Sanctioned for parodying Elon Musk: two cases that make it clear who's now in charge on Twitter

Sanctioned for parodying Elon Musk: two cases that make it clear who's now in charge on Twitter
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On his first day at the head of Twitter, Elon Musk wrote that from that moment on, comedy was legal on the platform (which, in reality, was not news). A week later, some influencer accounts were permanently suspended for mocking him. 

Ethan Klein, one of the people behind the comedy project h3h3Productions, changed the name of his account to "Elon Musk" and posted a profile picture of the Tesla owner. He then posted a tweet that read, "Yes, I could have ended world hunger instead of buying Twitter. But people don't understand the importance of having a free and open forum. If someone starves to death in Sudan it won't affect the world. But being able to say 'nigger' is a right we all deserve."

Both the bio and the header photo made it clear that this was a parody, and in effect the post was a mockery of Musk, who in the past has declared himself an absolutist of free speech. However, shortly after posting this tweet the account was permanently suspended.

Screenshot of Ethan Klein's profile before he was suspended.

The same outcome had the account of comedian Kathy Graffin, who changed her name to that of the new CEO of Twitter and invited to vote for the Democratic Party to defend women's rights. 

The line between impersonation and parody may be clearer in one case than in the other. What is striking, in any case, is the speed with which the sanctions were applied and the immediate reaction of Musk, who very shortly thereafter announced through his Twitter account that any account that impersonates someone without specifying that it is a parody will be permanently suspended.

In reality, Musk's words are nothing new. For years, Twitter's deceptive identity policy has prohibited impersonation and established rules so that parody accounts - which have found their natural habitat on the platform - can exist without causing confusion or harm on the network. For this, the rules require that this kind of accounts explain in the biography and in the username that they do not represent a real person, for which they suggest the use of formulas that clear any doubt, such as "fake" or "parody". 

What is new is the emphasis on sanctions for those who violate these rules. Twitter's policies contemplate several measures that can be applied depending on the severity: the platform can ask the user to edit his profile and clarify his identity; it is also possible to temporarily suspend an account while the user who administers it sends an identification document to the company. Musk, however, only referred to the most severe sanction: permanent suspension. 

In the background, in both Klein's and Griffith's cases, there is a challenge to one of Musk's main proposals since he bought Twitter: implementing a subscription service that would allow any user to get a verification badge in exchange for $8 per month. 

Klein's and Griffith's accounts were verified, so interacting with them could be misleading, even though one of them explicitly clarified that it was a spoof. Yoel Roth, then Twitter's director of safety and trust, explained that when verified accounts use impersonation as a tactic, it creates a particularly confusing experience, which is why in many cases they proceed directly to suspension.

However, the application of these considerations does not seem so consistent when its purpose is not to mock the owner of the platform. As Time magazine pointed out, around the same time the account of musician Joe Memmel, also verified, was hacked and altered to promote alleged cryptocurrency scams. So far, the account is still active and with the verification badge intact. 

It is impossible to keep up with the Twitter saga since the Tesla founder took the reins of the platform. For now, one of the biggest risks these changes are bringing about is that of account authenticity. Beyond the lack of clarity in the process, verification used to be a certainty, and the rules around parody seemed consistent. But not now, under the new administration.

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