Saturday, August 15, 2020

Report: Congress Launches Investigation into Original Covington Hate Hoax Tweet

The House Intelligence Committee has reportedly requested information from Twitter related to the original account that tweeted a video of students from Covington Catholic High School causing the hate hoax to go viral. The account was suspended by the platform for being “misleading.”

VICE News reports that following the recent furor over a video featuring students from Covington Catholic High School, members of the House Intelligence Committee have requested that Twitter provide information on the original account that tweeted the video.

The vice chair of the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), confirmed to VICE News this week that the committee had indeed requested information from Twitter relating to the incident. Breitbart News has reported extensively on the video which featured a Native American activist named Nathan Phillips standing in front of Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann, who stood quietly while smiling while Phillips banged a drum in his face. The incident took place at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Since the video went viral, Sandmann received death threats and students from the high school were accused of racially abusing the Native American activists; it was later discovered after further video of the incident was published that another group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites were shouting racial slurs and various negative comments at the high school students who had traveled to Washington to attend the March For Life protest.

It was only after the students had been verbally abused by the Black Hebrew Israelites that Phillips — who was in Washington to attend the Indigenous Peoples March — approached the students banging a ceremonial drum and chanting, in what he claimed was an attempt to calm tensions between the groups.

One of the first Twitter accounts to tweet short, edited footage of the incident was an account with the handle “@2020fight,” which claimed to belong to a “teacher & advocate” from California named Talia. The account tweeted a one minute clip of the incident at the Lincoln Memorial with the caption: “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March.”

While the viral post was still active, it received 2.5 million views and 14,400 retweets. As time went on, many began to wonder if the @2020fight account was a bot account as it featured many of the traits of bot accounts such as a fake profile picture and a high volume of partisan tweets; posting approximately 130 tweets in one day. The account was also reportedly drawing extra attention to their posts using Shoutcart, a service which posts promotional tweets for as little as $20.

Since then, Twitter has suspended the account, telling VICE News that this was due to: “Deliberate attempts to manipulate the public conversation on Twitter by using misleading account information is a violation of Twitter rules.” Now, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are requesting further information on Twitter as they attempt to determine if the account was part of a foreign influence campaign.

But some are not convinced that the account was illegitimate, Ben Nimmo, an expert on Russian disinformation at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, spoke to VICE News about the account saying: “It certainly didn’t look like a bot: the posts which have been archived online were clearly authored and appeared to be original, not automated. It didn’t look like a foreign account, because the use of language was idiomatic, without the sort of mistakes we’ve seen in the past.”

VICE asked Nimmo if Twitter was too hasty in their removal of the account, to which Nimmo replied: “It’s a tough call. We know that the account had a misleading profile picture. What we don’t know is what other misleading information it presented, because only Twitter can see the detailed background information, such as where it logs on from.”

It appears that regardless of whether or not the account was legitimate, Congress is interested in learning more about it.

Lucas Nolan

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