Earlier this week I was pointed towards some interesting tweets from @BelangerPolice:
Donald Belanger (Toronto’s Drug Squad Inspector) states that Ali Vakili — an Iranian resident in Canada with ties to the MEK — is laundering money via his company, Luna International.
Moreover, @BelangerPolice alleges that Mr. Vakili deposited $350K into the account of John Bolton’s daughter, Jennifer Sarah Bolton, in 2016. To support the claim, SWIFT details are provided:
The initial tweet from @BelangerPolice received strong engagement (51 Retweets, 94 Likes, 8 Replies). Additionally, the bio of @BelangerPolice closely resembles that of other Toronto Police affiliated accounts:
There’s only one problem: Inspector Donald Belanger doesn’t have a Twitter account
This was uncovered by Iranian-American journalist, Negar Mortazavi, who reached out to Toronto Police to inquire about the (odd) tweets:
Inauthentic Tweets Get Picked Up By Media
Despite confirmation from Toronto Police (August 5th, 2019) that Inspector Donald Belanger does not have a Twitter account, the @BelangerPolice account remained active until Twitter suspended the account earlier today (August 7th, 2019).
As a result, a number of outlets have picked up this “story” — a few of which I have included below:
This example perfectly illustrates the power of information operations — highlighting just how quickly a “story” can progress from inauthentic tweets to media coverage.
Tip Of The Iceberg
I was able to grab account data prior to Twitter suspending the inauthentic @BelangerPolice account.
Appears it isn’t the only account misrepresenting their affiliation with Toronto Police (there are several, in fact).
For instance, meet @HegedusTPS (Richard Hegedus is indeed a Toronto Police inspector; this account, however, doesn’t appear to be authentic):
Here’s a tweet from @HegedusTPS thanking the fake @BelangerPolice account for following theirs:
I wonder if Toronto Police are aware of Twitter’s negligence?
Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will take a deep dive into the data!
Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies. Geoff spends (far too much of) his time developing techniques and building tools to identify social media manipulation (of various flavors!)