Fake Twitter accounts bedevil politicos

California state Sen. Leland Yee, a candidate for mayor of San Franciso, recently came under fire from what seemed to be his own campaign's Twitter feed. A string of tweets from the account @Yee4Mayor criticized his record in the state legislature and mentioned his 1992 arrest on suspicion of shoplifting.

Of course, the account really had no connection to Yee's campaign. It was the latest example of the new role social media is playing in electoral politics, the New York Times reports. As candidates increasingly use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with their fans and supporters, their rivals likewise are increasingly using similar-sounding accounts to spread negative or false information about them

Yee campaign strategist Jim Stearn, fearing possible confusion among voters as a result of the account's official-sounding handle, asked Twitter to remove the account. Twitter, which has a policy against impersonating others on the social networking site, complied with the request.

Of course, Yee's campaign is powerless to stop people from posting less-than-flattering tweets under satirical handles such as @NotLelandYee and @LelandYeeLoves. It's unclear who's running those accounts, but according to the Times story, Stearns says he thinks they may be the work of Yee's opponents' campaigns.

As Forbes magazine points out, fake Twitter accounts are increasingly used to make political points through barbed humor, as @BPGlobalPR did in attacking British Petroleum over last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They are also used to mock politicians for their personal foibles, as Rahm Emanuel discovered when he was running for mayor of Chicago and became the target of tweets from @MayorEmanuel, a feed that made fun of his famous penchant for profanity.

Fake Twitter accounts have also contributed to the downfall of politicians, according to the Times. A group of conservatives went on Twitter under fake names to gather information to use against former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who recently resigned from Congress after admitting to tweeting lewd photos of himself to several women. One of the fake accounts was under the guise of a 16-year-old girl who asked Weiner to her high school prom.

About the Author

Donald White is an assistant managing editor with 1105 Government Information Group.

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Reader comments

Mon, Jun 27, 2011 RayW

I have six email accounts that I use for different purposes and appear to be different identities, only one has my name on it...the Gov one. Make that seven, I have a bounce that uses my Ham Radio call sign. I do not consider myself very "on line" in that I do not use twitter, facebook, etc., and my cell phone is one I paid $100/1000 minutes/year and it is mostly in the OFF position and only used for voice.

But many of us could see this coming. All these methods are anonymous and one person can generate 100's of emails from seemingly random points around the country. It is a very powerful tool, look at what it did for an unknown senator in the last election. Perverts have used this for years to imitate being teen girls and boys to arrange meetings with unsuspecting kids. Experts can sppof addresses to make it seem like it came from another server.

Yet the Gov wants to make this a major tool for the masses to communicate with the Gov?

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