The Twitter community has been up in arms this past week over the blocking of a popular account, parodying German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The account is now back but the shut-down remains a mystery.
"So pleased to have solved the #Eurocrisis. Looking forward to solving it again next week". Oh, ouch. What about: "It's surprising how long you have to hold Nicolas Sarkozy's face in a bowl of soup before he agrees with you." Oh, double ouch.
Does that sound like Angela Merkel speaking English to you? Well, somebody apparently thought so because otherwise the Twitter account @Angela_D_Merkel would probably never have been shut down by Twitter at the start of last week.
Her imitator agreed to speak to DW via a hidden number. He also wanted to remain unnamed.
"Who I am is not of great interest, but I am happy to talk about my background," the impersonator told DW. "Essentially, I'm someone who grew up in Brussels, in Euroland, as part of the European generation. I just have a cynical take on all this, and that's what I wanted to get across with this account."
After starting up last November, and gaining over 26,000 followers, the impersonator admits he was surprised it took so long for the parody account to get shut down.
"It was reported for what Twitter describes as malicious impersonation. I don't have a problem with Twitter itself," he said.
No confirmation from Berlin
The real Angela Merkel has chosen not to have an official Twitter site, although she does have a government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, who likes to tweet a lot. But a Twitter message, asking Seibert whether the Chancellor's office had forced the closure of the @Angela_D_Merkel account, went unanswered.
An email and a phone call to the Chancellor's office was also ignored. Twitter has refused to comment, citing "privacy reasons."
Shortly after these requests, however, the Angela_D_Merkel account was re-activated.
Then it was closed off completely, and the parody imitator was forced to change his Twitter account address to @Queen_Europe.
Twitter expert Mark Dang-Anh from the Department of Media Studies at the University of Bonn says that unless the comments on an account are defamatory, only the person being impersonated can request Twitter shut down the account.
"It can be assumed that something came from the Chancellor's office," Dang-Ahn told DW. "It wouldn't have come from the Chancellor herself - but I suspect someone would have got in contact with Twitter and said 'we want this account to be blocked'."
Politicians versus impersonators
The idea of imitators setting up fake websites or Twitter accounts is nothing new - most public figures have a number of imitator sites. But how they react to the fake accounts varies. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is believed to have had a number of impersonators shut down on Twitter earlier this year before the presidential elections.
Angela Merkel recently launched her own YouTube channel. With most politicians currently trying to improve their online presence, it is hard to say whether the impersonators or the politicians are winning the battle for attention.
"The German government spokesman uses his Twitter account very well, he knows how to use the technology," said Mark Dang-Anh. "The fake accounts differ, though. There are some good ones but there is another Angela Merkel imitator site which isn't so good because it's just not very funny."
At least in the case of one man, who is presumably in Brussels, the potential for further parody tweeting about the EU is high.
"When you look at the characters coming out of Brussels like Herman Van Rompuy, Catherine Ashton, President [José Manuel] Barroso to mention but a few, I think there is plenty of material there. There is room for plenty more parodies on Twitter," the imitator said.
It looks like a battle is going to go on for a good time yet, unless Twitter gets more active in shutting down fake accounts - which seems unlikely - at least for now.
Author: André Leslie
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany