Political impersonation, fake Twitter accounts & owning your social media assets

In 2013 in Australia hours after the shock resignation of Ted Baillieu and emergence of Denis Napthine as Premier of the State of Victoria he announced “at least I’m not burdened by high expectations.”

At least, the fake @DenisNapthineMP “not currently the Member for South West Coast in the Victorian Parliament and Premier of Victoria” did.

The fake @DenisNapthineMP Twitter account was tweeting opinion before the real Premier was able to properly address the press and the people of Victoria about the leadership of their State.

The establishment of a fake account is the last thing a party already knee-deep in crisis needs; luckily this one was not malicious.

This is one of many similar examples around the world of how social media assets are hijacked because they have not been secured.

Leaders know that building and preserving a reputation is critical to success and in a socially hyper-connected world they must own the equivalent of prime real-estate; their digital and social assets.

The appearance of a fake account could have been prevented with proper communications planning and is a timely reminder to organisations to ensure that they own the names associated with their brands offline as well as online.

This is not the first time that organizations have been punished for failing to understand the impacts of social media on reputation and it’s not just active misuse of social media that is problematic but absence itself.

The now notorious sacking of CEO Rosa Storelli by the Board of MLC last year became a months-long media frenzy in which it was impossible to Google the names of the organization or people involved without landing on a link to the crisis.

Once again the narrative was owned by those who had an already established presence online and were able to dominate the SEO (search engine optimization).

Digital expert Daniel King says, “The visibility of a website is determined by algorithms or what is referred to as search engine optimization (SEO) which basically means where you appear on the list when somebody types your name into a search engine.

“The earlier and more frequently a site appears when people search for a keyword, the more visitors the search engine will push towards it.

“Social media strategists know what people search for, the actual search terms they use and which search engines they prefer.

“To make sure you appear high in the ranks when someone types in your name, you have to produce content and code that put you there.”

To achieve that you must at the very least, own your name on the most powerful social media platforms as well as your URL.

In an age where reputation is in part determined by algorithms, business communicators must have plans in place to deal with them ahead of a crisis.

Although companies regularly deal with reputation risk the online world presents new legal challenges that are leave many companies frustrated and exposed.

Last year a senior executive of CBA’s Bankwest subsidiary was impersonated by an inflammatory tweeter for weeks while the organization tried to deal with the issue.

Whereas in the past the CBA would have been able to issue an injunction against a media organization, Twitter’s processes mean that it takes weeks to deal with impersonators.

The company went through a long-winded process to have the fake account shut down and Twitter’s would not, under its privacy policy, release the name of the culprit.

At this stage social media negativists can create significant damage to companies with few personal consequences and while law is now evolving at a faster pace the lay of the land remains unclear.

Arguably companies who do not secure digital and social name assets are putting their brands at risk and should consider putting proper policies and plans in place to deal with online crisis.

Political impersonation is not a new phenomenon though; the Former Telstra staffer Leslie Nassar impersonated Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on Twitter for quite some time arguing, “Satire is an important part of any healthy democracy”.

That was 2009.


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