Parody accounts cause corporate havoc on Twitter

Parody accounts causing corporate havoc on Twitter

Social media is a complicated universe for newbies to navigate, including constantly being on the alert for the great pretenders - parody accounts. 

Computer, online - ECR Consumerwatch
Getty Images, Consumerwatch

Politicians and news organisations are obvious targets, but corporates are being paradied too - the impostors create a Twitter profile with a handle very similar to that of the company’s and then jump in and respond to queries or comments consumers make to the real company.

MTN fell victim to this on Sunday. The imposter added a barely noticeable underscore to @MTNza and then started insulting MTN subscribers.

I was tipped off when Sanna Moletsane emailed me, very upset, about a tweet she’d got in response to tweeting both MTN and Samsung, asking for advice about her data usage.

It read: “The only advice we can give you is stop being a petty bitch that lives for drama..”

“I thought that it was posted by someone who’d gone to work drunk!” said Motetsane, who was reduced to tears by the personal, inappropriate attack. 

“I just want you to help me get an apology as I don't know who to take this matter up with at MTN.”

Some may question how a person could really think that a corporate representative would post such a thing, but maybe it says something about the low perception of customer service in this country. 

I’ve seen some pretty rude, dismissive genuine corporate emails, I have to say. But I think mostly it’s a case of it just not occurring to people who are fairly new to Twitter that there is such a thing as a parody account, and the fact that at first glance the accounts look like the real thing.

The official MTN account tweets a response 

MTN’s response was swift and robust.

The network apologised - on the real MTNza Twitter account - and within three hours posted a tweet saying it was a parody account, and liaised with Twitter’s headquarters in San Fransisco for the account to be stopped. The so called brand infringement was lodged on Sunday, and resolved by Tuesday evening.

In that time quite a few rude tweets shocked and angered MTN subscribers.

Some of the parody account’s jibes were aimed at the network rather than their subscribers.

To the complaint: “We’ve been holding on your call centre for over 45mins. Is it normal to wait this long to get assistance?” the imposter responded: “Normally it’s the whole day. Did our operators finally act like they care?”

Parody accounts cause corporate havoc on Twitter
Photo supplied
 Woolworths parody account

Meanwhile, the Woolworths parody account, Woolworst, continues to respond to tweets directed at Woolworths, fooling loads of people - including a journalist or two -  into thinking the outrageous tweets are being posted by the retailer.

Again, you'd think people would spot that Woolworst is not Woolworths, but the parody account uses Woolies’ distinctive logo, so at first glance you could be fooled.

They have around 7600 followers, many Tweeps enjoying the humour and the brazen cheek of the Woolworst tweets.

To Dean Macpherson’s tweet: “Why do size 34 chinos cost R50 more than a size 32?” Woolworst responded: “It’s simple really. More material = more money. Lose some weight and pay less! Be blessed.”

To the woman who posts daily about the lovely Woolies cappuccinos she has, Twitter wrote: “ FFS, Dawn, we know our cappuccinos are excellent. We don’t need you to blab about it every single freaking day. Be blessed..”

And to Richard, who said: “One of your stores charged me duplicate for an item, can I get into the store on Wednesday to sort it out. It’s only R16,95.” Woolworst wrote: “Hi Richard. You have to go back today. Our patience for cheap customers doesn’t last 48 hours. Be blessed.”

Parody accounts causing corporate havoc on Twitter
Photo supplied
The effects of such accounts

Woolworths is stoic in the face of such potential brand damage.

“Freedom of expression is such an important part of our democracy,” the retailer says. “Social media channels provide platforms for users to share ideas and content and often allow us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves. 

“Parody accounts will spring up from time to time. Customers wanting to contact our significantly more helpful customer service team can do so through @Woolworths_SA.”

That’s a commendably mature, higher-ground response, but there’s another reason that Woolworst survives to do its worst. Twitter’s view is that parody accounts may carry on provided they clearly distinguish themselves from the company or individual they are parodying.

The MTN parody site did not - Woolworst does. It’s bio reads like this: “We’re a passionate South African parody retailer dedicated to bringing you white privilege, snark and vanity”.

But a word of warning: if you want to have a go at a corporate on social media, you'd better make sure that what you’re saying both true and in the public interest or you cold find yourself at the sharp end of some legal action.

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