Twitter restores Putin parody account

President Putin Image copyright Mikhail Svetlov/Getty
Image caption The comedy account of "the 146% legitimate President of Russia" has now been restored.

Twitter has been accused of a sense-of-humour failure after it temporarily suspended a popular parody account that pokes fun at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia watchers have been dismayed in recent days to find themselves denied the satirical delights offered to his 50,000-plus followers by @DarthPutinKGB.

They also found themselves briefly bereft of four other Russian-themed parody accounts, including @SovietSergey, a lampoon of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and @AmbYakovenkoNot, which mocks the Russian ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko.

All of the suspended accounts, including @SovietSergey, have now been reinstated. But DarthPutinKGB's suspension in particular provoked much indignation from Twitter users, and also plenty of humour.

Well-wishers tweeted their support for the suspended Darth and criticism of Twitter using the hashtag, #NoGulagforDarthPutinKGB.

Brian Whitmore, Russia Analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - which is funded by the US government - even penned a mock obituary of the parody president, featuring a selection of his bons mots.

They included:

"Don't believe anything the Kremlin doesn't first deny";

And "Russia has cut defence spending. Attack spending remains unchanged."

Some Twitter users posted screenshots of one of Darth's final quips before he was suspended - about the Russian president's recent visit to Greece. This was the Opinion Editor of the Moscow Times:

Image copyright Twitter/Grace Cuddihy

Among Darth's high-profile supporters were the real Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Image copyright Twitter/@IlvesToomas

And former world chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, who accused Twitter of "taking lessons on censorship from the Kremlin".

Image copyright Twitter/Garry Kasparov

Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media have spawned a host of Twitter parodies in recent years, and several of them rallied to the side of their fallen colleague. A lampoon of the Kremlin's international TV channel RT (formerly Russian Today) was one of a number of users who added "DarthPutinKGB" to their handles as a mark of solidarity. It also tweeted a mock declaration of independence by "Russian Twitterians" in protest at Darth's suspension.

Image copyright Twitter/@PressRuissa

So what lay behind the disappearance of DarthPutinKGB?

Contacted by journalists over Darth's suspension, Twitter refused to comment on the individual case and referred them to its rules on parody accounts. These state that accounts should "indicate that the user is not affiliated with the account subject by stating a word such as 'parody', 'fake', 'fan', or 'commentary', and be done so in a way that would be understood by the intended audience".

On Tuesday a blog linked to the Darth account summoned all its reserves of mock-indignation to brand the suspension a "Russophobic stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists". But by Wednesday the blog was reporting: "Appeals against this kangaroo court and travesty of justice have begun and the USA's lickspittles have indicated that a compromise is possible."

Later in the day the account was indeed restored and Darth's first tweet back seemed to jokingly promise reprisals on those who had not shown sufficient loyalty while he was exiled to his cyber dacha.

Image copyright Twitter/@DarthPutinKGB

But Darth's bio on the restored account remained the same as it was before the suspension: "146% of Russians didn't elect me. You don't visit Russia, I visit you. I serve tea to those that call this parody. Tweets made topless signed vvp."

During the account's suspension a person, claiming to be behind Darth and other parody accounts, gave an interview Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in which he said that "no sensible person could read my bio and think it is really the president of Russia".

He also linked the current spate of suspensions to a recent incident in which the France-based Euronews TV channel mistakenly quoted a tweet by @SovietSergey as if it was from the Russian foreign minister himself.

Writing on Facebook, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Euronews of "disinformation". A screenshot of the erroneous tweet has since been removed from the Euronews site.

This is by no means the only time that Russian-themed Twitter parodies have been mistaken for the real thing.

Back in December 2015, a parody account of the Sputnik news agency was suspended after catching out numerous users. It has since reappeared in a different guise, which makes its parody status more explicit. Soviet Sergey had to make a similar amendment to his account.

But some claim that one of the causes for the confusion is the eccentric behaviour of the targets of satire themselves.

Last October, Ambassador Yakovenko posted a tweet about jihadist terrorists illustrated with a photo of US actor Kal Penn in the comedy film Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Image copyright Twitter/@Amb_Yakovenko

"I can't stop laughing," Penn tweeted in response.

Blog by Stephen Ennis, BBC Monitoring

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