Waynesburg University Twitter has a collection of parody accounts that students, and even staff, interact with on a normal basis. John F. Wiley Underwater, the Joel Zellem Fan Account and the Jared Wiker Burner are just a few examples of spoof accounts that have drawn attention in the Waynesburg virtual community.
However, the debate on whether these accounts are beneficial or harmful to the campus community continues.
Melinda Roeder-Skrbin, instructor of communication at Waynesburg University, said she is aware of a few parody accounts, but does not monitor them closely.
“I think parody accounts can be humorous and well-intended, but social media users and account owners must be careful,” Roeder-Skrbin said. “I’ve seen parody accounts for companies, pets, even a clothes dryer. Some are very clever and creative. However, account owners can certainly run into copyright issues if they cross a line.”
Joel Zellem, junior sports information major, has his own Twitter account, but also keeps his eye on the Joel Zellem Fan Account that he does not own. While Zellem knows the person that runs the account, he said the person wishes not to be named to protect the anonymity of the account.
“I was asked permission from the person if he could make an account in my likeness,” Zellem said. “I told him it was OK.”
Jared Wiker, junior sports broadcasting major, also watches the account named after him closely, but does not know the identity of the user.
“I was honored and flattered, but at the same time scared because you can’t control what they do,” Wiker said. “It’s pretty much the only account to this day that I get notifications for because I have to see what they say. I just don’t want them to post stuff that would deform my character.”
Zellem said the account owner’s main goal is to start conversations about Waynesburg athletics and the student body’s involvement with them. Under Zellem’s name, the owner can speak his mind without receiving direct backlash and promote ideas such as more attendance at sporting events and students staying positive through tough seasons.
“I said, as long as you don’t say anything that’s going to make me look bad, then go ahead,” Zellem said. “That’s basically how that got going.”
While Zellem is careful, Roeder-Skrbin warns of some of the potential dangers with these accounts.
“For example, it should be clear to Twitter users and followers that parody accounts are not owned and operated by the university,” Roeder-Skrbin said. “It’s always wise to limit authored posts to original content rather than posting images and graphics that do not belong to the account owner.”
The user of the Zellem Fan Account told Zellem he was chosen because of Zellem’s outgoing personality and social media presence. Zellem tries to not take it too seriously, as many think he runs the account himself.
“A lot of people think I run it,” Zellem said. “I get a little bit of attention from it, like professors think it’s me. A couple of coaches have talked to me about it, but I think it’s cool. He says nothing but positive things about our sports teams and events.”
Roeder-Skrbin said there is an added danger when it comes to accounts imitating private citizens.
“Some social media platforms have clear policies about parody accounts that should be followed as well,” Roeder-Skrbin said. “I would add that there is also a risk associated with “burner” accounts designed to portray or parody an individual, especially if the individual is not a public figure. This can lead to a lot of confusion and damage to one’s reputation.”
However, Zellem is confident in his relationship with the controller of his fan account.
“He said if there’s any time he does say something that’s negative and I don’t like it, I can go to him and say ‘get that off’,” Zellem said. “It’s a thing where he won’t say anything through that account that I wouldn’t want him to say. So that not only keeps my name safe and out of negative things, but it also allows him to run the account using my name.”
Wiker’s relationship with the user of his parody account is different. If the account tweets something Wiker wants removed, there is no guarantee he can have the tweet deleted.
“I do get the notifications for it because if something happens I’m going to tell them,” Wiker said. “Hopefully they will listen to me if that ever happens, but luckily it hasn’t yet.”
While Wiker is still hesitant to completely embrace the parody account named after him, he enjoys the content from Waynesburg parody accounts as a whole.
“I think they are cool, the ‘Is Wiley flooded’ one is hilarious,” Wiker said. “Also the Joel Zellem one, I think that did a better job than mine of encompassing the person. I mean Joel, they are trying to impersonate him, saying things they think he would say.”