The suspended @FiredBigBird Twitter account: A 21st-century mystery
By Craig Timberg,
So, you know it’s 2012 when . . . an offhand comment from a presidential candidate spawns a satiric Twitter feed from a beloved yellow PBS bird claiming he’s been fired, which goes viral, and then Twitter suspends the feed, which causes an outcry that resonates across cyberspace with even the president himself weighing in, and then Twitter restores that feed to massive digital cheers, all in about 18 hours.
Such is the brief, glorious, ridiculous history of @FiredBigBird, whose happy yellow face (looking not a bit like someone who just got sacked) appeared on Twitter on Wednesday night, early in the presidential debate between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The spark was Romney’s declaration that though, “I love Big Bird,” he favors cutting funding to PBS as part of an effort to decrease the deficit. A surge of tweets about the “Sesame Street” star followed, including this reference to Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.):
“Somewhere Paul Ryan is kicking over trash cans in hopes of smoking out Oscar the Grouch,” said the first of dozens of tweets from @FiredBigBird.
The pace of tweets picked up Thursday morning, as did the account’s number of followers, which leapt by the thousands and then into the tens of thousands.
The ride abruptly ended around lunchtime. Those looking for @FiredBigBird got a message from Twitter announcing that the account had been suspended.
Shock ensued, prompting Jim Romenesko to report the development on his media news Web site. Obama, or whoever manages the president’s Twitter account, promptly tweeted (presumably, in jest), “Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird.”
The suspension didn’t last long.
An e-mail from Twitter to the man behind @FiredBigBird, signed by something called the “Zendesk,” reported that the account was suspended for “sending multiple unsolicited messages using the @reply and/or mention feature.”
In the same e-mail, the Zendesk announced the account had been reinstated. @FiredBigBird soon sent a tweet to his followers, now about 26,000 and counting, joking that Obama’s stimulus funding had come through, allowing for his revival.
In an e-mail interview after the suspension, the man behind the Twitter feed played it down, saying it was the result of an automatic function and not an attempt to suppress free speech.
He also gave rough outline of himself: He is a 28-year-old Washington area man with a dog and no affiliation with the Obama camp. He said he was employed but declined to name a line of work.
Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman, said the company does not comment on individual accounts.
The terms of service for Twitter, however, list 20 reasons why its automatic spam filter might suspend an account, including some that might happen accidentally during a few hours of frenetic tweeting.
The tweets flowed quickly again after the account was reinstated, and @FiredBigBird seemed to be enjoying himself. His final tweet noted that Romney’s wife, Ann, would be on “Good Morning America” next week.
That was about 3 p.m.
Then @FiredBigBird was suspended again. So was @FiredOscar.
But @FireMeElmo was still going strong. As evening approached, he reached out to his giant feathered friend with a gentle tweet: “Where Big Bird staying tonight? Elmo evicted.”