Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: Time Warner Cable Doesn't Want Anyone To See Critical Parody (2013)

from the can-we-make-things-worse? dept

Summary: In 2013, two comedians named Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, who performed as ?The Good Liars,? got some attention for mocking a particular popular target of mockery: poor service from your broadband provider. For Selvig and Stiefler, their target was Time Warner Cable. In late March of that year, they released a video on YouTube in which they pretended to be Time Warner Cable employees interviewing people on the street about how TWC could make its service even worse.

To support the initial viral attention that the video was receiving, the two also set up a series of parody Time Warner Cable ?customer support? accounts that would respond — just like the real TWC customer support Twitter account — to people complaining about their service, again asking how they could make things worse.

However, just as the video was getting more momentum, the entire YouTube channel set up by Selvig and Stiefler was taken down, as were most of the fake Twitter accounts, even though they were all clearly labeled as parody accounts, and despite policies that said that parody was allowed on these services.

Time Warner Cable, in a statement to the Daily Dot, said that it had no problem with parodies of its service in general, but was opposed to parodies that used the name of its CEO:

?We?re a big company and so we?re not at all opposed to a good parody or satire,? Bobby Amirshahi, a TWC representative, told the Daily Dot. The two crossed the line, he said, by choosing ?Glenn Britt,? the company?s CEO, as their username. The issue was ?posting as though it was from the CEO, i.e. impersonation,? Amirshahi said. ?Otherwise, no action would be taken.?

TWC also convinced GoDaddy to remove the website that Selvig and Stiefler had used as a central hub for all of its TWC mockery,

Decisions to be made by YouTube/Twitter/GoDaddy:

  • Where do you draw the line regarding what is acceptable parody and unacceptable impersonation?
  • Is the use of TWC?s CEO enough to make it no longer acceptable?
  • Should there be different rules when the parody is about a large company rather than an individual?

Questions and policy implications to consider:

  • Parody and satire are often important ways to speak out against the powerful. Will clamping down on parodies in this manner suppress commentary and criticism?
  • Can rules against impersonation allow powerful individuals and companies to silence criticism?

Resolution: The various takedowns remained in place, and very little is left online of the Good Liars? campaign to mock Time Warner Cable. There was just one of the Twitter accounts @TWCCareNYC that was not removed and while the account is still live, none of the tweets remain.

Time Warner Cable itself no longer exists. Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable in 2016 and has rebranded most former Time Warner Cable services under its ?Spectrum? brand name.

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: time warner cable, twitter

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'We're huge fans of parody... unless it's parody of us.'

Nothing confirms how supportive you are of parody by squashing any parody of you.

At the same time I suppose I can see why Time Warner might have freaked out, I mean even with the parody tag with treatment like that I imagine it would still be entirely reasonable for customers to think it was the real thing and TW had just stopped pretending that they actually gave a damn about their customers.

Sharur says:

Re: 'We're huge fans of parody... unless it's parody of us.'

On the other hand; I’m at least somewhat technically and social media literate, and the above twitter post (until you start to read the text) does look like its coming from TWC.They could "break the illusion" with, for example, a parody revealing @name, and still maintain all of the satire potential, at least in my book, without potentially confusing anyone (which is the main protection trademark is supposed to grant).

TWC’s has declared their line in the sand (truthful or not), is CEO impersonation (weather or not that’s a good line, they’re reaction is way over the top for that, I think, just flag the CEO "impersonating" content).

I’m not sure I’m on board with their line in the sand, but on face value, they have one that is not entirely unreasonable; just fake it with a message from "Glen Greedy, Chief Screwing-over-customers Officer" or something.

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