Is the UK government fighting a war on Twitter parody?

By Lewis G. Parker

A political parody account was shut down by Twitter in the U.K. last month, with online activists quick to note the draconian nature of the action.

It begs the question whether the government and social network are clamping down on parodists, and why these accounts are worthy of banning at all.

Site officials handed the spoof Jobcentre Plus account @UKJCP its notice after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took umbrage with the parody and took matters into its own hands:

When asked to comment, a DWP spokesman said, “We have not asked for any Twitter account to be taken down or suspended,” although did not deny reporting the account to begin with.

The rules are clear

While Twitter’s actions seem haphazardly applied, especially given how slow it has been to act in cases of bullying and abuse, its rules are clear on parody accounts.

1. Avatars should not be the exact same logo.
2. The name should not be the same and should clearly state that it is fake or a parody.
3. The bio should also state clearly that it is a fake or a parody.

All three conditions need to be met in order for a parody account to stay on the site. Despite making its comedy credentials clear in its bio, @UKJCP clearly violated the second rule.

The owner of the account has now set up two new handles to roast the DWP, @Director_UKJCP and @departmentofdwp, both of which still appear to break the second rule of Twitter parodies.

It has also been reported that two other accounts mocking the DWP and its humourless secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, have also been shut down. That’s not true. Both are now back, swiping at the “Quiet Man” and his devious department.

Meanwhile, many other mock Twitter accounts which appear to violate the rules are still up and running. There are plenty of Barack Obama parodies, for example:

Screengrab via ThePresObama/Twitter

And two rather improved social media personae for Chancellor George Osborne:

Screengrab via MrGeorgeOsborne/Twitter

Screengrab via MrGeorgeOsborne/Twitter

The second line of this other bio is delish.

Screengrab via 6eorge_Osborne/Twitter

Screengrab via 6eorge_Osborne/Twitter

Meet the doppelganger

Before it was shut down, @UKJCP was one of the staunchest and most popular critics of the government’s welfare reforms. Its political intentions were clear, which is perhaps why the DWP took exception and perhaps even grassed it in.

In the case of other doppelgangers, however, the psychology of the parodist—his desire to shock and provoke — isn’t so simple.

“I set up IDS on April Fool’s Day last year,” said Skip, 41, who runs the fake Iain Duncan Smith account that was wrongly reported to have been shut down. “I wanted to have some fun at an MP’s expense, and IDS is the most hated of them all, so I picked him.”

Despite launching vicious attacks on the minister in charge of chopping benefits, Skip appears to have more in common with Iain Duncan Smith than he would perhaps like to admit. He relishes the abuse and death threats he receives from people who often mistake him for the real government minister.

“The DWP has no real impact on me,” he said by email. “I’m a veteran with PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], but I also hold down a full-time job so don’t get any benefits. I did have a war pension for a while, but the government took it off me when I started working full time—the last lot, not these clowns.”

Skip then conceded: “I suspect I’m very much like IDS. We’re both ex-army. Work hard, play hard and fret about bullets, not boxes with words in them.”

Much like Smith, this impersonator’s real target appears to be the general populace. “[The IDS account] is a moronic lightning conductor. Sucking in Mr & Mrs Angry from Twittersville amuses a great number of people,” he said.

To the people who have sent death threats, he makes no apologies: “I laugh at each one and dunk a biscuit in some tea. I have no ego to bruise and thus am bulletproof to the laughable online threats he gets.”

As much of an odious troll as a satirist, then.

On Twitter, the difference is never clearly cut.