The fake Twitter trap

October 31st, 2011 by Dylan Leave a reply »

It’s probably happened to all of us (if we use Twitter much) – we see a tweet that seems to publicly reveal something unexpected about some entity we’re critical of… But it turns out that the Tweeter in question is one of those oh-so-popular parody Twitter accounts. It’s a popular opinion that the best satire cuts close to the truth, so these accounts often say things we think might be true but that would never be admitted by the people in question.

Usually, if we take a moment to check it out, we realise what we’re seeing and avoid embarassing ourselves by reacting with real outrage at the fake tweet. But sometimes that doesn’t happen and we run with it, only to be corrected and then to issue a mea culpa and slink in to the e-shadows for a bit.

This is sort of like what happened to Trevor Mallard. He saw a tweet from @NZNational that seemed to be lying about something that was easily disproved, and he then decided to make a blog post, titled @NZNational says it was a real town hall meeting, about it (on Labour’s official blog site).

Only it’s even uglier than that – Mallard was definitely aware it wasn’t a real account. The profile makes it clear and he’d even acknowledged it on Twitter 24 hours before making his blog post.

It went something like this:

The National party’s political broadcast included a “townhall meeting” which featured (unacknowledged) National supporters and members tossing questions at the PM. A bit like an informercial…

The @nzlabour account tweeted “How can John Key know what Kiwis think when he only talks to hand picked audiences?” at 7:35pm on Friday night.

Then at 9:49am on Saturday morning @NZNational replied “The audience was a cross section picked randomly. The Q’s were not known in advance and @johnkeypm answered off-the-cuff.”

And that was that… Until 9:09am on Monday when Mallard published his blog post, which shows a screenshot of the @NZNational tweet and a screenshot of some National supporters recognising their friends on the broadcast (as evidence that they were plants). That’s it. No more editorialising or context.

However almost 12 hours posting on the blog Twitter user @brendonRS tweeted “@TrevorMallard have you still not figured out that @NZNational is a parody account?” to which Mallard replied “I know it isn’t official but that doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate”

Mallard’s defence to his blog post could be in the title where he appears to have been careful to use the Twitter account’s name, @NZNational, rather than saying it was the National party, but that’s hardly an excuse. He didn’t provide any explanation of the account for readers, nor a link to the account for context. 

His claim in the quoted tweet that being a parody account “doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate” is irrelevant – clearly no National supporter is going to parody the party. To present the tweet as if it were evidence of National Party lies is very dishonest and obviously deliberately so.