Fake Twitter Accounts: The Ultimate Status Symbol?

Wendi, we hardly knew ye.

The all-too-brief period in which Mrs. Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter was thrilling for Murdoch-watchers, social media pros, and PR  types. It seemed another example of the faux-democratizing power of the social Web. It also showed the cleverness of Ms. Deng, and her uncanny ability to humanize her much-reviled husband. (Who can forget the video of her bitch-slapping his pie assailant?)

Of course, @Wendi_Deng appeared rather quietly on Twitter after the much bigger news that her husband had embraced social media with a Twitter account of his own. Yet, unlike Sir Rupert’s terse and fairly mundane observations, @Wendi_Deng’s tweets were fun. They weren’t nakedly personal, but they revealed tantalizing tidbits about the Murdochian relationship, through kittenish exchanges that took us back to the (now sad) innocent days of @aplusk and @mrskutcher. Ah, billionaire love. Even the rich and famous flirt, bicker, and make up, but now they do it in front of thousands of followers. Fake Wendi actually scolded her husband for one of his cranky tweets, and he promptly deleted the post. Kind of cute.

But the delicious @Wendi_Deng was an imposter, of course. The fact that Twitter gave the account the familiar blue checkmark has undermined its supposedly bulletproof verification process for boldfaced names. Fake Wendi was also an embarrassment for News Corp., which seemed uncertain when asked about the account by the press. But the reddest faces may be at media outlets like the Associated Press and the British Guardian and Telegraph, which breathlessly reported the Deng account as real. And then there’s Sir Rupert himself, whose account is legit; did he even know that @Wendi_Deng was fake, or does he just like a bit of Twitter domination?

My brief fascination with fake Wendi got me thinking about how and why the real celebrities often pale in comparison to faux blogs or social media accounts that usurp their famous names. Writers, for instance, aren’t always interesting on Twitter; maybe the medium is just too constraining.

But stars like entertainers can also be dull. Many seem uncomfortable with the medium; they name-drop (or so it seems to us regular folks); they use Twitter as a broadcast medium chiefly to promote projects; or they’re just plain boring. Airplane rage notwithstanding, @alecbaldwin was an exception, with his witty, lightning-fast, and unapologetically cocky updates. Baldwin is sorely missed on my boldfaced list since shutting his account after the Words with Friends intervention late last year.

But, embarrassments aside, fake social media personas aren’t all bad PR; in fact, if you’re a celebrity or a mogul, they let you have it both ways! Those faux tweets and the fresh relevance they bring can breathe new life into a celeb’s image, who then bears no responsibility for the posts. They can simply retreat into full, Garboesque social media silence, whetting our appetite all the more by withdrawing. It’s a classic strategy.

It’s enough to make you wonder if a personality might quietly hire a ghost to impersonate them,  gain attention, play coy for a bit, then issue a furious denial and sit back to watch the ripple effect. A Twitter impersonator in the social media age might just be a signal that you’ve arrived. If so, Mrs. Murdoch has one-upped her mogul husband – and probably not for the first time.

Was The Murdoch’s "Humble Pie" Good PR?

As he prepared to face a day’s worth of questioning by British lawmakers about the News Corp. phone-hacking crisis, Rupert Murdoch was set to serve up a carefully crafted statement that began,”This is the most humble day of my life.”

But Murdoch was rushed into questioning and had to wait until later to try to work in the line about his newfound diffidence. It was by most accounts a fairly shaky performance, and the legal strategy seemed to trump the PR approach. Although he managed to drop the “humble” line twice, when Murdoch was asked if he felt responsible for the ethical breaches at his companies, his answer was “no.”

Then… the pie. Murdoch was nearly creamed by a plate-throwing protester, and in a video snippet that went viral in moments, was fiercely defended by his much younger wife, Wendi Deng, who instantly leaped up and smacked the attacker as the rest of the group watched in amazement.

Minutes after a brief recess during which the pie-hurler was arrested and Mr. Murdoch wiped clean of foam, the mood seemed to turn. Drama! All eyes were on Ms. Deng as she attacked the attacker – in a slo-mo, badly angled video that was played over and over like a surprise ninth-inning run in a tied-up ball game. Suddenly, Murdoch seemed old, frail, and oddly vulnerable.

AdAge critic Simon Dumenco called the interruption “a gift to the Murdochs.” Katie Couric praised Wendi Deng as a “tiger wife.” Twitter lit up with jokes and props for Ms.Deng’s “left hook.”

Some even thought it a brilliantly orchestrated set-up, planned in advance to turn opinion in Murdoch’s favor. Just days prior, PR-land was buzzing with the news that News Corp had beefed up its internal public relations and crisis management resources by bringing on Edelman to join Steve Rubenstein, son of famed New York PR man Howard Rubenstein, for damage control.

That first step – the hype over Edelman’s hire in the UK – wasn’t a strong start, actually. It came too late and gave the impression of a weak and panicky Murdoch team. And as the questioning began Tuesday, we were all set to watch the smackdown, analyze the crisis management strategy and dissect Murdoch’s prepared statement about his new, humble attitude.

Instead, a slapstick moment probably won the day for the Murdochs, at least in PR terms. I’m convinced it wasn’t planned; the attack was meant to be “just desserts.” But for a few hours, the humble pie was actually was a small slice of face-saving for Murdoch personally, but only against the backdrop of the News Corp. soap opera. That part’s just begun, and the PR reps will have their hands full, as no one’s likely to come out clean.