1,386 followers can, in fact, be wrong: Alice Munro, the critically acclaimed Canadian writer who announced her retirement this past summer, has almost certainly not taken to Twitter in her 83rd year:
Welcome! I join Twitter today. Interesting!— Alice Munro (@aliceannmunro) October 8, 2013
You'd be forgiven for falling for it, though. Clearly, you're not the only one:
Wonderful. Welcome! RT “@aliceannmunro: Welcome! I join Twitter today. Interesting!”— Don Chen (@donchennyc) October 9, 2013
ahhh! another favorite to follow. “@aliceannmunro: Welcome! I join Twitter today. Interesting!”— cannon tekstar (@cannontekstar) October 9, 2013
More likely, as editor Sarah Weinman suggests, @aliceannmunro is the handiwork of serial Twitter hoaxer Tommaso De Benedetti, a Rome teacher and dad who has semi-successfully faked the deaths of Fidel Castro, Pedro Almodóvar, and the Pope.
It bears all of his trademarks: seemingly obsessed with fooling the literary sphere, he has faked accounts for Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and others, and they typically begin with some variation on the same hoaxy tweet: "Welcome! I join Twitter today. Interesting!" There's no verification checkmark, and the work is sloppy: Ms. Munro has forgotten a space after a comma in her terse bio. Eventually, in most cases, a publishing rep will deny the veracity of the account (we're awaiting word from Munro's publisher). In the case of Philip Roth, that announcement bore this fantastic quote: "Mr. Roth himself is not at all sure what Twitter is, and in any case (as he emailed me yesterday) would rather people not go around impersonating him."
Some Twitter hoaxers—notably Jacob Bakkila, the "artist" behind @Horse_ebooks—operate stealthily, tweeting from the shadows and concealing their identities for years. Not De Benedetti. A proud prankster, he granted an interview to The Guardian last year, bragging about how he has exposed the media's weakness. His craft goes back before Twitter, when he fooled newspapers into printing fake interviews with authors:
De Benedetti has form dating back to his days fooling Italian newspapers into publishing his fake interviews with writers, often American, including John Grisham, Arthur Miller, Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott and Philip Roth. His game was rumbled when a journalist asked Roth in 2010 about criticisms he had levelled at Barack Obama in the Italian newspaper Libero. The writer denied giving the interview.
But he has grown lazy: his style is always the same, his tricks tired. De Benedetti was not the mastermind behind the fake Joan Didion account that fooled The Wall Street Journal this summer, and in retrospect, that seems obvious: Didion was too cryptic, too idiosyncratic, and too delightfully strange to resemble De Benedetti's hacky impersonations. Alas, as the Journal neglected to notice, @JoanDidion never actually expected us to believe it was really her.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.