Why BP Isn't Fretting Over Its Twitter Impostor

Oil Giant Says Humorous Feed's Followers Are Expressing Frustration

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- You would think that BP would be fretting over the hijacking of its brand on Twitter, because, in less than a week, the handle @bpglobalpr has amassed a following double the size of BP's real feed. But part of the reason the impostor is still going strong is the company hasn't contacted Twitter to take it down, and it might not, BP told Ad Age today.

The account started last Wednesday afternoon with this tweet: "We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to Come."

Fewer than 50 tweets later, the feed has nearly 13,000 followers and counting -- compared to the 5,000 or so at @BP_America -- and its humorous blasts have been re-tweeted by everyone from filmmaker Michael Moore to singer Michelle Branch.

For the vast majority of people out there, it's obvious someone is having a laugh at the situation, because you wouldn't expect the real BP to be "worried about the effect this disaster will have on bikini season."

But as one fan of the feed pointed out on Twitter, @MGFontenot‎: "The best part about @BPGlobalPR is reading the responses from people who don't get that it's fake/joke account."

Case in point: One very-riled up California-based author, who tweets from @cmaconnell, wrote to @BPGlobalPR, "Sweet. Good to know money has corrupted your souls. Go ahead keep fu#king sh*t up for your children."

That even a few are taking it seriously highlights some of the haziness around the social networking service's rules for impersonation and for parody accounts.

Impersonation vs. parody
While the bulk of the Bpglobalpr feed's content is clearly humorous, according to Twitter's official rules (see below) it's closer to impersonation than it is parody. The feed doesn't explicitly state anywhere that it's a fake, identifying itself as "BP Public Relations," listing its location as "Global" and, under bio: "This page exists to get BP's message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!"

What's more, it had, up until today, been using BP's actual green-and-yellow logo on the page. It changed to a black-and-white version with an oil stain on it sometime Monday afternoon.

Compare that to what Twitter did in a less high-profile situation that was chronicled on AdAge.com recently, in which an individual began tweeting about Ketchup from @HJ_Heinz and was promptly shut down.

Of course, Twitter is not likely to shut down @bpglobalpr unless BP complains, something the company has yet to do -- if it does at all.

Toby Odone, a spokesman at BP, told Ad Age: "I'm not aware of whether BP has made any calls to have it taken down or addressed. People are entitled to their views on what we're doing and we have to live with those. We are doing the best we can to deal with the current situation and to try to stop the oil from flowing and to then clean it up."

BP aware of feed
Mr. Odone, who is not on Twitter himself, noted the company is aware of the feed. "We're looking at it and it seems to have a different logo on it now." The use of the old one and of the @BPGlobalPR handle isn't something BP seems particularly bothered by either. "People are frustrated at what's happening, as are we, and that's just their way of expressing it."

That expression is sure to continue. It appears the popularity of the Twitter feed has now spawned a line of t-shirts and a blog.

So who's behind the handle? One guess is someone from the comedy world.

The first individual to follow @BPGlobalPR was Josh Simpson, a writer-actor and employee of Hollywood-supported comedy site Funny or Die. But Mr. Simpson and a FunnyorDie.com representative, Carolyn Prousky, via e-mail stated they were not responsible for the Twitter page.

Later, Mr. Simpson referred Ad Age to an e-mail address he said belonged to the person responsible for @BPGlobalPR; that person declined to provide an identity but asked Ad Age to note that sales of the $25 "BP Cares" T-shirts being promoted on the Twitter feed (sold at streetgiant.bigcartel.com/) go toward a good cause: healthygulf.org.

Twitter's Guidelines for Parody, Commentary and Fan accounts:

In order to avoid impersonation, an account's profile information should make it clear the creator of the account is not actually the same person or entity as the subject of the parody/commentary. Here are some suggestions for marking your account:

Username: The username should not be the exact name of the subject of the parody, commentary, or fandom; to make it clearer, you should distinguish the account with a qualifier such as "not," "fake" or "fan."

Name: The profile name should not list the exact name of the subject without some other distinguishing word, such as "not," "fake" or "fan."

Bio: The bio should include a statement to distinguish it from the real identity, such as "This is a parody," "This is a fan page," "Parody Account," "Fan Account" or "This is not affiliated with..."

Communication with other users: The account should not, through private or public communication with other users, try to deceive or mislead others about your identity. For example, if operating a fan account, do not direct message other users implying you are the actual subject (i.e., person, band, sports team, etc.) of the fan account.

If an account is engaged in parody and follows all of the above recommendations, it will generally be free to continue in its parody so long as it doesn't mislead or deceive others. These are considered best practices for clearly marking accounts as one that is engaging in non-impersonation parody/commentary. Users may also choose to use different language to indicate that an account is a parody, commentary, or fan account so long as it is clear. However, if an account is found to be deceptive or misleading, we may request that the user make further changes to bring the account more in line with these best practices.

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