Fri, Feb 11, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Phony Twitter accounts generate genuine laughter

NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

When a blizzard blanketed Chicago last week, “Rahm Emanuel” took to Twitter to chronicle his day — making a snow angel on Lake Michigan, shoveling out David Axelrod’s Civic, drinking whiskey in an igloo made by a tireless campaign intern named Carl.

Except, of course, these updates were not from the actual Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff who is running for mayor of Chicago and who has his own — far more professional and less profanity-laden — Twitter feed. They were from a fake account in his name, an online alter ego created anonymously.

Fake Twitter personalities mock actors like Chuck Norris and world leaders like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose faux feed suggested that “Muslim Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants!” would be a great “political movie mash-up.”

However, figures from the worlds of Washington and politics are particularly attractive targets for the mock Twitter treatment.

There are several phony accounts for former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, including one in which she confuses North and South Korea and another where she boasts, “I can check in to Russia on FourSquare from my house!”

There is the Twitter doppelganger of the executive editor of the Politico Web site, (AT)FakeJimVandeHei, a wisecracking, tyrannical presence in the newsroom, threatening to fire reporters who link to rival news organizations in their articles.

There is (AT)DCJourno, a self-described “important political reporter in Washington” who recently advised cable television bookers that he would be happy to appear on their shows to talk about Egypt — he has, after all, “been following this stuff pretty closely for almost a week.”

“I love that we have no idea who is behind them, and that’s part of the fun,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist. “The fact that people are facilitating those conversations anonymously is in many ways completely anti-Washington, where you have such a name-obsessed culture, and now some of the most pointed observations are coming from people who don’t have real names. In that regard, it’s even more perfect.”

However, that has not stopped people from guessing. The Washington parlor game of the moment is trying to puzzle out just who is behind each new parody account.

The real Jim VandeHei jokingly says that he thinks John Harris, who cofounded Politico with him, might be behind (AT)FakeJimVandeHei, “though he’s much funnier than the posts suggested.”

“I have suspected he wanted a way to unload on me, but didn’t have the heart to do it in person,” VandeHei said in an e-mail.

Twitter allows parody accounts as long as they are labeled as such.

The person behind the handle (AT)DCJourno, who would not reveal his identity, said that he started the account in the hope that it might make its targets a bit more self-aware.

His tweets totter between fact and fiction so closely that he said: “Several of my followers still don’t understand that I’m a parody. They think I’m just a cool D.C. journalist, which really says it all.”

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