Culture

Twitter cracks down on fake accounts posing as Black Democrat defectors

It turns out that cosplaying as a different race online to score ideological points is a big no-no. Who would've thought?

The silhouette of a hacker can be seen as he looks at a desktop computer in the dark.
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Disinformation tactics are still active on Twitter where, according to NBC News, the social network company recently removed several fake Black Twitter accounts. It's nothing new, though. This is the same platform where white supremacists ran a fake Antifa account until it was finally suspended, and where bots have called for "reopening" the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.

These accounts with thousands of followers had published tweets that eventually went viral with 10,000-plus retweets. The content was decidedly anti-Black Lives Matter. According to Twitter, the accounts violated the company's regulations on spam and platform manipulation. The owner(s) of the accounts pretended to be Black Democrats who stepped over to the Republican side over ideological differences with police brutality protests.

The accounts often used generic photos of Black men and women, and in one case a photo belonged to a Dutch model. The purpose of the accounts, as NBC News reports, was to mislead voters and score ideological points as the United States gets closer to the 2020 presidential election.

Background — One of the fake accounts ran under the username of @WentDemToRep and accrued more than 11,000 retweets in a tweet claiming that the fake Democrat had turned Republican after seeing the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. A company representative for Twitter told NBC News that @WentDemToRep alongside two other accounts @PeterGammo and @KRon619 were suspended for "specifically, artificially manipulative behavior."

The account photo for @WentDemToRep actually belonged to Nelis Joustra, according to NBC News. "I called my mom and asked her what to do, because I was stressing out. The only thing I could do was to report the account and tweet some tweets to tell people that I'm not the person who owns the account and that they're using me on the profile picture without asking me," Joustra told NBC News. Tweets by @WentDemToRep were also frequently copied and tweeted out by other accounts claiming to be Black right-wingers.

Co-opting identity — At the core of this e-campaign of fake viral accounts lies an agenda that co-opts minority identity to use it as ammunition against organizations like Black Lives Matter. Positing the organization as a supposedly evil cabal out to hurt the United States, as these fake accounts have often done, isn't anything new, though.

In 2016, Russia's Internet Research Agency deployed fake accounts on various social networks like Facebook and Twitter in which trolls pretended to be Black and incite discord over racial issues. With the presidential race around corner, a repeat of this kind of disinformation over political and racial lines is certainly distressing but not at all shocking.