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Parody accounts popping up more frequently this election season

Parody accounts, such as "Stop DC John Plumb" are becoming commonplace this election cycle (WHAM photo)

Undated – Search Facebook and Twitter and you’ll find impersonation sites are not new – but their numbers are growing, especially among political candidates.

John Plumb is running for New York’s 23rd Congressional District seat. In one of his ads, the Navy veteran says he learned to put country before oneself and to work hard.

However, a search of social media turns up an account called “DC John Plumb.” It uses actual photos from Plumb’s own website to mock his campaign.

The parody website is run and paid for by the campaign of his opponent, Congressman Tom Reed.

“He stole my logo,” Plumb told 13WHAM News. “He took photos of me from my website and used them and pretended to be me on Facebook and on Twitter. I think that’s fraud.”

Reed defends the site, arguing such parody sites have become commonplace in modern campaigning.

In a separate campaign, a parody account drove two candidates to speak against offensive dialogue. In a statement released Thursday, 138th Assembly District candidate Rachel Barnhart called for her opponent, incumbent Assemblyman Harry Bronson, to condemn offensive social media posts she claimed came from some of his supporters.

In the statement, Barnhart's campaign specifically refered to a blog called "Rachel for Prom Queen," which the campaign said was, "filled with sexist language and baseless personal and professional attacks."

Bronson's campaign released a statement Thursday night, which read, in part, "(T)here is no place for discriminatory statements in politics - or anywhere, and this includes sexist remarks...While campaigns can be spirited, voters are best served when we keep the focus on the issues affecting Rochester - resorting to personal attacks, even the guise of satire, is never acceptable."

When it comes to parody sites such as "D.C. John Plumb" or "Rachel for Prom Queen," sites like Twitter and Facebook are reluctant to intervene.

“Social media platforms don’t want to be in the business of shutting down accounts,” said RIT Senior Lecturer in Communication Mike Johansson. “That’s bad for business.”

Instead, these sites set up rules. You have to be transparent about who you are. Twitter froze the website paid for by the Reed campaign because the first version didn’t make it clear it was paid for by Reed’s campaign.

“Not only could you have gone on there and not known who’s responsible for it, you could have clicked on a link that looked like you were going to donate to me, and it would go to his page to have him accept the donations,” Plumb argues.

As long as the rules are followed, those who are the unwanted focus have little recourse. The courts have ruled, with few exceptions, these parody or impersonation sites are protected free speech.

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