Televangelist Robert H. Schuller made his first post, or "tweet," on Twitter.com Wednesday after San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. suspended the account of a person who was previously tweeting under his name.
"This is the real Robert H.Schuller," wrote the founder of Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., on the popular micro-blogging site. "The person saying they were me, here on twitter is gone. So lets start a new day."
According to Greg Fayer, an attorney representing Schuller's Southern California megachurch, someone had registered an account on Twitter.com claiming to be the 82-year-old televangelist and attracted nearly 1,000 "followers" in two weeks before Twitter suspended the account late Tuesday.
Fayer said Schuller's imposter displayed copyrighted images and trademarked sayings from the web sites of Crystal Cathedral and Schuller's trademark "Hour of Power" TV program.
"The content seemed fairly normal for someone like Dr. Schuller to say," the attorney told The Associated Press. "But in the future you don't know how they're going to use that. What if they start asking people to send money and say, 'Send money to X,Y,Z'?"
With more than 6 million users since its founding in 2006, Twitter is filled with numerous impersonator accounts, some of which are deleted, but many that remain until protested.
Politicians, celebrities, and even entire organizations have fallen victim to Twitter impersonators – some of whom are obviously posing and some that are not so obvious.
A search for "Jesus Christ" on Twitter.com, for example, comes up with at least 65 results, with two having more than 2,000 followers.
"Pretending to be another person or business as entertainment or in order to deceive is impersonation," Twitter states in its policy on impersonations.
Though parody impersonations are allowed, non-parody impersonations are regarded as a violation of the site's Terms of Service, specifically article 4, which states: "You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users."
According to the web site, the standard for defining parody is "Would a reasonable person be aware that it's a joke?"
"An account may be guilty of impersonation if it confuses or misleads others – accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead will be permanently suspended," Twitter's policy adds.
Twitter employees – of which there are 38, up from 16 last year – say they review every complaint and delete accounts for code of conduct violations.
"[W]e care about users, and we take every complaint seriously," they say.
Estimates of the number of daily users vary as the company does not release the number of active accounts.
Some prominent Christian leaders who use Twitter include theologian R. Albert Mohler, Casting Crowns frontman Mark Hall, Thomas Nelson president Michael Hyatt, and leadership guru John C. Maxwell, who, like Schuller only recently joined Twitter.
The site allows users to post messages of up to 140 characters from a mobile phone or computer and "follow" the "tweets" of other Twitter users, some with prior approval required and others not, depending on the user's setting.
Twitter is regarded as the third largest social network, trailing Facebook (the largest) and MySpace.