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Is Faking a Retweet Parody, or Beyond the Pale?

BY Nick Judd | Monday, June 20 2011

The Onion's Baratunde Thurston, a co-founder of Jack & Jill Politics, thinks the Republican Senatorial Committee jumped the shark with a recent Twitter prank.

The NRSC's official account posted what looked like a retweet of President Barack Obama's Twitter feed in which the president personally admits failure on the national budget and predicts ill omens for the Senate Democrats' plan as well:

The problem is that there was no such tweet — leading Thurston to call foul:

When you click on the URL, you get taken to a blank white page, not a 404 error but an actual webpage that's all white. This means the NRSC bought the domain. I gotta give it to the Republicans. This is the sort of performance art stunt I would do myself. The problem is the tweet falsely attributes Obama's comment to his actual Twitter account via a fraudulent retweet, even going so far as to add his personal "BO" attribution.

Commenters on Thurston's Posterous point out that WHOIS information for the domain in question reveals that it's owned by the NRSC, and that the page — while blank — has hooks for Google AdWords remarketing in the source code. That means that visitors to that site receive a cookie that marks them for ads from the NRSC on other sites they visit later on, for as long as the cookie persists.

This episode exposes a fine line between parody and ratfinking, to add some politesse to a term not suitable for a family blog. In short, it's not immediately clear if the NRSC meant for its followers to be in on the joke, or for them to be misled into believing that Obama had adopted a less-than-supportive take on Senate Democrats' budget initiatives.

If the NRSC figured it was obvious to people that the words were not Obama's, then perhaps it's fair play — or perhaps not. National Journal's Tim Fernholz, at least, is perplexed, summing up the question thusly — on Twitter, natch:

"Is faking a RT the same as faking a quote?"