On Twitter, Constipated News Network (@constipatednews) is an account that satirises CNN. The account is an example of a parody account. Parody accounts imitate the original accounts of politicians, celebrities, brands as well as state institutions and organisations on social media. Usually, they are created for fun and as a form of satire but in the charade of being humorous, they can greatly contribute to information disorder.
What is a parody account?
A parody account is a social media account that imitates a person, brand, or organisation by means of satire or ridicule. A parody account is created purposely to entertain by commenting on a particular topic or individual, often through irony to evoke humour. Unlike fake accounts that are created to impersonate others for malicious purposes, parody accounts may be used to critique, comment or post content. However, not every parody account is aimed at creating humour; some are tools for sharing fake news.
How do parody accounts contribute to misinformation and disinformation?
As the usage of social media becomes widespread, there is also an increase in the number of parody accounts on social media, especially on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These accounts are proving to be a threat to the fight against disinformation and misinformation by putting out fake information or content. Social media users mistake parody accounts for original accounts of some famous people, brands and organisations and follow them because sometimes there is little to no difference between parody accounts and original accounts.
Fact-Check Ghana counted 17 different accounts with the Ghana water company username from a search with the keyword “Ghana water company” on Twitter. The original account of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) on Twitter is @GhWaterCompany. However, a search with the keyword “Ghana water company” showed 16 other accounts with similar usernames and the GWCL logo.
Out of the 16 other accounts, only two ( @GhanaWaterComp5 and @Ghanawater_com) indicated in their bio that they are parody accounts in complying with Twitter’s Parody, commentary, and fan account policy. Although such parody accounts post witty and satiric content, they are usually in relation to whatever account they are imitating is known for. As a consequence, people engage with the account without realising the authenticity of the account.
@GhanaWaterComp5 no water for two weeks why? Is this what we voted for?
— IHateNonesense 🇬🇭 (@lifeoflifa) November 29, 2021
Fact-Check Ghana performed another search for the account of Ghana’s president with the words “Nana Akufo Addo” and found 8 other accounts with the account name besides the original account.
On Facebook, there were a number of accounts with the name Nana Akufo Addo, two of these accounts ( Nana Akufo Addo and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo) had a picture of the president as their profile picture and similar profile names as the President.
The official account of the Electricity Company of Ghana Limited (ECG) is @ECGghOfficial on Twitter but a search showed five other accounts with the same logo and similar account name.
In 2021, a parody account with the username @ASAMAOH_GYAN3 shared that the player missed the penalty in 2010 and was called out by some users for using the name and photo of the player to share false information. The account now uses the account name, CAMPUS NET GH and @CampusNetGH with a different profile picture.
I intentionally missed the penalty because of my Ex💔🤧….I wanted to break her heart sia ger😒
— CAMPUS NET GH 📢 (@CampusNetGH) September 6, 2021
Fortunately, most Ghanaian news outlets have no parody accounts. However, major international news outlets have parody accounts who under the guise of being funny and satirical misinform unsuspecting people.
In 2018, parody accounts of some major news outlets in India (Times Now being Times How, Times of India being Limes of India and ANI being ANI Official) shared false news which was retweeted and received engagements by thousands of people who fell for it. The bio of these accounts indicated that they were parody accounts but their usernames and logos were akin to legitimate news sources.
Twitter Blue versus verified parody accounts
Formerly, the blue checkmark on Twitter indicates that an account was authentic after the user had gone through a verification process to prove their identity.
However, in November 2022, Twitter announced the relaunch of Twitter Blue where users will be required to pay $8 (about GH¢99) per month on Twitter web and $11 (about GH¢135) for IOS users to gain access to subscriber-only features including the blue verification mark.
The downside about this rollout is that once a user pays, the account receives the verification badge without actual verification or authentication of the identity behind the account.
Days, after the new service was introduced, Twitter was awash with verified accounts imitating authentic accounts. Thus, fuelling confusion among users on the app who had mistakenly retweeted information from these verified parody accounts.
An instance of such an incident was when a “verified account” parodying a pharmaceutical brand known for the production of insulin in the United States, Eli Lilly, tweeted that insulin is free. The company’s original account tweeted an apology for the misleading information and once again, the tweet was spoofed by another verified parody account.
In an attempt to curb the bottlenecks with the open to all verification service, Elon Musk tweeted on November 6, 2022, that Twitter accounts impersonating others without clearly specifying the word parody will be suspended permanently.
Checks by Fact-Check Ghana on Twitter again showed that there were three spoof verified accounts with the account name Elon Musk. While all three accounts had different usernames and profile pictures, one of the accounts @kylekinane with the account name ‘Elon Musk (for serious Im totally him)’ tweeted that people and bots’ tweet at him because they think he is actually Elon Musk.
People/bots who tweet at me because they think I'm actually Elon Musk sometimes simultaneously tweet at @TeslaBand because they think it's his car manufacturer and that is EXCELLENT mistaken company in my book.
— Elon Musk (for serious Im totally him) (@kylekinane) March 21, 2023
How to distinguish between parody accounts and original accounts
Distinguishing between parody accounts and original accounts can be like looking for a needle in a haystack but it is not impossible.
- One thing that gives parody accounts away is that they post funny and satiric content that the original account they are imitating would ordinarily not post. It is also safe to cross-check by searching for the name of the brand, organisation or person you suspect an account is spoofing.
- Check the bio. Some parody accounts try to distinguish themselves from original accounts by issuing disclaimers or stating that they are parody accounts in their bios.
- Check the username. In most cases, the account name is the same but there is always a difference in username. Possibly, check for the arrangement and spelling of account names and usernames. For example: @ASAMAOH_GYAN3 was the parody account imitating the main @ASAMOAH_GYAN3 account. Both accounts have the same account name and the username seems to be the same but there is difference in the spelling of Asamoah. With the original account, Asamoah is spelt with o before a. However, with the parody account, Asamoah is spelt with a before o.
Screenshot of difference
- Check the profile pictures and logos. Sometimes, parody accounts use pictures or logos of accounts they are imitating. However, the profile picture or logos on the original accounts may not be exactly the same as that of the parody account.
- Check for Twitter verification badges. Aside from the blue verification badge, Twitter applies new verification badges and symbols to help distinguish different accounts.
- The gold check mark indicates official business accounts that have been verified by Twitter.
- The grey check mark shows that an account belongs to a government or multilateral organisation and a government or multilateral officer.
It is also essential that, before sharing information on social media, the sources of the information are thoroughly verified to ensure that the right information is being shared.