AI? Oyez! Navigating the Twitter Impersonation Policy
Town Criers were historically a means of disseminating news and information and, like many of his fellow criers, the Town Crier of Ramsbury has taken to social media to keep the role up to date in the 21st century. His Twitter account – @ramsburycrier – shares snippets from the village diary, details of upcoming local events etc.
Just before Christmas, he noticed another Twitter account with an almost identical handle – @ramsburycierr – which had copied his name, profile and picture and was busy tweeting what looked like complete garbage. Check it out for yourself below:
All a bit odd – we weren’t sure he’d done anything to attract this kind of attention. We suspected it was nothing personal, just a computer somewhere set up to hijack existing profiles and work them for clicks or likes or advertising revenue. More pertinent was how to go about stopping it. So, how to report a twitter account and get it deleted?
From our experience of dealing with social media companies, our hopes weren’t high: they can often be very difficult to engage with directly, they are rarely keen to rush to judgement, and they have been known to hide behind web forms and impersonal email addresses.
Twitter’s rules state that impersonating someone else is not allowed, although it is permissible to run a ‘parody’ or ‘fan’ account, and you can’t complain if someone’s just using the same name as you. But they do have a process for reporting violations of their rules, so we duly clicked and waited.
First off, we had to prove his identity. This was trickier than you might think, not least because Twitter seems to assume that everyone is a US citizen working for a US business. He could, however, manage a copy of his driver’s license (sic) but drew a blank when asked for a copy of a business card or proof of registration of trademark. We uploaded some official town crier paperwork and got a swift (and seemingly automated) reply:
Oh dear. Fortunately, the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers was able to send through confirmation – on official Guild notepaper – that our man was indeed who he claimed to be. Surely this, together with a copy of his Guild membership card, would suffice? Apparently not – we had now exceeded the 5 MB limit for uploading documents so there was no room for any more evidence!
Things were starting to a turn a bit Kafkaesque, so we decided to go off-piste and reply directly to firstname.lastname@example.org, asking them to confirm what documents they already had and what more they might want. We didn’t hold out much hope of a meaningful reply and duly got the following:
Surmising that this was probably another automatic response generated by the system, rather than any proof of communication with a genuine, flesh-and-blood individual, we fired off another email setting out in detail the obvious plagiarism, the clear similarities between the two accounts, the blatant “typosquatting” of the account name and the fact that @ramsburycierr had copied and used an original, copyright photograph. We even went so far as to clarify that there is only one Ramsbury in the UK (outside the confines of The Archers, at least), none listed on the U.S. Geological Survey and apparently none anywhere else in the world either. So there could be no chance of @ramsburycierr being authentic.
All this resulted in another apparently generic and anonymous email:
Hmmm. The DMCA is a US copyright law which deals with online infringement, so this looked like an automated response triggered by the word “copyright” in my previous email. But five days later, and rather out of the blue, a further message from Twitter arrived:
Hooray! Success! We chipped a cheeky:
And got an instant:
We’re still genuinely unsure whether we were conversing with a computer or a human, but persistence paid off and it’s good to know the system works (eventually). We’re not suggesting Twitter has managed to produce a working artificial intelligence (“AI”) system yet, but if we have indeed seen a glimpse of the future, we can report that it’s a very polite place!