In the age of Twitter and social media trends, parody accounts — accounts that present satiric and humorous commentary on the official accounts they parrot — are fairly ubiquitous. Popular parody accounts include @Lord_Voldemort7, @notzuckerberg, and @Queen_UK. Their Twitter handles and a quick scan of their feeds make the point of these types of accounts obvious. These accounts, along with fan accounts, are so popular that anyone can create one so long as they meet Twitter’s requirements. And, according to a recent Forbes article, “U.S. copyright and trademark law do provide for the concept of parody.”

This year, however, a new but nearly identical trend has reared its modern head: “rogue” Twitter accounts. The recent tumultuous political climate, namely when the Trump Administration ordered multiple federal agencies to restrict their public communications, has spurred the creation of a number of these resistance accounts created in protest of what they perceive as a threat to the integrity of the organizations they represent. Many of these accounts voiced their worries that the new administration would suppress scientific research and bury data that disagree with its political views.

There’s already more than 80 rogue government accounts, including @RogueNASA, @ungaggedEPA, and @AltForestServ. Some of these accounts, which often claim to have been set up by official yet anonymous government employees, have gained as many as twice the amount of followers than their official counterparts.

As pointed out earlier, there are requirements and laws in place that outline for how to lawfully set up parody accounts — but what about when rogue accounts that increasingly blur the line between a “fake” and real account, or representation of someone or an organization? For example, these specific rogue accounts often use official agency logos as avatars, despite the fact that many federal agency logos, like the EPA’s, NPS’s, and NASA’s, have strict use and permission policies. In fact, NASA filed a formal complaint to Twitter about @RogueNASA.

As Twitter states, “When we receive a valid impersonation or trademark report about an account that violates our parody policy, we temporarily suspend the account and may give the user the opportunity to come into compliance. Accounts with a history of repeated violations may be permanently suspended.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the logo remained in place on the alternative account for some time following the complaint.

The Pitfalls of Rogue Twitter Accounts

Despite the growing popularity of these accounts, the issue becomes threefold.

For The Rogue

One, anonymous creators of these accounts are not safeguarded against facing suspension or potential litigation if they violate either Twitter or government policies. Twitter’s requirements for parody, newsfeed, commentary, and fan accounts include:

  1. Comply with the bio/account name guidelines. The bio should indicate that the user is not affiliated with the account subject by explicitly using words like “parody,” “fake,” or “fan.” Also, the account name should not be the exact name of the account subject without some kind of distinguisher, such as the words noted above.
  2. Follow their rules. These rules include not using trademarked or copyrighted usernames; no graphic content, illegal activities or misuse of Twitter badges; no abusive behavior; and no spamming.
  3. Adhere to their Terms of Service found here.

For The Rogued

Two: however, these accounts also show how easy it can be to lose control over your image and message online. Even if you file a formal complaint, action may be delayed. In the meantime, damage may be done to your reputation or to the message you’ve worked to craft. This makes it essential that you have all the possible protections in place, including setting up your social profiles properly and constantly monitoring what’s happening within your online landscape.

For The Followers

And finally, followers of these unverified accounts should proceed with caution because these accounts are exactly that: unverified. While these accounts claim to be created and run by agency employees, according to cyber security experts, these accounts could just as easily be set up by “hackers looking to spread ransomware, surveillance software, botnet infections or other harmful software by riding on the immense popularity of these sites and the lack of the authoritative ‘blue checkmark’ proving who is who.” Always remain skeptical and cautious with any kind of engagement with non-verified accounts.