Samantha McHugh, a Solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons, provides an interesting insight into how parody Twitter accounts of famous athletes can lead to confusion and offence, and how athletes can best avoid that situation.
Soon after publishing our post about Adam Gilchrist’s Twitter twin, we received a direct approach from @AdamCGilchrist, the account in question:
‘Hi, thanks for following. What are you saying I need to change on my account in your tweet? It was not my intention for all of this that has happened, it was supposed to be just a bit of fun parody account and I certainly didn’t want to offend Gilly. I’m amazed that the journalist didn’t do due diligence as it clearly states parody obviously on my account and there is no blue tick next to my name. If you read the tone of most of my tweets – I would have thought it was ‘parody obviously’ – certainly didn’t expect any of this. Thanks for your time’.
We’ll share ‘Fake Gilly’s’ side of the story shortly, but for those who missed it, here’s the background. Back in July 2012, the @AdamCGilchrist Twitter account was set up. The profile of the account did then, and has always clearly stated ‘Parody, obviously’. The person behind the account went about Tweeting all things cricket from the parody POV of the great man, Gilly. Last week, the account began live-Tweeting the opening Test of the 2013 Ashes – the ups, the downs, and the controversies. Little did our mystery Tweeter know he was about to be embroiled in a controversy all of his own.
After England’s Stuart Broad contentiously refused to ‘walk’ on day three, social and mainstream media were abuzz with opinion. Given the well-known incident from the 2003 World Cup semi-final, in which Adam Gilchrist showed true sportsmanship by walking, even though he was given ‘not out’, it is no surprise the parody account was sparked into action. The @AdamCGilchrist account Tweeted a series of Tweets about the incident, which were then falsely attributed by mainstream media, including Fox News, as originating from Adam Gilchrist himself:
‘Former Test wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, who earned a reputation during his playing career for not waiting for the umpire’s verdict and walking back to the pavilion, was angered by Broad’s decision. “Some people saying, you rely on the umpire. No you don’t, you rely on honesty”, Gilchrist tweeted, adding: “Disappointed by the Poms today, if you’re out - you walk”’.
Given the way Twitter feeds and conversations operate - where a user’s full profile is not displayed unless you choose to click to a new page - it is understandable (though not excusable) that such mistakes can happen.
Reports suggest the real Gilchrist has since launched his own Twitter feed to plead with the ‘imposter’ to shut the account. Is it fair, however, for @AdamCGilchrist to be pilloried in this way?
Twitter parody accounts
Twitter’s guidelines permit parody accounts, as long as they comply with Twitter’s various policies. We can only speculate about the basis for Twitter’s parody policy, although it’s well known that its CEO, Dick Costolo, is a former improvisational comedian who started out with the likes of Steve Correll. In other words, not taking Twitter too seriously, and having a sense of humour about it, is perhaps a lesson to all of us that ‘social’ is a core ingredient of ‘social media’.
@AdamCGilchrist is in good company with parody Twitter accounts forming a species of their own, some lauded, some less so. Take for example: ‘Not Mark Zuckerberg’, The New York Times and HRH Queen Elizabeth (which has more than one million followers).
Indeed, one of the trending parody accounts during the 2013 Tour de France is @TweeterSagan, who mimics the Slovak accent of the great sprinter during his Twitter feeds:
‘It true, I suck compare to Cav. But compare to green jersey? I still first’.
2 RETWEETS 1 FAVORITE
Our fireside chat with ‘fake Gilly’
Exploring why people get involved with parody accounts is helpful in understanding this niche aspect of social media. For insights, we look no further than ‘Fake Gilly’, who has been kind enough to answer some questions we put to him. His responses are below.
1. What are your interests when you’re not tweeting as @AdamCGilchrist?
I’m a big sports fan as you can imagine, cricket, tennis, golf, soccer. I also have a wife and two kids whom I love spending time with. I occasionally like to travel as well when the opportunity arises through work and have spent several months in different parts of the globe.
2. What inspired you to open this parody Twitter account?
I thought it would be good fun. There are thousands of parody accounts on Twitter, some of which are really funny and I fancied trying my hand at it. I wanted to exchange views with fellow cricket fans with a bit of ‘tongue in cheek’ and to spark a bit of banter.
3. Why Gilly?
I thought Gilly would be a good one to do as a typical, upstanding, traditional Aussie bloke. If you look at the tone of a lot of my tweets they would be best read with a strong Aussie accent – particularly the ones where I talk about spending time on Gilly Ranch. I thought there would be a fair bit of humour in the role of supporting Shane Warne as mentioned in my bio following the years that we heard ‘bowling Shane’, ‘lovely Shane’, keep ‘em coming Shane’ etc.
4. How much time do you spend on the account each day?
When time allows, you will note that sometimes I don’t go on for a few days and then at other times I can go on four or five times in one day. I was particularly keen to tweet about the Ashes.
5. Do you operate any other parody accounts (whether on Twitter or otherwise)?
No, not at the moment, although I have been considering starting another one for some time.
6. If yes, would you be willing to reveal which ones?
7. Did you know about Twitter’s Parody Policy before this?
Not really, I thought the statement of ‘parody, obviously’ in the bio would be enough – and obviously I will never have a blue tick next to my name.
8. What do you love most about Twitter?
It’s a great opportunity to chat and exchange views, it’s a quickfire forum and I don’t think it should be taken too seriously.
9. Can you give us any tips on how we too could end up with more than 6,000 followers?
Ha, given Gilly’s popularity I followed a few people in cricketing nations such as India, Pakistan, England and Australia which led to getting some follow backs. Once I then started getting a few retweets along the way the account picked up pace. I’ve also had a few mentions/ retweets from famous cricketers along the way, which usually show a spike in followers afterwards.
10. How have you felt about reaction by Adam Gilchrist to the parody account? Do you think it might impact your own conduct in the future?
If I was misquoted by the press I’m sure I would be frustrated too, although I repeat I’m amazed the press were able to make such a mistake in the first place. I do think however that Gilly might not feel so badly about me if he read the account and saw that I’m not actually trying to be him but just to provide a bit of light entertainment and the occasional view on cricket. I would love the opportunity to apologise to him for the furore that has occurred and for the fact I have led to him being ‘misquoted’, but I would also love to explain to him the ideals of the account and that offence was never intended.
PS – yes I am ‘he’.
PPS – I think the Gilchrist who took to Twitter to ask me to stop is also a fake although I might be wrong. Gilchrist did an interview with the BBC after that account was set up and said he had never been on Twitter.
Managing parody Twitter accounts
It is for others to assess how they feel about parody accounts. We consider it incumbent on us to suggest a few tips to help all stakeholders manage the question of Twitter parodies.
• If you’re a journalist, check a user’s profile before attributing quotes. This means you won’t be left with egg on your face. This incident could easily have been avoided.
• If you’re starting a parody account:
- read Twitter’s Parody Policy;
- make clear that it’s a parody (have a think about what a ‘parody’ means, how you want readers to interpret your tweets, and whether each tweet should have a humorous tone. According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a parody includes “to imitate (a composition, author etc.) in such a way as to ridicule”);
• ensure your Twitter handle and username are not identical to the person’s name [Perhaps @AdamCGilchrist could change his handle to @notadamgilchrist or @thegreatgilly, with a corresponding user name]; and
• use images carefully. You will infringe copyright of the photographer/agency if you reproduce their photo without permission.
If you’ve been parodied:
• can you grin and bear it? Sometimes a laissez-faire approach is best;
• why not get on Twitter yourself (with a verified account displayed by the blue tick to which @AdamCGilchrist refers)? You could reap the benefits of those thousands of followers currently following your impersonator; and
• If not, and users are clearly confused, consider reporting to Twitter.
By Samantha McHugh, Natalie Hickey and Daniella Phair. This article originally appeared on IP Whiteboard here.