'I had a big cry': Celebrity tribute acts hit by Facebook bans for 'breaching impersonation rules'

Kelly O'Brien's (left) act is endorsed by Dolly Parton. Credit: The Dolly Show

By James Gray, ITV News multimedia producer

Frustrated celebrity tribute acts say they face repeated Facebook bans for 'breaching impersonation rules.'

"To have your account shut down is devastating," Dolly Parton impersonator Kelly O'Brien told ITV News.

She is among a growing list of musical tribute acts who claim to have recently lost their Facebook and Instagram profile pages to strict account guidelines imposed by the social media platforms.

She and the others were deemed to have breached rules aimed at protecting celebrities from imposter accounts.

The 48-year-old, whose act The Dolly Show has been endorsed by Dolly Parton herself, said she "had a big cry" after receiving the news.

"You work so hard engaging with followers, people who are potentially buying your tickets, who are often huge Dolly Parton fans," she said.

"You are using Facebook to speak to costume designers in the United States or wig designers in Canada and all these people around the world that love Dolly Parton. Then suddenly every contact has been lost. All those contacts are gone, and all your hard work has been for nothing."

Facebook's Community Standards include the right to prohibit accounts from using photos to deceive others about their identity.

Ms O'Brien says she has fallen foul of the changing standards before, which caused her Facebook and Instagram accounts to be taken down in September.

It was her replacement Facebook account, which had grown a fanbase of 4,500 followers, which was blocked on March 18.

She was not alone in being effectively blacklisted by Facebook, which along with Instagram is owned by Meta.

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Lucy Rose Smith, who performs as Britney Spears under the name Absolute Britney, claimed she was unable to recover her Instagram page since it was removed last year for breaching Meta's guidance.

"I just got a notification out of the blue to say it was a mistake, with no explanation," she told The Times.

"That's the most frustrating thing and getting in touch with the company is tough. I've never had any reply. I think my emails just fly into space."

Meanwhile, Dan Budd, a Robbie Williams tribute act, claimed he lost "10,000 likes and six years of hard work" when his Facebook page was removed during the pandemic.

The 33-year-old said he made a further two pages - each of which was removed - before a friend of a friend, who worked for Meta in the United States, was able to get his third account verified.

A Meta spokesperson said: "We do allow fan Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. However, in all cases, we require the user to make it clear in their bio or subject elements that they are not the authentic individual or entity and are not 'speaking in the voice of' that individual or entity."

Following a series of bans, the Dolly Show Facebook page has since been reinstated.

But Ms O'Brien said she was concerned it would only be a matter of time before it her page was wiped once again.

"We [tribute acts] all talk about it. We are all really scared of using certain words which could put our pages back in trouble. It's so scary," she said.

Nonetheless, she won't let the frustration get in the way of her zeal for performing as her idol, Dolly Parton.

Ms O'Brien said her aim in impersonating the hit country singer is simply to "spread love and joy".

What do Meta's Community Standards say?

Meta's guidance for account integrity and authentic identity states that it does not allow accounts which impersonate others by:

  • Using their photos with the explicit aim to deceive others

  • Creating an account assuming to be or speak for another person or entity

  • Creating a Page assuming to be or speak for another person or entity for whom the user is not authorised to do so.