Why Fake Twitter Accounts Are Hilarious (But Sometimes A Problem)

“DMV eye exam answers.”

It looks like something someone would search in Google or on in an effort to cheat their way out of having their doctor prescribe them as legally blind.

Instead, for some, that sort of subject matter provides the basis for a brilliant Twitter account. By convincing a technologically challenged 81-year-old that Twitter was the way to search things on Google, one person was able to come up with something that would eventually become the 150,000+ follower monster that it is today, called oldmansearch. It’s hilarious, albeit (assuming it’s real) a bit mean.

And that’s one of the easily hundreds of fake Twitter accounts with large followings. Another fake account for Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel pokes fun at Mayor Emanuel’s reputation for gratuitously swearing by providing followers with a Twitter stream indicative of that sort of reputation (just forewarning, the language within is pretty explicit).

Celebrities, politicians, and even athletes have all been subject to, at one point or another, these fake Twitter accounts. Often, they’re intended to be caricatures of the people they portray and strictly as a joke. For most people, it’s not a problem. In fact, Mayor Emanuel thought that his fake Twitter account was so funny that he offered the person behind the account $2,500 towards a charity of their choice if they came forward.

But for others, those fake Twitter accounts have been a source of complaint. Before Kanye West eventually decided to step into the Twitter arena, a Twitter user had created an account @kanyewest and tweeted to people interested in the hugely popular artist. The account accumulated over a million followers before West chose to address it. His response? “I DON’T HAVE A ******* TWITTER… WHY WOULD I USE TWITTER???”

And while anger might typically be the most extreme response, other, worse threats have been issued against some accounts. When actor Ewan McGregor caught wind of a fake Twitter account impersonating him and revealing personal information with nearly 20,000 followers, he threatened to pursue legal action against the person.

And certainly, those accounts which aim to hurt an individuals reputation are problematic. Kanye and Mcgregor aren’t the first (and probably won’t be the last) that have found other impersonating them on Twitter. Although joke or fake Twitter accounts typically label themselves as strictly fake, often that label can result in the account (assuming it’s funny) acquiring far more followers than the real account.

With that said, Twitter often takes action against fake Twitter accounts that it determines are more hurtful than they are comedic. And now, with the addition of ‘verified accounts’, Twitter account users are able to identify themselves as the celebrity or politician in question if they are able to provide accurate personal information. That too helps to further differentiate the legitimate accounts from the fake ones.

But more often than not, joke Twitter accounts are made with one goal in mind: to be funny. So, regardless of whether an account is impersonating a politician or even a comic book hero it’s safe to say that, most of the time, the individual creating the account isn’t trying to hurt anyone. And while the old adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” certainly applies to Twitter, too, there’s no telling how someone will respond to a particular Twitter account, especially if it tends to dig deep into someone’s personal life. 

Ultimately, though, because Twitter grants us a more transparent look into the lives of celebrities, it’s only natural that it would also spawn impostors. So, while Kim Jong Il’s Twitter account may be hilarious, just note that the messages it’s portraying aren’t necessarily indicative of the infamous dictator’s real thoughts or intentions. As with most things, unless the account is undeniably real, take it with a grain of salt.