A popular parody account has been suspended from Twitter following outrage by one of the largest media outlets in the world. The man behind Shaniqua O'Tool, an account that had over 15,000 followers at the time of suspension, says The Guardian forced Twitter to censor comedy.
He spoke to The Post Millennial to reveal details on the campaign waged by The Guardian against his satirical tweets. While his identity is known to The Post Millennial, it is being withheld for reasons of privacy.
Starting as a Godfrey Elfwick-styled account, the account owner says the Shaniqua O'Tool character was meant to "poke fun at both the far-left and the far-right." He says the name was inspired by the 2003 single "Shaniqua don't live here no more" by Little T and One Track Mike.
The account's owner points out the existence of a Twitter account dedicated to compiling the Guardian's most meme-able headlines, including one where Guardian columnist Abi Wilkinson suggests the "tears of joy emoji" mocks human suffering.
"Some of [The Guardian's] headlines bordered on insanity, so I felt it was worthy of satire." He says. In 2017, he began posting edited Guardian headlines with Shaniqua's face photoshopped in as the columnist.
Some of Shaniqua's antics were so indiscernible from authentic Guardian headlines that they attracted the attention of outraged media outlets. Gateway Pundit wrote an article decrying Shaniqua as an "ISIS sympathizer" for her headline on police needing to learn the importance of spotting a "fake suicide vest" before shooting. The Gateway Pundit article, which claimed to have read the non-existent Shaniqua column, was quickly deleted.
"I mocked [Gateway Pundit] for it," the account owner says, "and when my headlines caught conservative commentator Katie Hopkins off guard, I mocked her for it too." He says, asserting that his satire was bipartisan. However, he notes that there was a difference in how people of different political orientations handled being the target of his comedy.
"It is a consistent and recurring pattern over the last few years that if you poke fun at conservative or right-leaning people, they tend to just go with the joke or ignore you. If you poke fun at left-wing people, my experience is very different. They report you, verbally attack you, mobilize their followers to report and block, and ensure your name is added as a 'Nazi' to block lists."
On November 29th, 2019, the account received a copyright strike notice from Twitter. The claim was apparently filed by Guardian editor Tom Stevens, who wrote that Shaniqua's infringement was "pretending to be a Guardian writer. The tweets are fake and offensive."
The claims were made through Twitter's copyright system, which is intended to protect the rightful owners of intellectual property. Prior to completing a claim within this system, a complainant must acknowledge that they considered "Fair Use" laws, and accept responsibility for damages in the event they misrepresented fair use material as infringement.
Fair Use is a provision which states that copyrighted work can be utilized if the use is sufficiently transformative. According to the University of Minnesota, transformative content uses original work in a "completely new or unexpected way," and lists parody as being the clearest example of "transformative content."
In the case of Shaniqua, the account was not utilizing anything more than the template of Guardian headlines. The headlines themselves, lede, and photo were original.
In 2017, Buzzfeed called Twitter's copyright system "hair-trigger," and stated that "a copyright violation from a major media company is the surest way to lose access to one's account."
The Guardian filed two subsequent copyright claims on December 2nd, and the account was suspended the same day. In the claim, Guardian editor Tom Stevens writes "Becoming a serious problem now. Please take appropriate action."
After the news of the Guardian's apparent campaign against Shaniqua surfaced, Twitter users began posting their own parodies of Guardian headlines using the hashtag #trollingtheguardian
Prior to getting suspended, the man behind Shaniqua attempted to open dialogue with Guardian media editor Jim Waterson, but his direct messages were not returned.
"He never replied, presumably, because he knew my days on Twitter were numbered."
While appeals on copyright strikes are possible, the account owner says he was discouraged from doing so as it would mean providing consent for Twitter to share his personal information with The Guardian. Fearing harassment or a lawsuit, he did not appeal.
"It's clear they don't like being mocked," he says, "I was followed en mass by Guardian journalists [the day of my suspension]. Being followed suddenly like that was deeply unnerving. It felt like they were letting me know they were watching me."
The account owner has filed an appeal with Twitter over the account's suspension but has not heard back as of publication.