What The Rise In Idaho Parody Twitter Accounts Says About Politics Today
Twitter has become ubiquitous in politics. The social media platform is one way to reach voters, but it’s not without pitfalls. In Idaho, there’s a growing number of Twitter accounts created just to make fun of Gem State politicos.
One of the targets of this phenomenon is Boise State political science professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. In 2016, an account called "Weatherbytes" showed up in the Idaho Twittersphere. The anonymous person behind the feed gently mocks Weatherby, who's a regular commentator on traditional media outlets.
I love the smell of the Capitol in January. Smells like ... shenanigans.— Almost Jim Weatherby (@Weatherbytes) January 6, 2017
The actual Jim Weatherby – is not on Twitter. He describes himself as a Luddite, mainly using the internet to communicate by email and to Skype with his grandkids.
“I was told by a friend ‘Well, this is a compliment,'" he says. "I’ll assume it’s a compliment that I have this parody account that somebody has created.”
The pundit says he was shocked when he learned someone was imitating him online, and that some of the tweets make him cringe a little. But he’s getting used to it.
“There are times I think ‘Oh my goodness, why did he or she say that?’"
Weatherby has some guesses about who might be writing in his fake voice, but "it’s not firm enough to make public ... But it’s obviously somebody who follows Idaho Reports and is very well-versed in Idaho politics and the Legislative process.”
Twitter As Tension Relief, Or Snarky Sideshow?
Jaclyn Kettler has noticed the rise in parody accounts in Idaho. The Boise State political scientist has some theories about why so many are showing up in her feed.
“Politics is kind of crazy right now, especially nationally," Kettler says. "And maybe the parody accounts are a way that helps people deal a little bit, you know, try to find some humor in things. Maybe release the tension a little bit.”
She says the Idaho GOP gubernatorial primary race has proven to be great fodder for the people running these accounts. Though Kettler thinks most of the online jabs are all-in-good-fun, she says it’s not really a productive way to talk about politics.
“You know there is concern about how to have real conversations between two sides if the response is just immediately to be snarky and not engaging in a meaningful conversation in the same way.”
"Politics is kind of crazy right now ... maybe the parody accounts are a way that helps people deal a little bit, you know try to find some humor in things." - Jaclyn Kettler
She’s noticed some accounts quoting tweets posted by the politicians they’re parodying, like in the case of “LittleOtterID.” The person behind the anonymous feed — which sprang up in early 2017 — often retweets messages sent by Lt. Gov. Brad Little (R), who is running for the governor’s seat in 2018.
“Once you actually click on the user, they’ll explain it’s a parody," Kettler says. "But just quickly looking over the [Twitter] handles you might not recognize that.”
According to the real Brad Little, at least one person he knows has been confused by this case of online mistaken identity.
“Actually a friend of mine said ‘Did you really say that?’ And I go ‘no,'" chuckles Little.
But Little doesn’t seem too perturbed by the parody account gently trolling his campaign. In fact, he sees it as a good thing.
“Anything that gets people interested in politics is important, because our democratic republic requires participation. And if we can get people that weren’t paying attention to politics to pay attention through this, that’s a good thing. And frankly, politics needs a good injection of humor.”
Little is not alone – at this point, every Republican running for governor in Idaho has been blessed with a parody account that mocks them.
So, what do the people behind these anonymous accounts tweet about all day? Click here for more.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
Copyright 2017 Boise State Public Radio