It took us less than an hour to set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter relating to ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
Before the end of yesterday the ‘NotJulius Malema’ account on Facebook had attracted 17 friends while ‘NotPrezJuju’ on Twitter had two followers. One of the Twitter followers claimed to be “a lonely girl” who was looking for friendly guys. She later stopped following us.
But few revolutionaries want to share the limelight, and this week league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu vowed that “the laws of this country will come (down) very hard” on at least 20 “Julius Malemas” on Twitter.
But the ease with which one can be impersonated on social networking sites reveals the tricky nature of virtual reality.
For both Facebook and Twitter, all one has to do is set up an account.
Twitter will let you register any username, but will not let you register a screen name that already exists. That’s why one will not find two Julius Malemas on Twitter, but you’ll get variants of the name such as JuliusMaleman or j_malema.
The most popular fake Malema on Twitter goes under the alias Julius_S_Malema and has 13?994 followers but is only following 25 people, and has tweeted 515 times.
According to Twitter rules, “impersonation is pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive. Impersonation is a violation of the Twitter Rules and may result in permanent account suspension”.
But parody accounts are welcome, as long as the profile name, username and bio “include a statement to distinguish it from the real identity”. More sympathetic imposters have opted to make it clear that they are imposters and not the real celebrity, thus a screen name would be @notHelenZille, as opposed to @HelenZille.
Twitter also uses a verification badge (white tick in a blue circle) by the username “to establish authenticity of well-known accounts so users can trust that a legitimate source is authoring their tweets”.
But not everyone with delusions of grandeur can get a verification badge. The types of accounts that get verified are those “who deal with identity confusion regularly on Twitter”, according to the site. “Twitter uses this to establish authenticity of well-known accounts so users can trust that a legitimate source is authoring their Tweets.”
A lawyer quoted in the Mail&Guardian newspaper suggested that victims of impersonation on Facebook could use the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 to throw the book at impostors.
If Malema feels that he has had enough of his name being dragged through the twittersphere, he could opt to start an authentic Twitter account.
The question is, can he handle the notion of having to express himself in only 140 characters at a time?