Iranian-American Twitter Engineers Unjustly Character Assassinated
How online trolls, bots, and single-purpose hate accounts continue to weaponize Twitter under Elon Musk
Historically, targeted abuse across the Persian-speaking Twittersphere has been directed towards Iranian-American journalists, academics, analysts, civil society members, and even U.S. politicians. More recently, however, a group of Iranian-American Twitter machine-learning engineers have become the target of bad actors seeking to character assassinate them, and, ultimately to impede on their livelihood.
Last week, NUFDI (National Union For Democracy In Iran) Engagement Director, Alireza Nader, penned a letter to Twitter CEO, Elon Musk, calling “on Twitter to protect the right to free speech of Iranian [Twitter users]:”
Nader’s letter was sent in response to a “mass suspension of Persian-language Twitter accounts” that took place last month (March 2023).
Below is a sampling of tweets expressing outrage from Twitter users who believe monarchist, pro-Pahlavi “Iranian digital activists” are being “censored” erroneously or in bad faith:
And then several Iranian-American machine-learning engineers who work at Twitter become the target of accounts which believe they, in fact, are responsible for arbitrarily suspending monarchist, pro-Pahlavi accounts because of their own political leanings (i.e. alleging they support the brutal Iranian regime):
To increase awareness, there was even a Twitter Storm organized using the #StopSusIranians hashtag.
Scanning through the accounts engaging with the #StopSusIranians hashtag (and/or with tweets sharing NUFDI’s letter to Twitter), it’s crystal-clear that artificial amplification— i.e. inauthentic/fake accounts—are heavily being used to prop up the hashtag and narrative. Such behavior is a violation of Twitter’s platform manipulation policy.
In other words, Twitter engineers are being painted as supporting the brutal Iranian regime, and where said allegations are being artificially amplified by accounts that violate Twitter Rules. To make matters worse, media outlets that look to Twitter as a proxy for what’s popular, have laundered a narrative that not only is unwarranted, but that can also be harmful to the Twitter employees being smeared.
NUFDI has zero expertise related to the identification of platform manipulation, yet in their letter to Twitter, state that “our team’s analysis indicates that the vast majority [of suspended accounts] abide by [Twitter Rules].”
Nader’s letter, on behalf of NUFDI, offers to provide Twitter with “a list of Iranian digital activists who have been suspended and censored in recent days” to be made “available upon request.”
Social Forensics, who unlike NUFDI, has years of experience specific to the identification of platform manipulation, is opting to publicly make available a list including hundreds (460) of Persian-speaking accounts that were suspended last month (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MQJX8gKFaIC4NpfyWSqdZ40l85e2U_MYboF-Ls0V614):
Take, for example, the @saiedeh10 account — the largest Persian-speaking account in terms of Followers (at nearly 37 thousand!) among our dataset that was suspended last month:
The @SaiedehSaideh59 account, despite being created two weeks ago (on March 21st, 2023), has managed to amass 4,273 Followers (vast majority are inauthentic accounts) and is averaging more than 100 tweets per day:
This illustrates how easy it is for bad actors to create new accounts and then rapidly grow their Followers base via fake accounts.
Platform manipulation that violates Twitter Rules is not an impediment to free speech, and suspending said accounts should not be equated with censorship.
Social Forensics maps and monitors social connections and activity.
We create purposefully designed tools to manage social data analytics needs across various industries. Our focus is audience segmentation and identifying coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) across social media platforms.
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 is the Founder/CEO/Janitor of Social Forensics.