Local media was taken by storm these past few days as a fake Stafford mayorby the name of James Billington has been duping everyone into thinking he’s the real deal. Broadcasting on the micro-blogging platform Twitter under the username @mayorofstafford, he managed to fool councillors, local organisations and townsfolk. And people complain nothing ever happens in our neck of the woods!

By Oana Baetica

The fake mayor, accessorised with a gold chain (and a badge reading “I’m the Mayor of Stafford” - maybe that should have sounded alarm bells), went on casually cutting ribbons and congratulating fellow Staffordians on their achievements. Even after posing for the 2014 opening ceremony at Alton Towers and sharing the image on social media, no one thought much of it.

The conflict in this local comedy arose when the fake mayor tweeted that he doesn’t much like the mayor of Shrewsbury. At that moment, people started to question the professionalism and authenticity of this new Twitter darling and it soon became clear that he wasn’t the actual mayor of Stafford.

The way I see it, there are two issues worth discussing here.

Firstly, many would label the act of impersonating a public official as brand vandalism. Although I personally feel that vandalism is a strong word in this situation, it draws attention to the practically lawless nature of social media.

Should Twitter and other similar outlets be held accountable for instance, when individuals impersonate institutions? Should there be stricter policing on social media and - just as in real life - should assuming another person’s identity be banned?

And then, if social networks actually restricted fan and parody accounts, what would that say about freedom of speech and expression? It would definitely take the fun out of using them, that is for sure.

However, there is a second, stronger issue that this story brings to life; the fact that the actual mayor of Stafford and her team did not have an official Twitter account in place. This shows that officials and brands are still failing to understand the true power of social media.

If the actual mayor of Stafford, Angela Loughran, was already on Twitter, none of this would have happened in the first place. She would have had a strong voice and a perhaps gained more support from townsfolk.

The hoax also goes to show how important is to have a voice on social media and engage with your audience. In this case, the Lord Mayor’s audience stands at around 120,000 people, the population of our beautiful borough. 

We live in the age of self broadcasting and that is a fact we cannot ignore. If you are the face of a brand or organisation, it becomes imperative that you gain a good understanding of social media outlets in order to control the brand messages you or others put out. To that you can add a badge saying what your job role is and you're ready for business!

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