Whose tweet is it anyway? A brief history of the fake Twitter account

A spoof IDS profile duped David Cameron on Monday. But, apart from fooling the PM, why on earth do so many  people run fake Twitter accounts?

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When David Cameron was asked for his views on Twitter in 2009, he said, famously: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.” But the Prime Minister was himself made to look like, well, a fool yesterday when he was hoodwinked by an electrician pretending to be his own cabinet minister.

The Independent revealed that a 42-year-old army veteran from Berkshire is the man behind the @IDS_MP account mentioned by Cameron in a tweet about benefits: “We’re rolling out a cap on Benefits today – @IDS_MP and I are  determined to make work pay...”

The prankster, who did not want to be named, said the Iain Duncan Smith feed “was just a bit of a dig,” adding: “David Cameron uses Twitter to try and seem cool but it massively backfired on him.”

In fooling the PM, who is himself the subject of several spoof feeds, “IDS” staged arguably the biggest coup in the short, rich and often surreal tradition of the parody account on Twitter, where anyone can be anyone.

Sometimes the spoof can be more successful than the original. The Queen’s official @BritishMonarchy has only half the following of @Queen_UK. The real Queen’s latest tweet may indicate why: “On 16 Jul: The Princess Royal – will open Havant Public Service Plaza...” The spoof account has inspired a website,  book and merchandise including a babygrow with the slogan “I’m bald like Daddy”.

Pippa Tips, the popular parody of Celebrate, Pippa Middleton’s party planning book, has similarly taken off, spawning the rival “ When One is Expecting: A Posh Person’s Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting”, which is outselling Celebrate on Amazon. But there are risks in ridicule, as the book’s authors found when Middleton’s lawyers wrote to their  publisher to demand they delete the account.

In 2008, Twitter offered blue ticks to celebrities seeking to verify their feeds. But a man who set up a parody account for Wendi Deng the day after her then husband Rupert Murdoch launched his was floored last year when he  received a tick after after News International mistakenly endorsed his tweets as real.

The IDS parodist was also threatened with legal action by Trenton Oldfield, the Australian who disrupted last year’s Boat Race in protest, after he launched an earlier parody account in his name. Why does he do it? “It’s such an easy thing,” he says. “It’s a bit of fun and can have a bit of an impact, although I didn’t expect to be on Sky News today.”

Andy Dawson is the Sunderland-based journalist behind the popular Diana in Heaven account, which he has used for years wryly to comment on the exploits of royals and welcome the newly dead. He says such accounts are now harder to get away with. “It used to be a bit more Wild West. Now there’s more coverage so anything outrageous gets stamped on. It’s a shame, these people should be fair game.”

Video: Iain Duncan Smith on benefit caps