions that fake Twitter accounts are largely annoying, insulting and done purely out of malice. Which gives me a greater understanding of how celebrities must feel when fake stories appear in the popular press about them. A taste of my own medicine you might say!

    However it does raise a serious point. Ewan McGregor has become the latest victim of ‘name hijacking’ by both Twitter and MySpace. Which poses the question - should social networking sites be more closely regulated to make it harder for identity thieves? I note that the tabloid press lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the ‘faker’ rather than the particular networking site whose security is so lax you could set up as Gorden the Gopher and no-one would intervene.

    For my own fake Tweets, I have made it abundantly clear that it is not the actual David Tennant tweeting - yet I still get fans asking if I really am him and could I say hello to their children. So perhaps we, the general public, need to step back a little and apply some common sense to the situation. Do they really think that David Tennant goes to McDonalds wearing a kilt?

    I would like to think that my spoof of David Tennant has been inoffensive and subtle. To date I have managed to raise £350 for Comic Relief - after all, they did encourage us to ‘Do Something Funny for Money’! I suppose it really does depend on your sense of humour though, as to whether it is humourous or just plain annoying.

  2. chartroose says:

    March 12th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    So, you’re saying you’re NOT a dorky geek?

  3. JackP says:

    March 13th, 2009 at 1:04 am

    Aha! I believe this is where I refer to what is generally known on the US cop shows we get over here as “taking the fifth”.

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