Was Twitter Right To Suspend 'Christopher Walken'?

There was an interesting piece in the Washington Post this weekend about the rise of celebrity culture on Twitter and specifically the problems that the network – and fans – face with imposters pretending to be famous folk.

The article makes some valid points and gives some nice press to Valebrity, who have done a great job of validating the vast majority of celebrity accounts on Twitter, and continue to do so. I urge you to visit Valebrity.com if you’re at all curious if that celebrity you’re following is genuine.

The Post also mentions the suspension of the account of Christopher Walken, aka @cwalken, which took place on Saturday. At the time, Walken’s account was nearing 100,000 fans, and was wildly popular, receiving a lot of attention within the Twittersphere and the mainstream press, where the absurd tweets were often quoted.

The problem was the account was a fake. As Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said in an email to the Post, “Impersonation is against our terms.” Visit @cwalken’s profile page and you’ll now be greeted by the dreaded suspension owl. Click on the link below the image, and you can read Twitter’s suspension policy, which includes impersonation as a breach of their terms of service.

But this is where it all gets a little hazy. When is an impersonation actually a parody, and why does Twitter ban some impersonators, and not others?

I mentioned Valebrity above and they have a useful list of confirmed fake Twitter accounts on their site. They were one of the first to reveal that @cwalken wasn’t the real deal, and perhaps went some way toward the imposter being closed down. Maybe the real Christopher Walken actually got involved. There’s certainly good reason for a celebrity to want to protect their own interests and likeness.

That said, @cwalken never once claimed to be the real Christopher Walken. Sure, he/she never actually denied it, but there was no attempt to profit from or monetize the impersonation. Okay, maybe that was a possibility down the line, and as the account neared 100K followers and started getting lots of attention, Twitter felt obliged to step in.

But the problem I have is Twitter isn’t consistent here. They’ve suspended @cwalken, but what about Leonard Nimoy (@LeonardNimoy), Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan), Simon Amstell (@simonamstell), Terry Wogan (@terrywogan) and Jeremy Clarkson (@jeremy_clarkson), all of whom are posting using real celebrity names but are confirmed frauds? And it can’t be because they’re not popular enough, as ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ has over 40,000 followers.

So, does it take the involvement of the real celebrity (or his entourage) to rat out the faker for the account to be suspended, a lot of attention in the media (which @cwalken was beginning to receive), or something else? Maybe the thirty or so staff at Twitter are a bit slow on the draw when it comes to verifying their users, and only leap into action when reading about it in the mainstream press.

This may well now change. Want a job? News broke today that Twitter are hiring a VIP Concierge, who must be familiar with ‘Hollywood types’ and should be proactive, but not pushy, and it helps if they live in L.A. In return, you’ll get a competitive salary and benefits, and have the opportunity to make celebrity Twitters both happy and productive.

My gut tells me that as the influx of celebrities to the network continues, this job is going to be too much for one person. I can see an entire team doing this celebrity PR work for Twitter by the end of the year (I kind of predicted this here), especially when the Z-listers and fame-hungry also-rans figure out that one easy way to get yourself back into the newspapers is to be controversial on Twitter. (Courtney Love, we’re looking at you.) They’re going to be beating them off with sticks.

Still, in @cwalken’s case, it’s a bit of a shame. I’m not really sure much harm was being done, and the account was very entertaining for a lot of people. When news of his suspension broke, a lot of people were upset, and the howls of protest continue to hit the stream. While Twitter have clear policy on impersonators and have in this instance probably made the right decision, at least on paper, their inconsistency with exposing and closing fake celebrity accounts niggles me a little bit, and makes me wonder if darker forces are at play.

Because you know what? If anybody dared to impersonate a world-famous brand, they’d be closed down before the second tweet had hit the ‘sphere.

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