The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Parody social media page spoofs Maryland and its state government

The Maryland State House is reflected in a window. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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At first glance, the parody looks official. It co-opts the University of Maryland’s spherical logo, uses an aerial image of the State House in Annapolis as its cover photo and lists itself as a “government organization.”

But there is no blue check mark of authenticity on the @StateofMD Facebook page. And users intrepid enough to click the “About” tab can discover the page’s true identity: “The Old Line State . . . in parody form.”

More than 4,200 users have followed the mock social media account since it was launched in November, offering a satirical take on topics including state politics, sports, the federal shutdown and the weather.

On the weekend snowstorm and its effect on the already partially shuttered federal government: “We have determined that no, if a federal shutdown happens during a federal shutdown, and no one is at OPM [the Office of Personnel Management] to announce it, it will not make a sound.”

And on the announcement that singer Billy Joel would perform this year at Camden Yards:

“We anticipated your concerns, and want to let you know that as part of the stadium deal with Billy Joel’s agent, Michael J. Frenz, Executive Director of the MD Stadium Authority, ensured that Billy Joel would avoid making a painful musical reference to the fact that the Baltimore Orioles have not won a World Series for The Looooongest Time.”

The operator of the spoof page does not identify himself or herself on the account and did not respond to a request — sent via Facebook messenger — for comment.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said while the content is humorous — as a Maine native, she particularly enjoyed a post on how New Englanders talk smugly about how Marylanders deal with snow — the government wants to ensure that people understand that the site is not a legitimate news source.

“We recognize the First Amendment right of citizens to create parody accounts on social media,” Chasse said. “Some of the content is certainly amusing, however, we do have a responsibility to ensure that accurate public information is disseminated from government sources people can trust.”

The Hogan administration knows a thing or two about social media freedoms: It settled a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2018 after deleting critical comments and blocking people from the governor’s official Facebook page.

More recently, in a case involving the chair of the Loudoun County, Va., Board of Supervisors that could also have implications for President Trump, a federal appeals court ruled last week that government officials cannot silence their critics on social media.

What does an elected official in Virginia have to do with whether President Trump can block people on Twitter? A lot.

The @StateofMD page’s first post was published in “the wake of the ongoing controversy at the University of Maryland,” a reference to the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, which triggered an investigation into the coaching staff and program.

“This page has been created to help remind folks that the toxic culture of Maryland’s football program does not extend to the rest of the State — well, most of the State,” the Nov. 2 post says. “There’s hardly *any* toxicity in the State...once you [put] aside the mix of runoff and raw sewage that’s dumped into Baltimore’s Jones Falls after a storm.”

Chasse said the state government has contacted Facebook about the parody page and is open to talking to the administrator to discuss ways to make it more clear that it is “not an official entity of the state,” so as not to mislead or confuse people — which, if the comments are any indication, has happened more than once.

A Twitter account with the @StateofMD handle has been suspended.

Maryland’s official Facebook page has the blue verification check mark and a logo and cover photo that are similar to those on the spoof account, plus the slightly different @statemaryland handle.

It has far more followers than the parody version — more than 11,700 as of Tuesday afternoon. Posts are approved by the governor’s office before publication and can be downright mechanical in tone. On Monday, the page announced liberal leave for state employees because of the snowstorm. On Tuesday, it announced the installation of an acoustic piano at the Charles Center Metro SubwayLink Station in Baltimore “for transit riders to enjoy.”

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Some Maryland officials have commented on posts on the parody account, correcting the cheeky commentary. On Saturday, the satirical site attributed a made-up quote, about Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper purportedly heading to the Boston Red Sox, to Maryland Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Russ Strickland.

“We do have a sense of humor, and so does our Executive Director, @Russ Strickland,” the MEMA Facebook account said in response. “But for the record, he did not say that.”

Public entities are accustomed to being spoofed. Twitter is ground zero for parody accounts for everyone from FBI agents to President Trump himself. One of the more famous results to populate a Google search is the surprisingly detailed National Security Agency spoof site, the Domestic Surveillance Directorate.

Then there’s the Not the White House Web page, which satirized during the Obama presidency. Similar Facebook pages have parodied Baltimore City and other state entities in the past, Maryland officials said.

The British government wants to tackle such fake websites, calling them a threat to democracy.

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The person or people behind the @StateofMD Facebook page seem to think everyone should take themselves a bit less seriously.

After one Facebook user called the page’s shutdown post “galactically stupid” and described feeling “chained” by living in “liberal” Maryland, the page administrator replied in snark (with a dropped word for good measure).

“We’ll have you know that the staff running this page are products of Maryland Public Schools, which are pretty well-regarded,” the comment says. “. . . Luckily for you, we learned that the State of Maryland abolished slavery by referendum in 1864. . . . Accordingly, if you continue to be chained to the State, we recommend you reaching out to [an] attorney, or perhaps an abolitionist.”

The page has at least one fan willing to recommend it:

“Best page on Facebook,” commented user Damion Ford of Baldwin, Md. “Captures the heart of Maryland perfectly.”

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