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Twitter Handles And Email Addresses In Fiction, What Safe Guards Should Be In Place?

FIFA 17 by EAEveryone has seen a 555 number in a movie or TV show. The FCC has declared a subset of those numbers for purely fictional uses. They did this so that real people wouldn’t be harassed by people dialing numbers they see in movies. Of course it isn’t perfect. Some producers don’t realize that only the 0100-0199 block of those 555 numbers are dedicated to fiction. Sometimes a tv show or movie, especially one from a smaller producer, will just toss 555 in front of a random 4 digit number and expect they are safe.

While the fictional phone number is an industry standard, there isn’t a similar standard for other communication mediums. Phones aren’t the only means of communication these days. People use email, Twitter, Facebook and other social media to communicate with one another. While a lot of shows will just make up a social media service to use in their fiction, a lot of them are near indistinguishable from their real life counterpart.

Let’s take Twitter for an example. It is a really simple service on the surface. You create an account, get a handle, and start sharing short messages with other people. Creating a fictional version of that isn’t going to be much different. So it is highly likely that there might be some crossover between the real world and the fictional one when social media is concerned.

This is a situation met by one Calvin Wong. His name and Twitter handle was used by EA in a fictional social media service in FIFA 17. Wong, a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network, was not too thrilled to see his name and Twitter handle used to represent an annoying fan.

The story is an interesting one. You should definitely read Kotaku’s accounting of events. The story has some sad elements; a bunch of angry FIFA fans reacted poorly to Wong’s comments. Eventually, he got an apology from EA and the promise to patch his name and handle out of the game.

So what can be done to prevent this in the future? I certainly don’t think the government needs to step in. We aren’t anywhere near that point. What can be done is for studios to accept some responsibility in these situations, to do a little due diligence to make sure that the email and social media accounts in their games, movies and other fiction, don’t belong to real people.

Whether this is simply doing a quick search on the service they are mimicking, or to create a wholly original service with a unique handle system. But they simply can’t continue to ignore this. Eventually they are going to use the wrong person’s name and account and end up with┬álegal problems.

What do you think? Is this really a problem? What should be done?

6 Comments

  1. Sik
    Sik October 7, 2016

    Ensuring that a handle doesn’t exist isn’t good enough because somebody may take it later. Only surefire way to deal with this is to register the handle beforehand so nobody else can take it. Although it’d be interesting if some handles were intentionally reserved this way to allow them to be used freely.

    E-mails have it easier because the domain simply may not exist at all… oh wait maybe you’ll want to register the domain then. And that costs some money. Or you could use example.com, but that would probably break suspension of disbelief quite a lot ­čśŤ

  2. Infophile
    Infophile October 8, 2016

    I’ve seen a lot of cases in media where a non-555-01 number is used, and it was because the company owned it. For instance, in one episode of Scrubs, there was a phone-number which corresponded to the letters CALL TURK (obviously just the first seven characters, and I forget the area code). If viewers called it, it went through to a cell phone laying around on set, and anyone with free time could pick it up to chat with viewers. Of course, now that the show is off the air, I doubt they keep that number active, and it might well have been reassigned by now, so this isn’t a perfect solution.

    For the case of a Twitter handle though, it’s trivially easy to register one before using it in game, and it’s not going to be reassigned in the future. If EA had done this, it could have been something fun for fans to interact with (a community manager pretending to be) the in-game character.

    I don’t think the government needs to step in here, even in the most egregious cases. At worst, I think this is the type of thing that could be handled by a civil lawsuit, if the portrayal is bad enough that it could damage someone’s reputation (eg. if the fictional @calwong were spouting racist tweets, the real Calvin Wong might have grounds to sue for defamation of character, and the courts could decide if he had a case).

  3. MechaTama31
    MechaTama31 October 9, 2016

    This isn’t even a case of accidentally using a handle that happened to be real. They included his full name too, so they probably went on Twitter to find that information to use. Not sure why they would go for a cartoon storyboard artist, though. Maybe this was some low-level coder deciding to use a real name as an in-joke, or they were a fan of this guy. It wouldn’t surprise me at all for EA to deliberately use real accounts, but I would expect that if they did, they would be people who were related in some way (players, owners, commentators, etc).

  4. Sora Hjort
    Sora Hjort October 9, 2016

    The best way they could do instead of worrying about linking with a twitter account or a email address is quite simple

    Need a fake twitter-esque platform? .User “Mew.SoraHjort”
    Need a fake email? !.nise “SoraHjort!MewCorp.nise (nise being the Japanese word for fake/false. Many words can apply, but having one that translate to fake works best. You get the idea)
    What about a fake social site? ## “#SoraHjort#”

    Or, maybe, just maybe, if you’re lazy, just have the usernames be a random base-36 12 character number. Like 94MX2D95JUF1. (AKA, turn capslock on and hit random letters and numbers)

    Or, if you’re even more lazy than that. Then just don’t even include a username. Just have the name of the person. No @s no @email.coms or anything like that. So in this case with Fifa, just have “Cal Wong”. No username, or anything like that. Do the same for emails. Actually that would probably be the best way to handle it anyway.

  5. Jon Kole
    Jon Kole October 11, 2016

    They simply have to go onto the various social media sites and register names/handles and then use those in the game, and then use the fake names/handles in real life for promotional purposes.

    Although this sort of thing is interesting. I have used a common gamer tag for my twitter handle for many years, but then a metal band gets formed that uses that same name. Their official account is just the name with the word band at the end, but very few people seem to realize this and I commonly get mentioned in promotional tweets by various venues that they are playing at and by fans. The funniest part is that their bassist started following me thinking that my account was the band’s account and will favorite or retweet most of my tweets. Despite telling the various people that my account was in fact not the band’s account and even directing them to their official account, I still get plenty of people thinking I’m them during their concerts and such. But its not too bad, the band has only a small following and their bassist seems kind of nice. Social media is a funny place.

  6. Zachary Knight
    Zachary Knight October 12, 2016

    You guys have some great ideas here. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I have pretty much the same ideas as you guys and it seems like it shouldn’t be that difficult for a major developer to come up with similar solutions.

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