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June 26, 2008
15 Tweets of Fame

Fake celebrity bloggers and Twitterers. They’re the cubic zirconiums of social media. They aren’t real, but in some ways, they shine brighter than the genuine object, and they can’t help but catch our eye.

The craze started in the blogosphere. Last year’s most talked about CEO blog wasn’t written by a CEO at all. The Fake Steve Jobs blog, which turned out to have been written by Forbes reporter Dan Lyons, was the subject of constant buzz, not only as people speculated as to who was actually writing it, with some suspecting ironically that it might have been written by Jobs himself, but also as we got to read a pretty good interpretation of what Jobs might have said, were he not such a secretive CEO.

I was asked by the Christian Science Monitor why I thought fake CEO blogs were so popular, and I felt it was because "parody is a good way to touch a figure that doesn't want (to) – or can't take the time to – be bothered with honest and direct communication." The fake celebrity craze has made its way to Twitter. There are lots of celebrities on Twitter, more of them bogus than authentic. Whenever a celebrity turns up on Twitter, there’s all kinds of excitement as the news spreads through the network, and then, more often than not, there’s the second round of news in which the fraud is uncovered.

In February, author Seth Godin disappointed thousands when he revealed that not only was the Seth Godin on Twitter bogus, but the real Seth Godin did not have time to be on Twitter.
But there are real Twitter celebrities. If you’d like, treat the following list as a quiz, and visit the Twitter profile for each person to see if you can figure out which ones are real, and which are the creations of fans.
Henry Rollins
MC Hammer
Richard Dawkins
Stephen Colbert or Stephen Colbert or Stephen Colbert
Chuck Norris
David Letterman
Bill Gates
William Shatner
Snoop Dogg
50 Cent
Henry Rollins, MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent are the genuine article, so far. (And I have my doubts about fitty.) If you’re on Twitter, you can add them as friends and maybe even engage them in conversation. And even some of the real ones may turn out to be inauthentic. (I have to add this disclaimer as many of the pretenders, Seth Godin for example, and Richard Dawkins, were at times VERY GOOD at their impersonations, fooling all of the people all of the time, for a time.)


The others are frauds. (Many of the bogus celebrity names are in use by more than one user.) Most were either outed by other Twitter users, or simply confessed. A fake Stephen Colbert said “Shall I continue this farce or retire the account?” Or maybe fraud isn’t the word. Maybe they’re online performance artists. Or maybe they’re filling a need we have to know celebrities one-on-one. Plenty of people defend the practice, likening it to a similar custom in the past of using celebrity names in chat rooms, but the difference is, there was no expectation pre Web 2.0 you were actually chatting with Angelina Jolie or Vlad the Impaler.


What do you think? Is there anything wrong with someone impersonating a celebrity on Twitter as long as they don’t do it to damage someone’s reputation or to misappropriate money? Is it just “good fun” or is it deceptive? What does the practice do for the state of trust in our social networks?
And please add me on Twitter. I promise I’m for real.

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Joel Postman is the principal of Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and public relations. He's the author of SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate, a handbook designed to help corporate communicators and executives understand how to successfully adopt social business strategies in large companies. Prior to founding Socialized, he was EVP of Emerging Media at Eastwick Communications a Silicon Valley public relations firm, and before that, he has a decade of Fortune 500 corporate communications experience, including leadership roles in executive and internal communications at Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

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