Beto O’Rourke Parody Account Suspended Until It Adds the Word ‘Fake’ to Its Name

One of the fun things about social media is the existence of parody and satire accounts. A person with a sharp mind can effectively use humor to puncture the manufactured public persona of politicians, actors, and other public figures. But there are numerous rules, intended for other purposes and definitely applied unevenly, that can be enforced against them. This is exactly what happened to the Twitter account formerly known as “BetosBlog.”

It turns out that Beto O’Rourke is not that hard to parody. Between his Medium blog and Instagram posts (including one of himself at the dentist where he talked to his dental hygienist about growing up in El Paso, Texas), O’Rourke has provided ample examples of his style for parodists to take into their own hands.

Parodies of political figures are fairly common. Parody newspaper The Onion had a comedy version of Joe Biden that was very popular when he was the Vice President. On Twitter, anyone can do the same thing for anyone else.

“BetosBlog” is a Twitter account that posts screenshots of what look like Medium posts that exaggerate O’Rourke’s style. Every sentence is very short, atmospheric, and vaguely about the beauty of America. The posts are funny because they are just outside the plausible, but obviously based on O’Rourke.

Unfortunately for the blog, part of the parody involved that the profile only read “On the road of life” and did not explicitly explain that it wasn’t actually O’Rourke. Twitter’s policy states that accounts that “pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.”

The issue is that this vague standard sweeps in a lot of valuable speech that might be superficially “confusing” or even harmlessly “deceptive.” Parody and satire both require some prior knowledge of the subject for the jokes to work. And so something like BetosBlog would not be confusing for anyone who has seen his blog, but most people have not

Moreover, there are all sorts of parody accounts that don’t run afoul of this policy. It appears, mostly, that what happens is that one gets popular, and popularity triggers the action. Twitter only disables parody accounts after someone files a complaint, which is far more likely to happen when an account is popular than when it is small. And that means basically being punished for success.

Eventually, BetosBlog reappeared, this time as “BetosFakeBlog” and with the profile “On the road of life. Parody account.” You ever hear that a joke stops being funny once you explain it? That’s kind of in effect here.

Parody and satire are expressions that often take on power because of the momentary confusion that arises because something is outrageous and yet within the realm of possibility. They also require creativity. It lets the air out of the statements to have to constantly remind people that you are not real, and that you are making jokes. And it does not help that at the moment of your greatest popularity—when your platform is at its largest—you can find your account banned under a vague and inconsistently applied policy.

Original Title of Threatened Content: 
January 2019