BBC Impostor Fools 7,684 People (Control Your Twitter Name, Even if You’re a Twitter Sceptic)

[ UPDATE 29/01/09: Some of the links here no longer work because the real BBC have taken control of the rogue Twitter account. Read this post for screenshots and updated info. ]

Fake BBC Twitter account

There’s enough hype saying you need to use Twitter. Just as TV presenter Phillip Schofield and other celebrities are discovering, there are few barriers to investigation. If you’re curious then just sign up, post a couple of tweets, start following a few people and see what happens.

What I will say is, whether you care about Twitter or not, you must protect your name or your brand.

Domain name squatting has been happening for years. Twitter is starting to tip and a similar thing has been happening there. Lots of people are reserving other people’s names, whether for pranks, experimentation, promotion of other projects, revenge, financial gain or reasons known only to them.

For instance, in December it took several days before we were sure that the Twitter account for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was being run by an impostor. The poor spelling and writing style had me suspicious – but he or she still managed to gather a couple of hundred followers and dispense some tweets of pithy wisdom. It was mostly good-natured, but the risk of damage to the Archbishop was still there. (The account has been taken over now and is dormant.)

Again, back in December, tech blogger Mike Butcher of Techcrunch UK admitted to stealing the account name of Andy Burnham, the UK Culture Secretary after a grievance involving Burnham’s opinions on net regulation. (I happen to agree that Burnham’s opinions were misguided, but I’m illustrating another point.) That one’s been suspended by Twitter Inc now. If Burnham had been quick to reserve his own name, it wouldn’t have happened.

(Incidentally, there are very few real politicians registered on Twitter, let alone actively using it. In Wales, we’ve seen the Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins and the Lib Dem candidate Alison Goldsworthy.)

This is not confined to individuals, it includes companies and brands as well. Lots of well known brands are taken by fakes.

Now most recently and amazingly, the name BBC on Twitter is being run by a third party, who have made no explicit indication that it’s unofficial. The fact they are pulling in a useful feed of current BBC news stories adds weight to the deception.

Look at my screenshot above. The account has 7,684 followers. This is very dangerous indeed for the BBC’s reputation.

Normally, only an eagle-eyed user would notice, with suspicion, that the only people they’re following back are Sky Sports, Manchester United football team and something called Funny Times. Or would click the profile link to discover the following disclaimer:

The news published on http://www.twitter.com/BBC is syndicated content taken directly from the BBC News website vie their public RSS feed found here. The account is not operated by the BBC but is offered for your convenience so that you may receive the latest news stories from the BBC website whilst using the Twitter Service.

Now though, someone called @sputnik101 discovered this when he complained to the BBC account about their broadcast policy on the DEC charity appeal for Gaza.

He then received a surprising and somewhat inappropriate reply. Here’s more on that story.

As you can see from the comments, somebody at the BBC has finally had the sense to complain to Twitter Inc to ask for the account to be suspended or handed over.

Here at Native, we like Twitter as a communication platform – and have got a lot of benefit from it in terms of contacts, information, useful links and smart conversation. Fortunately the culture of Twitter engenders authenticity and the confirmation of an account being fake, once known, can be spread very rapidly. But now that newer people are joining and taking time to learn how it works, the potential for deception is huge.

If you don’t fancy using it, make sure nobody uses it on your behalf.

If following this advice means registering for Twitter and – at least for now – leaving the account idle with a brief explanation, so be it. Here’s an example.

Stephen Fry on the joys of Twitter

BBC have a 3-minute video on the joys of Twitter –  with well known user @stephenfry explaining how he sought advice on his household bat problem.

We are on Twitter as @carlmorris and @tombeardshaw.

The New White House Online

At Native, we do like to note when current affairs and news intersect with online media.

The site Whitehouse.gov has just relaunched for the new US administration. We’ll be looking particularly at their blog as well as Barack Obama on Twitter and any other officially-sanctioned tools and sites, to see how the US government are embracing them.

If this flood of US news is getting too much, the Kazakh prime minister has not only started a blog but also ordered his ministers to start their own blogs.