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Dalai Lama imposter escorted from Twitter [UPDATED]

February 9, 2009 | 12:53 pm
The real Dalai Lama, who does not have a Twitter account
The real Dalai Lama, who does not have a Twitter account. (Photo: Christophe Simon / AFP/Getty Images)

Updated 4:43 p.m.: @OHHDL is back on Twitter, but it's now labeled as "the UNOFFICIAL Twitter page of His Holiness the Dalai Lama."


Some members of Twitter, the micro-blogging service, received a surprise over the weekend when they were informed that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, had joined the site. "Dalai Lama (OHHDL) is now following your updates on Twitter," the message read. 

They bragged about it to friends, talked about spirituality and cracked jokes ("Can enlightenment be reached 140 char at a time?"). Agence-France Presse even banged out a news story about the Dalai Lama joining Twitter. By Sunday night, he (or is it He?) had attracted 13,000 new followers, an impressive number even for a guy who spiritually represents the whole Tibetan people. 

But today, as Mondays are wont to do, brought disappointment and disillusionment. Turns out the person twittering from the Dalai Lama's account, @OHHDL, was an imposter.

"Everyone who's wondering why @ohhdl was suspended. The official ohhdl in Dharamsala, India, informed us that @ohhdl is an impersonator. Sorry," wrote Caroline, a Twitter spokeswoman. The San Francisco company had been contacted by the real Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to break the news that the enlightened Twitterer was not, in fact, the Enlightened Twitterer.

Many were surprised that the account, whose archives you can read here, was fake. The fake Dalai Lama's office referred ...

... followers to the real Dalai Lama's website, discussed his travel itinerary (coming soon to Santa Barbara) and thanked followers for their support for the Tibetan people's struggles in China.

Some updates might have drawn suspicion from the nonbelievers amongst the Twitter population, however. "I'm sure HH will be just as inquisitive about technology as he has been over the past 14 reincarnations," one said. "Indeed HH is quite hands on. Albeit limited to only a few minutes at a time, he does truely delight in new mediums," read another.

Biz Stone, Twitter's co-founder, said in an e-mail that "the account was suspended because it violated our Terms of Use regarding impersonation. Using Twitter to impersonate others in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others is also cited in the Twitter Rules." He added that it is sometimes possible to tell if a Twitter account is official because it contains a link from an authentic website, but that Twitter is interested in adding account verification in the future (to avoid pages like Burger King posers Whopper Virgins and the BKlounge). 

Despite the rules, at least one other religious leader has a Twitter account: god (5,802 followers). He suggests shaving your chest hair in a cool design for Valentine's Day, talks about movies and posts pictures of priests with lizard heads. No confirmation on whether he is the real deal.

If that isn't enough spiritual juice for disappointed Dalai Lama followers, they can turn to his Facebook page, a fans of the Dalai Lama Facebook page or his MySpace page, which lists him as being single, Buddhist and of an average body type. Are these pages authentic? Only the Dalai Lama himself knows.

-- Alana Semuels

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