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LONDON – It scored more than a few public relations own goals in 2011. Now, News Corp. appears to have begun 2012 in an even less auspicious fashion. For two days the global media giant allowed a spoof Twitter account from someone claiming to be Wendi Deng, the wife of its chairman and chief executive, to go merrily unchallenged, with even company insiders and press spokespeople appearing comprehensively duped.
The spoof Wendi Deng account, @wendi_deng, appeared on New Year’s Day within hours of Rupert Murdoch’s authentic Twitter debut, @rupertmurdoch, on New Year’s Eve.
Although the account was acknowledged by its author as a fake on Tuesday afternoon, it already had operated for two days with Twitter’s signature blue tick of authenticity — raising serious questions about the social-media platform’s usually bulletproof verification process.
The spoof also had credibility because a News International spokeswoman told journalists that the Wendi Deng Twitter account was authentic. Those confirmations have since been withdrawn and News International has told The Hollywood Reporter that the confirmation was “unintentional and mistaken.”
What does seem clear is that for more than 48-hours no one within News Corp appeared to have been able to find out from the real Wendi Deng whether she was Tweeting, or was able to alert Rupert Murdoch to the fact that someone masquerading as his wife was offering extraordinary insights into their marriage and relationship.
The couple were holidaying in St Barts until Jan. 1.
“It is deeply embarrassing. There are obviously going to be a few red faces at News Corp. and more at Twitter,” says London-based celebrity PR James Herring, co-founder of Taylor Herring, who suggests that PR execs at the global media giant may have relied on the Twitter verification as evidence that the spoof was genuine.
“No one made the crucial call. Everyone thinks that when a blue tick appears on Twitter, it is legitimate.”
A total of almost 100,000 people were following the two accounts by Jan. 3, with the significant majority following the News Corp. CEO.
When the person behind the spoof eventually admitted “this is a fake account” Tuesday afternoon, even the hoax perpetrator — who has opted to remain anonymous — expressed astonishment that the charade had been allowed to continue for so long.
“I was surprised — and even a little alarmed — when I saw the Verified tick appear on the profile,” he/she posted, still under the @wendi_deng handle.
“It might be a small matter, but you have to worry about the management of News International and Twitter if they can both readily confirm, for a while at least, that this was the account of a very noted personality.”
In what will surely go down as one of the most successful Twitter hoaxes to date, the fake Wendi Deng successfully concocted an elaborate interplay with the genuine Twitter feed @rupertmurdoch, which even company insiders and those who know the couple did not publicly challenge.
“Explaining to @rupertmurdoch about being careful with humor online. Sometimes it comes out as rude!” wrote one @wendi_deng tweet posted after a genuine tweet from the News Corp. boss about whether the U.K. had too many holidays for a “broke” nation.
On numerous occasions, the fake account appeared to take responsibility for gaffes made by @rupertmurdoch, giving the impression that the two were in constant discussion about their progress: “RUPERT!!! Delete tweet,” “EVERY1 @rupertmurdoch was only having a joke pROMISE !!!”
The dual feeds appeared to shed light on the relationship between the octogenarian media mogul and his third wife, the Chinese-born Deng, who won a legion of fans after defending her husband from a custard-pie thrower earlier this summer.
The upbeat bubbly tone included such tweets as “@rupertmurdoch teasing me saying he got people following him more quickly than me!! He’s so cheeky!!!” and “who should @rupertmurdoch and I be following??? Tell us!”
The @wendi_deng account announced itself as “joining my husband @rupertmurdoch in our new digital adventure on Twitter” just hours after Murdoch’s own Twitter debut on New Year’s Eve.
The timing is part of the ruse’s success, says PR specialist Herring.
“All credit to the spoofer for being able to create a character so convincing that even Rupert Murdoch’s own people felt it was the real deal,” he says.
“But the New Year holiday and the weekend allowed this to go on two days more than it should have.”
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