2. Twitter impersonation cases

Victims of imposter accounts have handled the problem in a variety of ways, from filing lawsuits to creating their own Twitter identities to writing angry blog posts.

Tony La Russa, general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals

Photo by Monowi

Photo by Monowi

What happened? One of the most notable cases of Twitter impersonation involved Tony La Russa. He filed a lawsuit against Twitter after discovering an account purporting to be him.

The Twitter account posing as La Russa included his photo and vulgar updates, a few of which related to the Cardinals. La Russa claimed that the page caused him “significant emotional distress [and] damage to reputation.” The lawsuit alleged trademark infringement, cybersquatting and misappropriation of his name. Twitter removed the imposter account hours after the suit was filed. (Goold, 2009)

In early June, La Russa claimed that he and Twitter had reached a settlement, but Twitter denied those reports. “With due respect to the man and his notable work, Mr. La Russa’s lawsuit was an unnecessary waste of judicial resources bordering on frivolous. Twitter’s Terms of Service are fair and we believe will be upheld in a court that will ultimately dismiss Mr. La Russa’s lawsuit,” wrote Biz Stone on the Twitter blog. (Stone, 2009)

The result: La Russa ultimately dropped the lawsuit without any settlement.

Some columnists and bloggers mocked La Russa for filing a lawsuit in the first place. “Regardless of where the finger’s pointed, the truth in all these cases is that the lawsuit ends up causing far more reputation damage than the original review, feedback, or tweets ever could have. You don’t see Chuck Norris freaking out over his fake Twitter profile, do you? Take a cue from Walker, Mr. La Russa, and give us all a break.” (Rapael, 2009)

La Russa Twitter profileSoon after, Twitter launched the beta version of a verified accounts program for celebrities, public officials and public agencies. (Stone, 2009)

La Russa now appears to have control of his Twitter username, though there is no activity on the account.

More info:

Citizen Media Law Project: La Russa v. Twitter, Inc.

Business Week: “La Russa vs. Twitter Tests Web Anonymity”

Twitter’s response to the La Russa lawsuit

Tanner Friedman, a Farmington Hills, Michigan public relations firm

What happened? Unlike the La Russa case, in this instance, the victim filed suit against the imposter, not Twitter.

Tanner Friedman sued an unknown Twitter user, “John Doe,” in Detroit federal district court. The lawsuit demanded that the user stop making false and defamatory statements on Twitter under the firm’s name. The firm hoped to find out who created the Twitter imposter account and to secure control of the tannerfriedman username. The imposter account copied real tweets from Tanner Friedmon employees in order to create authenticity. “All of the tweets on the imposter page were designed to embarrass and/or put our firm in a negative light,” company co-founder Don Tanner was quoted as saying. (WWJ News Radio, 2009)

The company didn’t sue Twitter “because companies like Twitter aren’t obligated to monitor and control what their users post.” Rather, posters are responsible for their actions. (WWJ News Radio, 2009)

In addition to defamation, the lawsuit alleged a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, unfair competition and trademark law violations. Tanner Friedman asked the court to subpoena Twitter for identifying information about the unknown Twitter user. The court granted the motion. (Citizen Media Law Project, 2009)

Tanner FriedmanThe result: “John Doe” was traced to a computer at a rival public relations firm, which is the former employer of Tanner Friedman’s co-founders. The firm has now secured the tannerfriedman username, from which it regularly tweets.

Tanner Friedman got what it wanted – to find out more about the Twitter imposter and to gain control of the username. But, as one blogger points out, the lawsuit and the media coverage of it may prove to be bad moves. ”They were unaware of the brandjacking for three months, something which doesn’t make me think too much of their social media expertise. … They thought it was a good idea to draw media attention to their lack of social media expertise and what is apparently a long running feud with their former employer.” (Taylor, 2009)

More info:

Citizen Media Law Project: Tanner Friedman v. Doe

WWJ News Radio: “Tanner Friedman Sues Over False Twitter Account”

WWJ News Radio: “Tanner Friedman Wins Back Control Of Twitter Account”

Emily Bazelon, Slate editor

What happened? Slate editor Emily Bazelon discovered someone was posing as her under the Twitter username ebazelon. The posts weren’t slanderous or mean. They were boring and predictable, and occasionally referenced things she had just done, like record the Slate podcast. Feeling as though she was being stalked, Bazelon called upon the Washington Post Co. lawyers, who wrote Twitter a stern note asking that the profile be taken down. This move didn’t lead to any immediate results, so Bazelon asked Slate’s John Dickerson to tweet the link to her real Twitter account to his 650,000 followers. That seemed to silence the imposter.

What followed, however, is what makes this incident strange. A month later, Bazelon received an e-mail from a graduate student in Ireland claiming he had run the fake Twitter account. They ended up speaking on the phone. He explained that he found Twitter profiles for everyone else he was interested in following, and, finding no profile for Bazelon, he decided to fill that niche. When he heard Bazelon discussing the Washington Post lawyers on a podcast, he got scared and stopped Twittering.

Emily Bazelon Twitter accountThe result: Bazelon took back her Twitter identity. But this case also provides evidence that not every impersonator has malicious intentions. Some may just be fans who want to see their heroes and idols have a presence on Twitter.

More info:

Double X: “What I learned from my Twitter impersonator”

Kanye West, hip-hop star

Kanye West

Photo by Tyler Curtis

What happened? Following the proliferation of a fake Kanye West Twitter profile, West responded with an angry all caps post on his blog.

“THE PEOPLE AT TWITTER KNOW I DON’T HAVE A FUCKING TWITTER SO FOR THEM TO ALLOW SOMEONE TO POSE AS ME AND ACCUMULATE OVER A MILLION NAMES IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND DECEITFUL TO THERE FAITHFUL USERS. REPEAT… THE HEADS OF TWITTER KNEW I DIDN’T HAVE A TWITTER AND THEY HAVE TO KNOW WHICH ACCOUNTS HAVE HIGH ACTIVITY ON THEM. IT’S A FUCKING FARCE AND IT MAKES ME QUESTION WHAT OTHER SO CALLED CELEBRITY TWITTERS ARE ACTUALLY REAL OR FAKE. HEY TWITTER, TAKE THE SO CALLED KANYE WEST TWITTER DOWN NOW …. WHY? … BECAUSE MY CAPS LOCK KEY IS LOUD!!!!!!!!!” (West, 2009)

The result: Twitter took down the fake profile. A profile search for Kanye West turns up many results, but the top results all say they’re not official profiles and are not affiliated with Kanye West. (Michaels, 2009)

More info:

Kanye West’s blog entry on Twitter

TechCrunch: “Kanye West Is Mad As Hell At Twitter — And He’s Not Going To Take This Anymore!

Guardian.co.uk: “Kanye West slams Twitter over impostors”

Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska

The Real Sarah Palin Account

The Real Sarah Palin Account

The Fake Sarah Palin Account

The Fake Sarah Palin Account

What happened? Following her resignation, several imposter Sarah Palin Twitter accounts popped up. A Twitter user named EXGovSarahPalin posted some updates that copied the real Palin profile, confusing people. The account also used the same background image as the real Palin profile. (LaVallee, 2009)

The result: Palin, who was already active on Twitter, tweeted that people should watch out for the imposter accounts, which prompted media coverage about the fake accounts. The EXGovSarahPalin account was disabled. (LaVallee, 2009)

More info:

Wall Street Journal Digits blog: “Sarah Palin Warns Supporters of Online Imposter”

Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed, as performed by Shatner on the “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”

Shaquille O’Neal, basketball superstar

Photo by Keith Allison

Photo by Keith Allison

What happened? When O’Neal and his managers discovered a Twitter impersonator, they wanted to take legal action. But a media strategist convinced O’Neal to start his own Twitter account. He created a profile under The_Real_Shaq. (Springer, 2009)

The Real ShaqThe result: O’Neal took back control of his Twitter identity. More than 1.9 million people now follow his constant tweets.

More info:

The Boston Globe: “Keeping you posted”

>> 3. Twitter’s policies

©2009 Amy Rainey All Rights Reserved

3 responses

31 03 2011
While You Were Sleeping… I Infringed Your Publicity Rights on Facebook | Law of Social & Emerging Media | Wassom.com

[…] social media continues to see its share of notorious imposters. St. Louis Cardinals Coach Tony LaRussa is the poster boy for this phenomenon. In 2009, he sued […]

30 07 2014
I adore you Ricus more than I can say, #let everything go right 4me and other good people and let good always be rewarded #gratitudewaves #capetown 2014Thank you to cape town and other good people for their love, trust and respect of me #thanksCAPITEC #th

[…] AGAINST ABUSIVE CORPORATE PRACTICES AND WINNING AND RIGHTLY SO!! FOR GOOD TO REIGN ALL OVER Since Lufthansa /Global Telesales can not win their second case against me for lack of locus […]

30 07 2014
I adore you Ricus more than I can say, #let everything go right 4me and other good people and let good always be rewarded #gratitudewaves #capetown 2014Thank you to cape town and other good people for their love, trust and respect of me #thanksCAPITEC #th

[…] AGAINST ABUSIVE CORPORATE PRACTICES AND WINNING AND RIGHTLY SO!! FOR GOOD TO REIGN ALL OVER Since Lufthansa /Global Telesales can not win their second case against me for lack of locus […]




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