As a long time fan of topical TV comedy quiz Have I Got News For You, I was tickled to see in this week’s extended edition an item about Twitter. In one of the bits not broadcast in the initial 30-minute show last Friday night, the delightful Kirsty Young pulled the “one-armed bandit of news” to reveal a photo of Stephen Fry checking his phone. The news item it referred to, as the fabulous Ross Noble correctly identified, was Fry’s recent tete-a-twit with one of his followers who had called his tweets “boring”, resulting in the bipolar Fry threatening to quit Twitter altogether. Fry of course did no such thing and the two were back on tweeting terms the next day. (How this came to be national news incidentally baffles me, but that’s by-the-by.)
At the end of the item, Young contrived a link to another celebrity tweet, this one supposedly by HIGNFY stalwart Ian Hislop saying he “got caught shoplifting in French Connection”. The joke is, it’s not by *the* Ian Hislop but someone passing himself off as him. Some of this guy’s tweets are quite funny (the one in question among them) but some of them are clearly not the work of the editor of Private Eye.
I first noticed the fake Hislop’s Twitter feed back in May of this year and, fairly alarmed at the fact that the faker had nearly 9,000 followers, not all of whom would realise the feed was a fraud, decided to drop Hislop a line at the magazine to bring it to his attention. I had a nice email back from him asking how he could “snap up” the username “realianhislop” which I’d suggested he do to ensure he got himself an official Twitter presence. I wrote back explaining how to do it, and on 1st June the Real Ian Hislop signed up and tweeted: “I am the real Ian Hislop. Anyone else claiming to be me twittering is, unsurprisingly, a fake. This should be my only tweet. Thankyou.”
This tweet was shown in all its 140-character glory on the other night’s HIGNFY, raising a modest titter. Hislop commented, “I was told that if I did it, the person pretending to be me, who has millions of followers – more even than the Dalai Lama – would go away. But he didn’t.” I didn’t tell Hislop this would happen, but I do note that the faker hasn’t tweeted since the end of May, so something seems to have happened (whether he was explicitly told to cease and desist, I don’t know). The irony though is that in the past five months, the fake Hislop has managed to *increase* his followers to over 15,000! This compares with the real Hislop’s more sedate 200 follower count (albeit up from 177 when I first checked on Monday) – not that it means much anyway because he’s not tweeting, even though that’s the whole joke.
I’d like to think this incident demonstrates that even if you’re the real McCoy, nobody will follow you on Twitter if you don’t tweet, as that’s the point of the exercise. You don’t even need to tweet very often – it’s the content that counts, as the excellent Justin Halpern of @shitmydadsays fame goes to show, having amassed over 750,000 followers in a few months with just a few dozen brilliant tweets. (On that note there was a lovely little news item on the BBC site yesterday reporting that Halpern has landed a TV show on the back of his feed, the coy Auntie Beeb managing not to mention its name. I bet Halpern is wishing he’d called it “stuffmydadsays” instead now.)
Anyway I am happy to have encouraged Ian Hislop (the real one) to use Twitter, even if he has only tweeted the once, and even happier that HIGNFY used it on the show. (I should own up that I might have *slightly* emailed Hat Trick Productions back in the summer to bring the whole thing to their attention, but I shouldn’t claim full responsibility as I’m sure they would’ve been aware of it anyway.) You can see the whole hilarious exchange (Noble riffs on his own Twitter experience brilliantly) on the video below between 6:00 and 9:17 (sorry, I’d love to have the facilities to edit the vid to be able to post just the relevant 3-minute section, but I don’t, so if anyone’s offering please let me know, as the item is well deserving of isolation for the Twitter archives!)