University presidents want to be accessible, or they want to be seen as accessible by students, parents, and alumni. A decade ago that desire resulted in open receptions and handshakes and smiles for all. Today it can mean issuing videos where academic administrators clown around, not to mention, ah, Dartmouth’s dance contest.
The desire for accessibility also means using Twitter. But while it’s easy for college presidents have and use Twitter accounts, it’s also easy for other people to fake them. According to an article by Steve Kolowich at USA Today:
If using Twitter makes college presidents more personable, it also makes them easier to impersonate.As in the case of @PrezHuddleston, the plausibility of a bona fide Twitter president has given rise to phony ones. And Mark Huddleston is not the only college figurehead with a doppelgÃ¤nger. In the last two years, fake presidential Twitter accounts have cropped up at Columbia University, Wesleyan University, Georgetown University, Brown University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Vassar College.
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” lamented a fake Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, shortly after Roth was revealed to have been one of the highest-paid liberal arts presidents in 2007-2008. “Just kidding, my life is awesome.”
Twitter allows for fake Twitter accounts provided the satire is obvious and no one would ever mistake the user for the real person. The problems for colleges occur when it’s not clear to users who the real president actually is.
But some presidents say it’s okay to have a couple fake presidents out there. University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston (who uses @MarkHuddleston) appears somewhat amused by the Twitter feed of his fictional self (@PrezHuddleston). Sure, PrezHuddleston ridicules student government and gets angry at the Boston Globe for the newspaper’s low UNH coverage, but he also serves as a big advocate for UNH and urges followers to support greater funding for the university.
That’s almost like what a real college president does.