How a fake voice on the social media stage captured the crowd’s attention

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‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ – it’s a phrase that’s been regularly circulated in various forms since the 19th century, possibly even earlier. One wonders whether American billionaire Warren Buffett, who has been the victim of a hoax Twitter account in his own name garnering more than 300,000 followers, would see it that way.

The @WarrenBuffet99 social media account – which is not the entrepreneur’s real one – had recently been posting a string of inspirational quotes seemingly in the same ‘folksy’ voice and tone associated with Mr Buffett (note that his surname actually contains two ‘T’s, unlike the fake Twitter handle).

Posts seemed to have attracted something of a cult following. When outspoken rapper and producer Kanye West shared one of the fake account posts, it hit the headlines. Were people in on this, did they simply like the tips and advice being offered or were they fooled and feel they were endorsing someone they might have looked up to? Perhaps a broader questions to ask is how a practically imaginary account can capture the attention of more than 300,000 people, or rather 300,000 other ‘accounts’.

Perhaps fake-Buffett’s career and life advice has struck a chord with people seeking a bit of guidance or inspiration from someone with a positive message to say. If you were to have an account made in your name, there are certainly more offensive and damaging posts than this example: “Things I’ve learned with age: No happiness without gratitude; no peace without forgiveness; no good habits without self-discipline.”

Mr Buffett himself does have his own real and verified account, using his correctly-spelt name @WarrenBuffett. In fact, the 88-year-old has not updated his account since 2016 and in the speedway of social media, where both real and imagined news and photos are circulated at a breakneck pace, clearly a gap in the market has been identified to fill his recent absence of Tweets; with two weeks let alone two years spanning a long time in that arena.

Aside from the spelling of @WarrenBuffet99, there are a few other tell-tale signs a cursory glance across the account will show you of its inauthenticity. For a man of such high profile, where is the blue ‘verified’ tick provided by Twitter? It doesn’t appear. The account only features motivational quotes too, which would be an incredibly curious way for one of the world’s richest man to focus his social media efforts.

The latest development is that the @WarrenBuffet99 account appears to have been taken down. A real news story about fake social media makes an interesting diversion from the ongoing discussions around fake news. With the unreal Buffett account no longer in the spotlight, it’s likely the next social media headline concerning something else, somewhere else, will be just around the corner.