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Mar 18, 2009

The rise and fall of Fake Stephen Conroy

The identity of Australia's most famous Twitter satirist, Fake Stephen Conroy, has been revealed as a Telstra employee. But just how well is Telstra handling it? asks Duncan Riley.

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If there was any suggestion that Twitter wasn’t big in Australia, Fairfax laid the debate to rest yesterday with a lead story on smh.com.au covering the identity of Australia’s most famous Twitter satirist (and occasional Crikey contributor) Fake Stephen Conroy (FSC).

Leslie Nassar, a Telstra “Emerging Technology Specialist” and former ABC web producer, had outed himself earlier the same the day, after growing speculation over who was behind the account.

Nassar wasn’t the original FSC, having taken over the account in January, but it was under Nassar that the persona underwent a meteoric rise. Nassar’s FSC delivered daily gems and interaction that gave a whimsical twist to the most hated Minister in the Rudd Government.

“Dear journalists; please do not continue to report on my enormous p-nis and ability to please the ladies. My personal life is off-limits.”

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to compare the National Filter Network to a cure for Super-AIDS; both of them protect children.”

“The filter is a community service; it’s not just about removing content, we can also repair content. We can make it truthier.”

The account’s reach went as far as Canberra itself, with Malcolm Turnbull blocking FSC from his Twitter account, and the real Stephen Conroy commenting that he was aware of the account, and that: “satire is an important part of any healthy democracy.” In context, satire to Conroy is acceptable only if it doesn’t involve n-dity, abortions, R-rated computer games or lists of banned sites.

The FSC Twitter account was pulled the same day as Nassar’s identity was exposed, with Fairfax claiming that Telstra had demanded Nassar pull the plug “perhaps out of fear that the revelations will further increase tensions between Telstra and the Government.” That Telstra would act this way isn’t surprising, given this is the same company that once sacked a corporate blogger for speaking the truth. But here’s where the stories diverge.

Telstra’s Social Media Senior Advisor, Mike Hickinbotham, claims that Telstra did not shut down the Twitter account in a blog post on Telstra’s official Now We’re Talking blog. Hickinbotham writes about Leslie understanding social media and that, “Telstra is learning the best way to engage in social media — notice our response has come in the form of a blog versus a media release.”

You can’t help but be impressed by Telstra’s response, until you realise that it may not be true. The FSC account is back up, but Nassar claims that Telstra did tell him to drop the account, and names David Quilty, Group Managing Director of Public Policy & Communications, as the person who made him pull it.

In a very public spat with Mike Hickinbotham (@M_Hickinbotham) on Twitter:

What bullsh-t. I wasn’t told to stop? Quilty had a f-cking stroke, @M_Hickinbotham.

@M_Hickinbotham I was fine with your NWAT double-speak, but f-ck you if you think I’m standing for that

I was fine with being told to drop FSC, but don’t throw me under the f-cking bus just to make Telstra look social-media savvy.

If Hickingbotham responded, the Tweets have been deleted. The Now We’re Talking post states that: “Leslie is not going to lose his job as a result of announcing he is the Fake Stephen Conroy” although the public stoush with Telstra after the fact could deliver a similar outcome.

If Nassar is forced out, or leaves Telstra, the future is bright for him, either in an online capacity, or maybe writing satire. Tom Reynolds, the Telstra blogger sacked back in 2006, went from a call centre job with Telstra to gigs at 3AW and in PR.

Being booted out of Telstra can be good for your resume.

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