Taking a stab at political media criticism through the lens of a fake Twitter account

On my desktop next to a well-worn copy of Webster’s, an English-Spanish dictionary and the AP Stylebook, I keep two books from journalism school. One is my first textbook on news reporting and writing that’s sweetly out of date (when you look at the photos), yet timeless in the fundamentals of our discipline. The other is Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, to remind me that the “medium is the message,” “in the name of progress our official culture is forcing the new media to do the work of the old,” and other stuff like that.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, which I know some of you who are reading this now may not follow. (I always keep that in mind, as well as the fact that scores of our newspaper readers and many of our website readers may never see this blog post either. Rest assured, non-Twitter-users, you don’t have to get an account to gain an understanding of what you can learn from this interesting and compact forum, you can simply read the messages on the “Twitter fall” in the middle of our website. But I digress.)

In early April, I stumbled on a fake Twitter account @johnryandenton (we’ll see how long this link lasts). The “art” is funny, and the satirical tweets made me laugh out loud more than once. Having been on Twitter for a while now, I knew they weren’t likely coming from Ryan or one of his supporters.

Ryan called today and we chatted about it. He confessed he wasn’t up on Twitter, and then proceeded to share what he’d figured out (who’s following, including who followed first, and who’s interacted with the anonymous writer), which I thought was plenty insightful for someone who had just waded in … and I think there’s a good reason for that which I’ll get into in a second.

I brought up the existence of this fake Twitter account to his opponent, Glen Farris, last night before the Denton Neighborhood Alliance forum and he did a good job keeping his poker face.

Ryan hasn’t lost his sense of humor over it, but he also told me he intended to contact Twitter and ask them to remove the account. The fake account may be harmless fun, or it may be an example of using the new media (Twitter) to do some old work (a whispering campaign).

Social media is supposed to be democratizing in its ability to give access to powerful communication tools that used to belong only to the elite. In j-school, we were reminded frequently and loudly and soul-searchingly about the responsibilities that come with access to barrels of ink. (Occasionally, I share cautionary Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Lulu, et al, tales to my now-grown children to encourage them to be mindful of their decisions in those spheres, kind of like how I made them read the police blotter occasionally when they were teens. But I digress again.)

As McLuhan wrote, “the only sure disaster would be a society not perceiving a technology’s effects on their world, especially the chasms and tensions between generations.”

Some food for thought as this spring political season races to the finish line.

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