McCarthy, unverified: On social media, there is no guarantee that people are who they claim to be

Why would a famously reclusive writer break the habit of a lifetime to suddenly pop up on social media and talk about kombucha, leaf blowers and the TV series The Mandalorian? American novelist Cormac McCarthy had literary Twitter users in a tizzy this week when he alleged that he was on “this infernal website” only at the behest of his publicist, because “engagement is down and so are metrics and something something who cares Are you happy now Terry” (no punctuation, just like in his books). Everyone laughed at the snark, Stephen King even replied to the tweet (“I don’t know if Terry is, but I am”) and Twitter rushed to anoint the legend with the only recognition that seems to matter these days — a blue verification badge.

As it turns out, that was not the real McCarthy. The handle @CormacMcCrthy (note the missing ‘a’) is a parody and, as his agent and publisher have both confirmed, the 88-year-old writer is definitely not on Twitter. And, by the way, this is not the first time we’ve been pranked by a fake McCarthy. In 2012, Jack Dorsey himself tweeted to welcome @CormacCMcCarthy (note the extra ‘c’) on Twitter, as did Margaret Atwood. The account was soon suspended.

The new edition of the fictitious McCarthy has been around since 2018 and, with a commitment to the creative matched perhaps only by the real McCarthy, has been dedicatedly sending out grumpy tweets about pillow infomercials and frozen dinners, often retelling conversations with his “daughter” and “grand-daughter”. All of this had gone largely unnoticed and unremarked upon until the Publicist Terry tweet went viral. Presumably, this is when Twitter decided to suspend the identification rules that it follows in the case of lesser mortals and, without any application being made by the parody account, anointed it as the real thing. Which only goes to show that when it comes to social media, no one — including those handing out “verified” badges — can tell the real from the fake.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 7, 2021 under the title ‘McCarthy, unverified’.

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