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Does the Wetherspoon ruling call time on parody accounts?


Does the Wetherspoon ruling call time on parody accounts?

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon and its outspoken chairman Tim Martin have a tempestuous relationship with social media, even reaching the point earlier this year where the chain removed all its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Now, it has managed to get an imposter Twitter account wiped as well.

Wetherspoon’s decision to take a self-enforced social media blackout created an opening for pranksters, who could enjoy a joke at the expense of the nationwide firm, which is known for its discount food and drink and Martin’s fiercely pro-Brexit views. However, a high court ruling means that Twitter has been forced to reveal who is behind two of these would-be Wetherspoon accounts, and one of the two parody pages in question now appears to have been removed.

The Guardian reports that Twitter has until mid-January to comply with the order to expose the jokers behind the @Wetherspoon_UK and @SpoonsTom accounts. The latter of these accounts is still in operation.

The @Wetherspoon_UK page, however, has now been suspended by Twitter, and has previously been known to create controversy by announcing that poppies have been banned at Wetherspoon pubs, and promising a free drink to any customer wearing a waistcoat during last summer’s World Cup.

Wetherspoon 1

Wetherspoon 2

It is perfectly understandable that Wetherspoon as a brand wants to protect itself from these false accounts and the rumours they spread, especially with the chain talking of “very heated questions” being raised at the company AGM about the trouble this is creating. However, is it right that large companies should be able to get the law on their side in dealing with people who are, when all is said and done, just having a bit of fun? After all, both accounts clearly say in their description that they are not affiliated with JD Wetherspoon. Below is the meta-description from the @Wetherspoon_UK account:

Wetherspoon 3

The @SpoonsTom account also points out (using strong language) that it has nothing to do with the pubs, and the general tone and imagery of the page should make this obvious anyway, so what offence is really being committed by these accounts? Do companies have a right not to be lampooned on social media, even when the perpetrators are clearly pointing out that they are not real representatives of the companies they are mimicking?

The point here is that people are still naive in their attitude to social media, and that there are still plenty of people who will simply see a tweet from an account with ‘Wetherspoon’ in its name promising them a free drink, and assume it to be true.

Closing parody accounts doesn’t solve this problem, and actually just stifles satire, which is one of the oldest and most effective forms of criticism. Instead, it’s down to social media sites like Twitter to continue to educate users on what they like, share and, most importantly, believe.

It’s also the prerogative of companies to make engaging use of Twitter to ensure they establish a tone of voice on the social platform. Wetherspoon is not helping itself with its regressive attitude to social media, through which it has no way to silence any imitations.

It reminds me of the case in 2007 when fast food giant McDonald’s tried to get Oxford English Dictionaries to change its entry for the word ‘McJob’, meaning a low-paid, unsatisfying job. Quite rightly, the campaign failed, because language is the product of ordinary people’s own interpretations, and is not dictated by global corporations. Rather than file constant lawsuits, certain companies need to ask themselves why it is that they attract such negative publicity and what they can do to improve their reputation.

John Murray
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