How Helvetica Almost Caused an International Incident

Parody accounts on Twitter are no surprise. People frequently create them, and quite often it’s funny, at least for awhile. Twitter is fine with parody accounts, as long as they are funny and obvious. This one however wasn’t.

One such case happened a few days ago after the Russian presidential election, where Putin convincingly claimed another victory. The dispute began when a Twitter account impersonating the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul, tweeted that voter fraud would undercut the validity of the election.

Despite Michael McFaul having a verified Twitter account, the person who made a fake account took advantage of the Helvetica Neue font which twitter uses to display the name and username. The font uses a very similar character for upper case “I” and lower case “L”, so changing @McFaul with @McFauI was not obvious for many people. As you can see below, the difference is slight.

Michael McFaul

Many gullible twitter users fell for this ruse, and among them was a Russian presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich. Fortunately, plenty of people realized what was happening, and McFaul was quick to tell the world about the fake account and make sure a major incident was avoided.

This example is just one of many that shows how creating fonts can be quite a brainstorming session, as there are countless potential uses and abuses that can happen.