The Twitter fraudsters
Twitter has hundreds of fun parody accounts, but Mike Jennings discovers there's also a dark side to the impersonators
“Some of the stuff is scandalous and has absolutely nothing to do with me,” wrote football manager Sam Allardyce in his Evening Standard column.
Was he ranting about transfer rumours or a dressing room bust-up? No. He took to the paper’s pages to complain about the spoof Twitter account that bears his name – and 86,000 followers.
You can understand why Allardyce took offence. After all, @TheBig_Sam’s messages often feature jokes and language that would make Frankie Boyle think twice.
Twitter initially bowed to Allardyce’s wishes and suspended the account – but, after a hashtag-led backlash, the account was restored in February 2011. The episode is indicative of Twitter’s mainstream appeal, and the popularity of parody accounts that now form an integral part of the service.
Not surprisingly, accounts parodying famous figures are extremely popular. One of the biggest is @Queen_UK, with a whopping 465,000 followers “from across the Commonwealth”. It’s become one of the most popular comedy accounts, allowing its writer to tap into one of Twitter’s unique features and exploit a hashtag.
A 'Gin O’clock' Facebook page has attracted almost 20,000 followers, and the phrase even spawned an eponymous book
Hashtags are used to group conversation topics together, and @Queen_UK’s #ginoclock has become something of a national institution. “It’s announced at 5pm every day,” says the writer behind the account, who wished to remain anonymous.
It’s an example of how a parody account can grow beyond its 140-character inspiration: a “Gin O’clock” Facebook page has attracted almost 20,000 followers, and the phrase even spawned an eponymous book.
It isn’t the only parody account to draw inspiration from the monarchy. One of the most notorious is @DianaInHeaven, which boasts 48,000 thick-skinned followers. Curated by comedy writer Andy Dawson, it turns the image of the “People’s Princess” on its head by announcing the arrival of deceased celebrities with a “sweary and belligerent” twist.
Dawson has received criticism for his biting tweets; oddly enough, he says “the majority coming from teenage girls”. He’s also been subjected to a predictably vindictive attack from the Daily Express, which dubbed Dawson a “sick prankster”, and his account “macabre”.
Despite this, Dawson is quick to extol the virtues of comedy accounts. “There’s loads of funny writers, and it’s a level playing field – if you’re entertaining, you’ll find an audience.” He’s taken his success beyond Twitter, self-publishing an ebook called Dead Princess Diaries. His potential publisher “shied away because it thought it was too controversial”.
@DianaInHeaven isn’t the only parody account to make its creator money. One of the biggest belongs to @MrsStephenFry, the fictional wife of Stephen Fry – a Twitter institution with 3.1 million followers – who has secured 115,000 followers and a book deal of her own.
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Leave mainstream accounts behind and you’ll find a rich seam of niche content. More than 20,000 people follow @LiterallyJamie, which pokes fun at football pundit Jamie Redknapp and his over-reliance on a few stock clichés. “I spent Sundays ranting about the Redknapps, so I set up the account to give my wife a break,” says the man behind the account, Paul Fisher.
Fisher is fond of his “bewildered observer”. “He’s an irritant but also a nice guy, and he’s a gateway to other targets – his dad [Harry], Frank Lampard, John Terry. I got a lot of mileage out of the Richard Keys and Andy Gray scandal – it was the gift that kept giving!”