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Twitter Phonies: Who Are You Really Following?

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Tuesday, Apr 28, 2009

“Here’s the deal. I am in a hard time with money, and I am trying to get it in as many ways possible. Please understand.”


So said Tom Waits on Twitter last week but there was one problem.  It wasn’t the famous West Coast singer-songwriter who actually said that but a fake who was using his name and pretending to be him on Twitter.  At first, this innocuous phony would post music thoughts once in a while, which seemed plausible since TW’s probably a busy guy all around otherwise. “TW” even provided a link to a ‘new song’, (a live version of Falling Down). 


But then about a week ago, “Tom Waits” on Twitter started providing links that would supposedly let fans buy ringtones of his songs with posts like this: “Once again, here is the link to the ringtone offer - (WEB ADDRESS WITHHELD) - It should work now, things have been sorted out.” 


Waits fans on Twitter were confused.  Some said the account was hacked or that poor Tom was in desperate straights and needed dough or said that the guy on Twitter was just a fake.  The exasperated “TW” even stepped in to plead his case, asking (paraphrased) ‘what do I have to do to convince you?’
  
Brooklyn Vegan confirmed with Anti Records (Waits’ label) that the Twitter account was a fake and later, Anti themselves stepped in and made it clear on April 20th with this tweet: “hey, fake @tomwaits: you were vaguely amusing when you were just pretending to be tom..not so much now that you are pedaling sh*t. pls stop.”  No doubt, they alerted Twitter themselves to this bit of chicanery and the account was suspended.


But that’s not quite the end of the story.  “TW” had about 17,000 followers on Twitter, which is impressive, but not Ashton K-level.  Even after “TW” was cut off, some of his followers evidently hadn’t heard what happened and tweeted about poor Tom getting kicked off of the service. 


Hilariously, he was even mourned by Nick Cave- not the real Aussie artist but yet another phony, posing as Cave on Twitter.  The difference wasn’t just that “Nick” wasn’t trying to sell ringtones but he also made it clear that he wasn’t the real Nick- his ID notes him as “Fake Nick Cave.”


And “Nick Cave” has plenty of company on Twitter too.  As Stereogum pointed out, there’s plenty of fake musicians on the service.  Some of them are actually pretty funny.  I follow Notorious BIG there (who died 12 years ago) along with other 8000 followers and Charles Darwin (who died about 115 years before Biggie).  That’s not even mentioning other personalities that I follow like a precocious cat, Darth Vader and Moe the bartender from the Simpsons.  Would it be naive to guess that they ain’t who they say they are? 


But as long as they don’t try to sell me ringtones, I don’t care if those folks are a bunch fakes because they know it and they’re entertaining (not to mention the over-the-top hilarious fake Nick Nolte and the person posing as former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (aka ‘Emperor of America’)).  I’d even say that they’re worth following on Twitter.  Who doesn’t like to role play and pretend now and then, just to spice up your life a little?  It’s fine as long as you don’t get too carried away with it.


But then there’s the other fakes that ain’t so obvious on Twitter.  Take “Steve Reich” for example.  The famous recent Pulitzer winning composer has a Twitter account.  Or so it would seem.  Time Out editor Steve Smith (also on Twitter) smelled something funny going on when he noted that “Steve Reich” wasn’t being followed on Twitter by Reich’s label or Reich’s publishing company.  Wall Street Journal columnist/author Greg Sandow asked Reich’s publicist (also on Twitter) directly if this was in fact the composer.  Turns out it wasn’t Reich there at all.  His management is now seeing if they can shut down the account and the Reich’s publicist had a choice tweet for the imposter: “Hey, fake @SteveReich: Real Steve Reich wants your profile to be clear it’s not him. Also, ‘your’ Double Sextet is on Colbert tonight, FYI..”


“Steve Reich” is pretty innocuous himself and seemed kind of plausible, kind of like “Brian Eno” on Twitter (which ain’t really Eno).  Then you have the die-hard fakers who go out of their way to look real, like “Henry Rollins” who was kicked off his original Henry Rollins account, complained about it in a new Twitter account (called ‘NotHenryRollins’) and was later exposed for the fake that he was.  “Henry” even had a nice Rollins-esque rant about the whole incident.


And what about Twitter celebrities who do approve their accounts but don’t do their own tweets?  Most people weren’t surprised to hear that Britney Spears doesn’t actually tweet on her own account but instead has her PR team do the work.  Hell, it was later found out that respected author/venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has a team of people doing his tweeting.


But how can you really tell if someone like that is the real thing unless you do some digging yourself?  And will you feel ‘punk’d’ if you find out later that your favorite celebrity is a phony, even if they do have amusing tweets?  It’s good fun to some extent but you’d wanna be careful before you wrote a story about a celeb’s tweets there before you checked to make sure they’re the real deal.


I can pretty much vouch for myself and that I do my own tweeting.  For almost everyone else I follow there, who knows?  If they keep tweeting strong and provide good info or at least entertaining bits, I’m not too worried I guess.  Hell, I even asked “Steve Reich” a question in response to a thoughtful post that he (she?) made before I found out the truth.  Good thing I didn’t I didn’t buy a “Music For 18 Musicians” ringtone from him though…


FOLLOW-UP: A day after the blog post above, “Steve Reich” on Twitter said: ‘It halarious (sic) that people are convinced I’m a fake.I’ve been getting that one for years! It’s boring old me alright but thanks for concern.’  These fake Pulitzer winners are such clowns…  And on April 29th, “Steve” finally confessed in a tweet: “Oh well, my 15mins.Over.Would like to offer password to real Steve (or publishing) so he can continue my work.Shame to lose the profile.”  Later, he joked that Steve’s publicist on Twitter might be a fake (she ain’t) and that he was actually Philip Glass in disguise (yawn).  Much like “Tom Waits,” “Steve” had definitely worn out his welcome.  Later, his manager took over the account (noting that SR doesn’t twitter) and even issued a kind word to “Steve Reich” for graciously giving up the account.


JUNE 09 FOLLOW-UP: Another great faker appeared in the guise of “Phil Spector.”  This Phil was obviously a fake not just because of the over-the-top crazy posts but also for using a prison cell as their background for their Twitter page.  Later, “PS” admitted that he/she wasn’t the real deal. “PS” went on to thank his/her followers on Twitter and say that the real PS belongs in jail.  “PS” also had this warning for twitter: “Twitter you need to start doing something to combat fake accounts. If I was a malicious person I could have caused damage.”  They’re take it seriously alright- expect them to shut down the “PS” account soon.


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