Yesterday I wrote about Twitter banning a parody account of French President Nicolas Sarkozy as well as three other accounts that were known to have been politically opposed to Sarkozy. On the day Sarkozy announced he will seek re-election, these four accounts were suspended by Twitter.
As of this morning, the parody account for Sarkozy, @_nicolassarkozy, appears to be active once again but with the word "Fake" appended to the name "Nicolas Sarkozy."
Je-le-dis-je-le-fais : après quelques jours de vacances sur le yacht de Bolloré, me voilà de retour ! Merci pour votre soutien !
Thanks to my amazing multilingual fluency (i.e., Bing translator), I determined that the post reads: "I-the-say-I-the-do: after a few days of vacation on the yacht of Bolloré, here I am back! Thank you for your support!"
The other three accounts suspended - @fortefrance, @mafranceforte, and @SarkozyCaSuffit - remain suspended.
Despite the re-activation of the Sarkozy parody account today, the account had already indicated in the bio that it was fake so the change of name on the account seems a bit arbitrary and doesn't really clear up why the account was suspended in the first place.
After getting in touch Twitter concerning the seemingly questionable timing to suspend the accounts, I received a response this morning. Earlier today, Twitter addressed the suspension of the four accounts on their French blog. Perhaps rightly assuming that I may be lacking the schooling to understand the blog, Twitter provided a translation of the post:
Twitter plays an integral role in political discourse all over the world. We understand and support the critical need for citizens and politicians to engage in real-time conversations about important issues—and we would never stand in the way of that. However, we will also protect the user experience on Twitter, which includes ensuring our policies are followed. If they aren't, we will suspend the offending accounts.
Speaking publicly of individual, specific cases of suspension is a breach of confidentiality and security. That said, we would like to provide this context for the recent suspensions:
Parody is tolerated and encouraged on Twitter, so long as it respects not merely some, but all, of the conditions stated publicly in our parody policy. An impersonating account is suspended when it a) violates our parody policy and b) is reported by the person being impersonated. We resort to automated suspensions for those accounts which violate the conditions listed under the Spam section of the Twitter Rules. Suspended users may contest account suspensions, and are often granted a second chance to comply with the rules.
In sum, our team is dedicated to safeguarding Twitter as a vibrant communications tool for free expression and to helping our users by abiding to our policies, and to treating all involved parties impartially.
The reply isn't all that enlightening and is profoundly generic to nearly a belittling degree, so I replied with the following email that pointed out specific contradictions in how Twitter enforced its policy on parody accounts in the United States and France.
Thanks for the reply as well as the link and translation to the French blog addressing the removal.
As for parody accounts requiring all and not some of the conditions stated publicly in our parody policy, how does that apply to accounts like @RealGovWalker, @ThePresObama, or @TheRealRomney? Those parody accounts don't comply with all of the standards and some in fact firmly defy the standards (such as the fake Romney account or fake Scott Walker account which include "real"). Do they continue to exist only because the real people the accounts are impersonating have not filed a complaint?
Also, for a parody account to be suspended, must it meet both of the requirements that you state: violation of parody account policies and to be reported by the person being impersonated? Is merely one of those criterion insufficient?
Thanks again for your time and attention regarding this matter.
My hopes of a more illuminating response were to be quashed with Twitter's next reply as this was the complete response to my email.
The first bullet in the blog post addresses this question:
"An impersonating account is suspended when it a) violates our parody policy and b) is reported by the person being impersonated."
And that was it.
Twitter is holding its cards unnervingly close to its vest regarding the suspension of the Sarkozy parody account. For a company that was patting itself on the back as recently as 27 days ago for championing transparency when it came to withholding (note the careful avoidance of the word "censoring") tweets, Twitter's behavior over why the Sarkozy parody account was banned in the first place is discouraging.
As things are, the general deduction from all of this is: if you are managing a parody account of a celebrity or political figure and you don't indicate in every facet of the account that it is in fact a parody - even though such a requirement is not explicit in the parody account policy on Twitter's website - you will likely receive a suspension if the impersonated figure complains on you.
Twitter doesn't have to reveal exactly why each account like this gets suspended, but at the very least it could provide a clearer explanation for what designations a parody account needs to have in order to avoid suspension. As it is, Twitter appears to simply be exercising its power to suspend accounts more on whim than merit.