There’s a certain Mr Owen Jones on Twitter that you might not be familiar with. This other Owen has no blue verified badge- but otherwise is a dead ringer for his namesake, that cheeky scamp and Official Spokesperson for The Left.
Owen’s evil twin, Bad Owen, is one of Twitter’s ostensibly ‘parody’ accounts. Some of these are having a negative influence on political discourse, with ramifications beyond Twitter. Labour MP Naz Shah was recently caught out by this account.
In July 2017, a right wing ‘sock-puppet’ account was posing on Twitter as an adviser to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, no less. Despite several red flags, including its incredibly offensive tweets, the account was able to hoodwink MP Yvette Cooper into accepting its Lefty credentials- and one offensive tweet was, very helpfully, presented by Cooper as an example of the abuse coming from Labour supporters. This account used an entirely fictional persona in order to smear the Left; Bad Owen has a different strategy.
Parody Without Comedy
Among Twitter’s politically oriented parodies, a small few appear so similar to their subject that, depending on their comments, they can and often do pass for the Real McCoy. This obviously has the potential to be disruptive. These parodies, largely unconcerned with humour, are stretching the definition of ‘parody’. Owen’s evil twin, shown below right, is one such account.
Bad Owen might not actually mind being mistaken for Good Owen…
This is a particularly misleading parody, if it can be called that. In addition to having a very similar username to its subject (Good Owen: @OwenJones84; Bad Owen: @Owen_Jones84) and an identical profile picture, until recently* this account even used the same name, ‘Owen Jones’ (see above). This ambiguity is not accidental.
Wait- Twitter has rules?
At least in theory, Twitter requires that parody accounts do not use their subject’s exact name, without additions such as “NotTheReal…” etc. If met, these requirements would prevent exactly the kind of f*ckery that has occurred.
*UPDATED: Bad Owen‘s name was subsequently (18 Aug 2017) modified to ‘Owen Jones, not’, and is now (22 Aug 2017) ‘Owen Joans’. These changes were made after having played a central role in the creation of a smear directed at Labour MP Naz Shah.
He’s Not Like The Real Owen
The ‘parody’ account, displaying the name ‘Owen Jones’, posted the following comment in response to tweets condemning the Islamophobia within recent articles that appeared in The S*n.
Naz Shah MP seemingly mistook this account for the real Owen Jones; so liked and retweeted it before ‘un-retweeting’ it less than ten minutes later, once aware of its content.
Shah could be forgiven for not having paid full attention here. When this particular tweet was received, Shah was dealing with (and liking / retweeting) a stream of tweets from her fellow MPs and others, sent to show their support for her letter to The S*n, which itself was “supported by over 100 cross party colleagues”. It was in this context that this one, inauthentic tweet was given the benefit of the doubt.
A genuine tweet from the real Mr Jones wouldn’t warrant the same level of scrutiny before sharing or retweeting as would, for example, something written by an anonymous right wing troll with bad intentions.
However, this was Twitter, where to be associated with such a tweet for just a few minutes is something that is not easily forgotten- especially by those with an axe to grind. Starting immediately and still ongoing, a small but determined group of Islamophobic right wing Twitter users have cynically exploited Shah’s error; demonstrating faux outrage and attempting to stir genuine outrage in others.
The initial tweet was deleted by Absolute B*stard Owen shortly afterwards, whereas tweets focusing on Naz Shah’s actions remain on this account’s timeline; including as its current pinned tweet. There has been little discussion online of the role played by this ‘parody’ account. Most of those commenting do recognise that @#&% Owen is a fake; and are not directing their ‘outrage’ at the initial tweet but at Naz Shah MP for having liked and retweeted it; which they allege shows Shah’s agreement with it.
More than Trollology
Parodies on social media satirising political figures, activists, MPs etc. are a fairly recent form of propaganda arising from the Internet age. The vast majority are very obvious parodies. We are accustomed to their presence online, occasionally irked by them, and may simply ignore what is intended for a different audience. But by designating a wide range of online activity as simply ‘trolling’, and therefore not worthy of serious consideration, we are missing out on more than a pointless diversion into the realm of trollology.
Many on the Left are conscious of smears that emanate from the right wing press; but those emerging at grassroots level may not be on our radar- unless they become more widely known. By identifying these developing narratives, we are better prepared to counter them; and not simply rendered speechless upon hearing what we’d consider to be obviously false- e.g. The S*n and Mail Online reporting that Jeremy Corbyn was “dancing a jig” on his way to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. Stories that are equally as damaging (and ridiculous) exist beyond what might appear in the media.
Online parody accounts contribute to certain narratives that serve to confirm the views of their audiences. And, although Owen Jones’ sexuality was in no way central to this smear, existing homophobic views on the right were nonetheless emboldened, as the appalling comment below shows.
Following the recent resignation of Labour MP Sarah Champion as Shadow Equalities Minister, some on the Left accurately predicted that the Islamophobic right would attempt to cast Sarah Champion MP as a martyr for their cause. In this narrative, Champion did not resign, but rather was unfairly sacked for “defending raped, abused [white] girls”. This has complemented the (equally false) narrative surrounding Naz Shah.
It remains to be seen how, or if, this story will be presented in the mainstream media. But in the meantime, Remember, kids (including MPs):