Twitter: Here a fake tweet, there a fake tweet…

Is that a fail whale we see?

Twitter has apologized for a blunder this week when it used fake tweets from three real-life Twitter users in a marketing graphic to promote its ad platform.

The made-up testimonials on San Francisco-based Twitter’s marketing blog praised a Twitter TV commercial and, not surprisingly, angered the real users. “It’s disturbing and has no place,” Neil Gottlieb of Philadelphia told SFGate’s Jeff Elder, who broke the story. “To use my image and fake a tweet is wrong and needs to be addressed.”

Twitter quickly backtracked, tweeting an apology to the three users, and then updating their original blog post with a more detailed mea culpa:

“An earlier version of this blog post included an image with mock Tweets from real users of our platform. This was not OK. Once we became aware of this mistake we took it down immediately. We deeply apologize to the three users included in the earlier images.”

Gottlieb told SFGate he’s contacted an attorney and is considering legal action for unauthorized use of his likeness. But it’s questionable that such a lawsuit would be successful; as more and more people are finding out, agreeing to social media sites’ terms of service often means giving away great leeway in how your posts are used.

Twitter’s terms of service, for example, reads:

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed). . . .  additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you.

And it’s not just Twitter. Most notably, Facebook can use members’ likenesses for “sponsored stories,” and the Menlo Park social media giant ran into a buzzsaw of backlash last year when it changed Instagram’s terms of service to imply it could sell users’ photos for ads, with no compensation.

It’s a healthy reminder that while you may technically “own” your content, when you sign up for a free service, you may be granting the company wide-ranging authority to do whatever they like with it.

Meanwhile, Twitter wasn’t the only company involved in fake-tweet shenangians this week. Chipotle admitted Wednesday that a series of awkwardly random tweets Sunday that it originally attributed to a hacker were, in fact, a publicity stunt carried out by its marketing team. Though stupid, the stunt worked — Chipotle gained 4,000 new followers the day of the supposed hack, and the messages were retweeted more than 12,000 times.

Geez, it’s getting so you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet anymore.



File photo by KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/GettyImages


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  • Neil Gottlieb

    It is actually “NOT ok” to do what Twitter did and they say it in those words. Their privacy statement does not authorize using users accounts and faking their words to advertise for financial gains. They can take an existing tweet and do as they wish, it appears, but no such tweet existed so the entire issue was fabricated. If the policy was solid, they would not have issued an apology . Yes, I am the one who was hacked by Twitter….