Parody Twitter accounts seek to emulate our politicians with a mix of brilliant impersonation and nastiness. Some are intended simply to be satirical, but others are clearly designed to damage and deceive.
Yet even the funniest fake accounts can still be vicious. One of New Zealand's oldest and most popular parodies, @DrBrash, describes itself: "Likes: Singaporean women, Kiwifruit, Corned Beef. Dislikes: Maoris, socialists, Rodney Hide".
Very cutting parodies are clearly part of partisan campaigns against opponents. For example, after the Greens announced their cuddly but vacuous campaign hashtag of #LoveNZ, parody account @MetiriaTureiMP tweeted: "#LoveNZ love the Greens, vote Greens, hate National, hate racism, hate sexism, hate homophobia, hate tax evaders, Vote Greens or you hate NZ".
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Most high-profile politicians now have fake Twitter counterparts -- follow @Not_JohnKeyPM, @Slick_Winnie, @CathDelahuntyMP, @KimNotcom, @BigGerryB and @4ABetterNZ. The parodies are not always harmless. In fact, there is reason to believe many fake accounts are run out of various parties' parliamentary offices.
Questions probably need to be asked about whether parliamentary resources are being deployed on Twitter fakery. @TeamKey888, for example, is part of a wider elaborate mockery of the National hashtag #TeamKey. The parody also uses YouTube and Facebook to imply TeamKey is also a Chinese company manufacturing waste disposal products.
It is difficult to identify the creators, and Twitter encourages fake accounts -- although the official line is they should be clearly identified. Few parodies follow these guidelines, which means it is sometimes easy to be taken in. This year, a National MP found herself in a heated debate with @RussellNormanMP, only to discover later that the genuine account was @RusselNorman.
Parody accounts are becoming increasingly professionalised and another weapon in the social media arsenal. Not knowing who is behind them is part of their attraction. Like cartoonists, the parodies often use humour to make valuable critiques. They are a welcome addition to the political scene.
• Otago University political experts Dr Bryce Edwards (@bryce_edwards) and Geoffrey Miller (@GeoffMillerNZ) are following the impact of Twitter on the election campaignFor a longer list of parody political accounts, see: bit.ly/NZTwitterParody.