I don't know about you, but Cormac McCarthy (not) tweeting about kombucha has been the highlight of my summer so far.
Sure, that sunny weather for much of July was all very nice, but here amid a pandemic summer number two, I needed the belly laugh that came from so many believing this writer, of all people, might hop on to Twitter to share thoughts about lactic fermentation.
Twitter’s mistaken rush to give the account the coveted blue tick of verified authenticity without actually verifying that it wasn’t (and of course, it was) a parody account, just adds to the rich preposterousness. As does the fact that it is the second time Twitter has blue-ticked a fake McCarthy account.
Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey even tweeted a welcome to the "McCarthy" of that 2012 account, adding: "We have the best authors in the world right here."
On the plus side, the stumble has given publications everywhere something deliciously substantial for the silly season, a kind of huevos rancheros of salty-spicy enjoyment before the ride out into the bleak desert of “oh no what will we fill the pages with today” desperation.
And to be fair, the embarrassment produced a rich mine of responses across the social media network, alongside some embarrassing gushing from people who thought it was a real account, including, apparently, Stephen King.
After the big reveal and Twitter’s removal of the blue tick, Kennys Bookshop in Galway tweeted a picture of a shelf of neatly stacked McCarthy tomes with the comment: “If you’re looking for Cormac McCarthy on Twitter, well you can still find him here.”
The Irish spoof John Banville account (notably without a blue tick, but which fooled many) tweeted: "Regarding the Cormac McCarthy episode, it can happen to the best of us. It can also happen to certain journalists at the Sunday Independent." This was alongside an image of a snippet from that paper in which the account was quoted as if from Banville himself.
Snopes, the mis- and dis-information verification site, was swiftly on the ball, acerbically tweeting: “The fake Cormac McCarthy account only had a few hours to bask in verified glory.”
The McCarthy fake account actually liked the New York Times tweet of the article explaining that the McCarthy account was a fake. Which is starting to feel Beckettian. But I’ll go on.
Unfortunately for Twitter, the accidental blue ticking re-upped ongoing Twitter-user frustrations about how the site determines to whom it will give the blue tick, why it won’t give one to so many significant accounts that clearly are public figures and experts (including so many research and medical authorities on Covid-19, during a pandemic and with so much disinformation in circulation).
Yet, Twitter has blue-tick approved bot accounts that use fake profile pictures and have low follower numbers (and mostly, the same followers) as data scientist @conspirator0 pointed out in mid-July.
And then, there’s the arbitrariness of other Twitter moderation and verification decisions, such as suspending accounts that haven’t actually violated any Twitter rules.
On the latter point, at exactly the same time as the McCarthy mix-up was playing out, I got an email from Matthew Rimmer, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, who has a special expertise in public health. I've followed Rimmer, an active user of Twitter, for many years, and we met up in Dublin a few years ago for an enjoyable discussion on tech, law, the environment, his significant and successful anti-smoking campaigns. He's a man of diverse interests.
He'd just discovered his Twitter account had been suspended for a July 10th tweet in which he quoted and linked to a speech given by – wait for it – Dublin TD Richard Boyd Barrett. The apparently offending tweet reads: "'It is just unacceptable that the profits of big pharma are being put ahead of the health of the world'. @RBoydBarrett on #COVID19 #access2meds and the need for a #peoplesvaccine https://t.co/bA9DcHGVc6".
This is hardly controversial, nor is it disinformation. It is, dare it be said, mainstream international political discussion. Nearly three dozen countries, including the US, support suspending pharma patents to expedite vaccine manufacture. Rimmer has no idea whether someone reported the tweet or whether some algorithm triggered its suspension but, either way, the suspension is ridiculous. He’s appealed and awaits a response.
“It seems a very peculiar situation, being a public health lawyer, suspended on social media for tweeting about the need for global vaccination in the middle of a pandemic,” he says, adding that Queensland is in Covid-surge lockdown. Meanwhile, some Australian politicians are freely tweeting anti-vaccination misinformation and disinformation.
All I could suggest was that Rimmer perhaps should add a reference to kombucha in future. But seriously Twitter, in a world in which social media has so much to answer for right now you’ve really got to do better than this.