Summary: In 2013, two comedians named Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, who performed as “The Good Liars,” got some attention for mocking a particular popular target of mockery: poor service from your broadband provider. For Selvig and Stiefler, their target was Time Warner Cable. In late March of that year, they released a video on YouTube in which they pretended to be Time Warner Cable employees interviewing people on the street about how TWC could make its service even worse.
To support the initial viral attention that the video was receiving, the two also set up a series of parody Time Warner Cable “customer support” accounts that would respond -- just like the real TWC customer support Twitter account -- to people complaining about their service, again asking how they could make things worse.
However, just as the video was getting more momentum, the entire YouTube channel set up by Selvig and Stiefler was taken down, as were most of the fake Twitter accounts, even though they were all clearly labeled as parody accounts, and despite policies that said that parody was allowed on these services.
Time Warner Cable, in a statement to the Daily Dot, said that it had no problem with parodies of its service in general, but was opposed to parodies that used the name of its CEO:
“We’re a big company and so we’re not at all opposed to a good parody or satire,” Bobby Amirshahi, a TWC representative, told the Daily Dot. The two crossed the line, he said, by choosing “Glenn Britt,” the company’s CEO, as their username. The issue was “posting as though it was from the CEO, i.e. impersonation,” Amirshahi said. “Otherwise, no action would be taken.”
TWC also convinced GoDaddy to remove the website that Selvig and Stiefler had used as a central hub for all of its TWC mockery, twcustomerservice.com.
Decisions to be made by YouTube/Twitter/GoDaddy:
- Where do you draw the line regarding what is acceptable parody and unacceptable impersonation?
- Is the use of TWC’s CEO enough to make it no longer acceptable?
- Should there be different rules when the parody is about a large company rather than an individual?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Parody and satire are often important ways to speak out against the powerful. Will clamping down on parodies in this manner suppress commentary and criticism?
- Can rules against impersonation allow powerful individuals and companies to silence criticism?
Resolution: The various takedowns remained in place, and very little is left online of the Good Liars’ campaign to mock Time Warner Cable. There was just one of the Twitter accounts @TWCCareNYC that was not removed and while the account is still live, none of the tweets remain.
Time Warner Cable itself no longer exists. Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable in 2016 and has rebranded most former Time Warner Cable services under its “Spectrum” brand name.
Written by The Copia Institute, April 2021