While never as profane as @MayorEmanuel (“Your next motherfucking mayor. Get used to it, assholes.”), fake Twitter accounts made an impact on the recently-concluded Champaign mayoral race. @SchwiGerard brought a surrealist bent to the campaign’s last couple of weeks, but FakeSchweighart2011 (@Schweighart2011) was first on the scene, was the most pointedly satirical, and bore the brunt of the Schweighart campaign’s ire.
Some public figures are able to handle being parodied with grace and humor (Emanuel met with his alter ego and donated $5,000 to his favorite charity, for example), but not in this case. “They don’t have to know truth, they don’t have to post truth because they’re anonymous, so they can post any kind of garbage they want,” Schweighart was quoted as saying in a WCIA report. “And there’s a certain amount of people that are brainless and they read that stuff and believe it without trying to get any facts.” Schweighart campaign manager Marjorie Williams, tweeted on behalf of @Champaign Mayor: “@Schweighart2011 is NOT me, nor a representative/spokesperson. New trend? #wannabemayors #toomuchfreetimeonhands” on March 5, the day after FakeSchweighart began tweeting.
While he sometimes broke character in the final days of the campaign (“public safety at risk if we cut fire and police.”), for the most part, the FakeSchweighart feed was a humorous counterpoint while keeping things light. A few highlights:
- “Just had my one millionth pancake at Taffies. Jeez, you’d think I’d get a free cup of coffee or something. #entitled”
- “I gotta drive around town and look at buildings more often. That really made me feel important.”
- “Went to an antique auction today and three people bid on me.”
Now that the election is behind us, the man behind the feed agreed to answer a few questions.
Smile Politely: How did the idea to start a fake Schweighart Twitter feed come about? Is this a one-person operation or a true conspiracy? Why are you doing it?
FakeSchweighart2011: I was inspired by Fake Rahm. I got a lot of laughs reading his feed. I started doing Fake Jerry because I thought it could be a humorous way to bring up some things happening during the campaign that weren’t getting coverage in the mainstream media. Plus, I thought it was ironic that Schweighart’s twitter wasn’t really him, but his campaign manager posing as him.
Fake Jerry was a one-person operation. Though I did get a few suggestions for tweets from followers. I used a couple of them. It’s hard to come up with that many tweets on your own.
Smile Politely: It was pretty obvious from the outset that you were not Jerry Schweighart, and you’ve made it more obvious as you’ve gone along. Why do you think there was such outrage from the Schweighart campaign?
FakeSchweighart2011: I was surprised by their anger. Fake Jerry probably wouldn’t have gotten any traction if Schweighart’s campaign laughed it off or ignored it. I was already getting tired of doing it after a few days and probably would have ran out of steam. But they gave it legs. They went on TV and online and talked about it. Fake Jerry’s followers doubled the day after WCIA ran their story with Schweighart’s and Ms. Williams’ reactions.
Smile Politely: What contact have you had with Marjorie Williams or anyone else with the Schweighart campaign? Did anyone from WCIA try to contact you for their report?
FakeSchweighart2011: I had no contact with Ms. Williams, Schweighart or WCIA. Smile Politely was the only media outlet who contacted me during the campaign.
Smile Politely: Normally, the easiest way to tell that a Twitter account is fake is that the impostor has so many fewer followers than the actual person. In this case, you have almost as many followers as @ChampaignMayor. What do you think that says about the use of social media in this campaign?
FakeSchweighart2011: I saw how well Gerard was using his Facebook and Twitter to engage and connect with voters. I think he did a great job getting a focused message out and keeping people informed on the issues. On the other hand, it seemed like Schweighart’s Facebook and Twitter were only there because they were trying to appear to be hip to social media and to take cheap shots at Gerard. I followed both campaigns closely and there were remarkable differences in their use of social media. One campaign got it. The other one didn’t. The one who got it is the new Mayor of Champaign.