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This Is What Happened When A Suspiciously Large Number Of Russian Twitter Parodies Went Dark

Update: The suspended accounts — including @DarthPutinKGB — have been revived after spending nearly a day shutdown.

Originally posted on
Updated on

People who are used to seeing the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin winking roguishly on Twitter were shocked to learn that the popular parody account @DarthPutinKGB had been suspended as of Tuesday afternoon.

It was just one of many parody accounts focusing on skewering Russian politics that have been taken down in recent days.

Twitter

Among them were @SovietSergey — which mocked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — and one that lampooned Russian Ambassador to the U.K. Alexander Yakovenko.

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"We do not comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons," Twitter spokesperson Nu Wexler said in an email when asked what the @DarthPutinKGB account had done to merit the ban or if it is permanent.

Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Getty Images

A question to Twitter asking whether the Russian government had asked for the suspension went unanswered. Instead Wexler provided a link to Twitter's parody account policy.

In a touching move following the account's takedown, Radio Free Europe published a heartfelt obituary for the snarky ex-Soviet persona, which had begun commenting on the loss of its fellow parody accounts in recent days.

Even the account @DPRK_News, which tweets such on-point vitriol that it still is sometimes confused for the actual North Korean news service, broke character long enough to send this tweet, which was later deleted.

By Wednesday afternoon, the suspended accounts were back up and running, fully committed to continuing to skewer their targets.

My security services have thwarted yet another CIA attempt at regime change in Russia. 😤

When asked about the change of heart, Wexler again pointed to Twitter's parody policy: "When we receive a valid impersonation or trademark report about an account that violates our parody policy, we temporarily suspend the account and may give the user the opportunity to come into compliance."

The mastermind behind the @SovietSergey account told BuzzFeed News in an email that he was made to change the name displayed before Twitter would reinstate him.

Who the hell agreed to armed peacekeepers in Donbass? I don't believe it, therefore I deny it.

The account's owner, who said he'd prefer to stay anonymous to discourage Russian trolls, said they started the account since there was no good parody of the foreign minister in English and his statements were predictable enough to make his job easy.

There was apparently no warning at all before the suspension, they said, and no surge in trolling activity, prompting them to believe that they weren't the target of a troll campaign. "Before these suspensions happened, their [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] spokeswoman talked about the Lavrov account on Facebook, and Russian media wrote almost 100 articles about it," they said.

"Twitter wasn't helpful at all," they told BuzzFeed News. "All I could do was file an appeal and wait. There is nobody you can talk to."

I would like to commend @mfa_russia for their excellent promotional work. Thank you for showing everybody what gets under your skin.

But they say they aren't going to let their brief time in Twitter purgatory stop them. "This episode shows that the Russian system isn't without its flaws, humour is their Achilles' heel."

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

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