For almost three weeks, a Twitter account posing as Jerry Lewis, the Mesa Republican running against Senate President Russell Pearce in an upcoming recall election, has posted tweets promoting gay pornography and illegal immigration, aligning Lewis with extreme liberal causes and calling out politicians who are backing Lewis.
The account – @JerryHLewis in the Twitter universe – uses a Lewis campaign photo, and includes the following description: “Mormon, support Randy Parraz, gay marriage, pro-abortion advocate, union & community organizer. Laws R 2 harsh on illegals, need 2 make them feel welcome.”
The account makes no reference to being either a parody or “fake” Twitter account. Such accounts are often made as ways for Twitter users who create fictional accounts that satirically portray real people. Lewis’ real twitter account exists under the name @JerryLewisAZ.
When contacted for comment about the account by Arizona Capitol Times, Chase Barrett, Lewis’ campaign manager, said he hadn’t yet seen it. However, after viewing the tweets, he confirmed that the account did not belong to either Lewis or the campaign.
“This is ridiculous – that people would go to this length to go against someone challenging Pearce,” Barrett said. “This is absolutely not (Lewis).”
Barrett also said he would be immediately contacting the campaign’s attorneys to discuss legal action.
According to Twitter’s terms of service, “Impersonation violates Twitter’s Terms of Service and we take the issue seriously. We suspend, delete or transfer control of accounts known to be impersonation.”
Rachael Horwitz, a representative for Twitter, said simply shutting off the account is usually what happens in scenarios like this.
“Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary, or fan accounts, as long as they do not violate our terms of service,” Horwitz said in an email. “However, accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead may be permanently suspended.”
Essentially, a fake Twitter account needs to make clear that it is just that: a fake or impersonation account.
“It’s definitely going to brought up with our attorneys to see what the next course of action is, but clearly this can’t stay up,” Barrett said.
Barrett also said he wondered whether the account had reached the threshold of libel or slander.
“They’re walking a real thin line here,” he said.
Beyond just shutting down the account, however, recent court cases have applied a portion of federal trademark law, known as the Lanham Act, to malfeasant use of Twitter. The Lanham Act has been amended in recent years to define cyberpiracy and the legal remedies for infractions of it.
Although case law hasn’t yet provided clear answers about what sort of ramifications the fake Lewis account could bring, the few cases that have tested the area point toward creating civil liability for such action.
The administrator of the fake Lewis account did not immediately respond to messages sent via Twitter.
Lewis, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Republican with deep ties to District 18 is seen as a frontrunner to Pearce in the Nov. 8 recall election. Two other candidates, independent Tommy Cattey, and Republican Olivia Cortes, also filed paperwork to run.