Nicolas Sarkozy, who hopes to be re-elected as French President this year, seems to have little love for the Internet. At best, he regards it as a "Wild West" that needs taming. Despite that, Sarkozy joined Twitter last week -- you can follow him @NicolasSarkozy. Posts are mainly written by his re-election team, although there seem to be a handful of personal tweets (marked "NS"). But at least he's finally engaging with the new medium on its own terms.
Or maybe not:
The morning after French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he will run for a second term, several parodic Twitter accounts have mysteriously been suspended.
@_nicolassarkozy , an account created in September 2010 and clearly labeled as a satirical Sarkozy impersonation, was suspended on Feburary 16th.
The account was run by the French website kaboul.fr:
According to Kaboul.fr, which, after complaining, received an answer from Twitter, @_nicolassarkozy was "suspended after being reported." Twitter also told Kabul.fr that to be granted such priviledge, the suspension had to be made by Sarkozy, or someone acting on his authority.
Twitter's official response has been leaked:
We have received a valid report that your account, @_NicolasSarkozy, is engaged in non-parody impersonation. Although Twitter firmly believes in the freedom of expression, impersonation that misleads, confuses, or deceives others is against the Twitter Rules (http://twitter.com/rules). Your account has been temporarily suspended due to violation of our impersonation policy.
The key issue here seems to be possible confusion, since Twitter's guidelines on Parody, Commentary, and Fan Accounts state:
In order to avoid impersonation, an account's profile information should make it clear that the creator of the account is not actually the same person or entity as the subject of the parody/commentary. Here are some suggestions for marking your account:
Maybe the account @_NicolasSarkozy has fallen foul of those rules, although it's hard to believe anyone would mistake a parody of Sarkozy for the real thing - it was not an "impersonation". But what about the other accounts that were suspended?
Username: The username should not be the exact name of the subject of the parody, commentary, or fandom; to make it clearer, you should distinguish the account with a qualifier such as "not," "fake," or "fan."
Name: The profile name should not list the exact name of the subject without some other distinguishing word, such as "not," "fake," or "fan."
three other accounts, all clearly opposing Sarkozy's political views, were suspended at the same time: @mafranceforte, @fortefrance and @SarkozyCaSuffit. Those accounts where not related to Kaboul.fr, nor impersonating local politician, but straight-ahead, and recently-created, politically-oriented Twitter accounts.
"La France Forte" -- "Strong France" -- is the slogan for Sarkozy's campaign, prominently displayed on his Twitter page, so the use of the phrase for Twitter accounts might be seen as confusing. But again, the content would surely tip people off that it was a parody. The last of the four accounts that were suspended recently is @SarkozyCaSuffit -- roughly translated as "Sarkozy, That's Enough". It's clearly what Twitter calls a "Commentary" account, making a very obvious comment about a political figure - no question of "impersonation". Unless there are any other grounds for doing so (and so far there don't seem to be any), removing it looks like pure political censorship in favor of Sarkozy.
We don't know at this stage exactly who asked for these four accounts to be removed, only that according to Twitter's rules it must have been done "by Sarkozy, or someone acting on his authority". We asked Twitter about this and it refused to provide specifics on why the accounts were closed or the timing, other than to say that just because the accounts were suspended in the same general time frame, it wasn't necessarily for the same reason.
Be that as it may, the near-simultaneous closure of four accounts all critical of a powerful national politician inevitably reminds us that for many countries, "civilizing" the Internet often comes down to censoring it. It's worrying to see France apparently starting to go down that route -- and for Twitter to be helping it.
Update @_NicolasSarkozy has been unblocked, but the other three are still suspended.
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