My Twitter account (@geoffgolberg) was permanently suspended one week ago.
Why? Well, that depends on who you ask.
According to Twitter, my account was suspended for “abusive behavior” — more specifically, the email I received from Twitter states: “You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.”
The email then references 7 tweets, which I have included below:
5 of the 7 tweets are replies to @LisaMar91564392 (userid: 907646706895937536), an account that goes by the display name “Lisa the Nationalist for Canada” (and has a background photo that prominently displays “Trudeau Must Go”):
Earlier this month, National Observer’s Caroline Orr dissected the #TrudeauMustGo hashtag, which was the #2 trending hashtag in Canada on Tuesday, July 16th, 2019. Caroline’s analysis found that “much of the activity surrounding the hashtag was actually driven by accounts tweeting at non-human rates, including about two dozen accounts created in the past 48 hours.”
The Atlantic Council’s @DFRLab views 72 tweets per day as “suspicious” and over 144 tweets per day as “highly suspicious” (I often find myself referring people to this post from them when asked about identifying inauthentic Twitter accounts):
“Targeted Harassment of Someone”
Twitter alleges they have suspended my account for the “targeted harassment of someone” (they have also denied my appeal, where I requested they reinstate my account).
I know a thing or two about being targeted on Twitter’s platform — having personally received death threats, been swarmed, and even experienced being doxed. Initially I would report the threats that I received to Twitter; however, I gave up after they determined what was a very clear death threat, not to be in violation of their rules.
I have spent the past 1.5 years identifying (and documenting) various flavors of Twitter’s platform being gamed (in other words, studying accounts which violate Twitter Rules). I would frequently use Twitter to tweet about platform manipulation, often tagging Twitter executives, to ensure they were aware of how rampant the issue has become.
As a result, my account has frequently been the target of being mass reported. Below you can see a subset of instances where either my account, my tweets, or both were reported:
Manipulating Twitter’s Reporting System
Prior to experiencing People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) and Farashgard (aka Iran Revival) — both of which are groups that oppose the Iranian regime and are pushing for their respective leaders to take over the country — the most intense influence operation I encountered was via the XRP cryptocurrency (known as the “XRP Army”).
While I had received death threats linked to surfacing XRP-focused platform manipulation, it was not until I began surfacing Iranian-focused platform manipulation that I was doxed (the account which tweeted my address/phone number — and that of a family member — remains active on Twitter today; meanwhile, my account is suspended).
The XRP Army, just like many other groups that I would call out for engaging in activity which violates Twitter Rules, would frequently report my tweets/account. In fact, inauthentic accounts often would tweet to other inauthentic accounts in the same group, urging others to mass report my account. It wasn’t until I began surfacing Iranian-focused platform manipulation, however, that I experienced having my Twitter account’s features restricted. On multiple occasions I was placed on “timeouts” — ranging from a few hours to a full week — where I was only able to utilize Twitter for DMs (was unable to tweet and engage with tweets from others). These were a direct result of being mass reported by nefarious actors.
In other words, these groups understand the intricacies of Twitter’s reporting workflow well enough to trigger, what seems to be, automated decisions that, in effect, function to silence anyone they deem to be a threat. The same people that manipulate hashtags to trend on Twitter are able to silence those calling them out for manipulating said hashtags.
As a reminder, Twitter alleges my account was suspended for “abusive behavior” — continuing that they consider “abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.”
Back to Lisa the Nationalist for Canada
Here’s what “Lisa’s” recent tweet activity looks like:
Out of the account’s most recent 3.2K tweets, 85% were retweets, while #TrudeauMustGo appeared in over 45% of overall tweets (1,450).
As you can see below, a large portion of the account’s tweets are repetitive. Additionally, there are several periods where the account tweets at highly suspicious rates (exceeding 146 times per hour):
According to Twitter Rules, more specifically within their documentation around platform manipulation and spam, it is not permitted to “use Twitter’s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter:”
Lisa the Nationalist for Canada (@LisaMar91564392), as can clearly be seen by the information that has been presented, is in violation of Twitter Rules. Moreover, the account is part of a larger group that continues to weaponize Twitter’s platform, violating several Twitter Rules in the process.
Wait, What Were You Suspended For Again?
Once again, Twitter alleges they have suspended my account for the “targeted harassment of someone” (and where @LisaMar91564392 was referenced in 5 of the 7 tweets cited by Twitter as being “abusive”).
So, effectively Twitter has opted to permanently suspend my account for the “targeted harassment” of Lisa the Nationalist for Canada. In this case, apparently the ‘someone’ being referenced by Twitter is a persona/sockpuppet account.
In other words, Twitter has suspended my account for abuse they allege was directed at an inauthentic account (and one which continues to violate Twitter Rules).
I first came across Lisa the Nationalist for Canada after seeing the account had tweeted false information about me (there are 50 accounts included in this connected spam thread, many of which similarly engage in coordinated inauthentic behavior, and the thread spans several months):
I had no idea who Butts (Gerald) was until looking him up, yet this suspicious account was asserting that I consulted with Caroline Orr on her recent (July 18th, 2019) #TrudeauMustGo-focused piece. Given this was not the case (full disclosure: I later spoke to Caroline for a follow-up piece on the hashtag), I opted to take a closer look at the @LisaMar91564392 account, and tweeted the following:
After informing @LisaMar91564392 that the account would soon be suspended for violating Twitter Rules (even linking to the specific rule being broken), “Lisa” and other accounts began to swarm me with allegations of abuse — merely for highlighting publicly available data:
Less than 48 hours after discovering the Lisa the Nationalist for Canada account, my Twitter account was permanently suspended.
The Real Reason My Twitter Account Was Suspended
Twitter suspending my account last Monday is their attempt at silencing me. It is censorship — plain and simple.
As mentioned, over the past 1.5 years, I have actively documented (Twitter-focused) platform manipulation, often tweeting about my findings/observations. I frequently would tag Twitter executives in said tweets, as I wanted to ensure they were aware of what was taking place, ultimately hoping to hold them publicly accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). Many Twitter executives/employees had opted to block my account, finding it easier to hide their heads in the sand vs. tackling substantive problems.
Suspending my Twitter account functions to remove a paper trail highlighting Twitter’s negligence as it relates to mitigating against platform manipulation/influence operations.
This is not the first time that Twitter has attempted to silence my voice. In April 2017, I was no-platformed by Twitter-owned Periscope for shining light on their inability to curb pedophiles from preying on young children using the app:
There have been several tweets this past week which celebrate my account’s suspension. Not surprisingly, behind each celebratory tweet, is someone who is thrilled they’ll no longer have to deal with my tweets highlighting how they engage in platform manipulation that violates Twitter Rules.
Please hear me out prior to judging me for calling Saeed a scumbag and telling him that he is sloppy. Both, in fact, are true.
Farashgard is just one of several anti Iranian regime groups. Others include MEK and MIGA (Restart movement), for example. These three groups, in particular, are very well versed in information warfare. Specific to Twitter, each group leverages thousands of personas/sockpuppets/inauthentic accounts to create the illusion of a larger support base than is reality. Farashgard, in particular, has a very robust operation and can easily manipulate trending hashtags.
Farashgard has repeatedly mass reported my tweets/account for tweeting about how their group continues to game Twitter’s platform. On numerous occasions, their ability to game Twitter’s reporting workflow has resulted in my account being placed on various “timeouts” (where Twitter can only be used for DMs).
Farashgard has attacked me throughout 2019, violating multiple Twitter Rules in the process.
Farashgard has even gone so far as doxing me on Twitter (tweeting my address/phone number and that of a family member as well).
Needless to say, I am both upset (and disgusted) that Twitter continues to allow this sort of activity to prevail on their platform, while opting to silence those drawing attention to it.
Back to Saeed’s tweet. On the surface it appears that many others agree with his sentiment (the tweet reflects having 48 Retweets and 280 Likes above). In reality, however, the vast majority of engagement is being driven by inauthentic accounts — accounts which operate as part of Farashgard’s influence operations machine.
It wasn’t possible for me to grab each account which retweeted/liked Saeed’s tweet, but I was able to collect a solid chunk of that data (36 of the 48 Retweets and 230 of the 280 Likes).
Many of the accounts which liked Saeed’s tweet, have, on average, liked 100 or more tweets per day (this level of activity can often be linked to platform manipulation):
For those who are familiar with Farashgard, I would encourage you to spend a few minutes scrolling through the likes of some of the examples provided above (in addition to the high-volume liking accounts themselves!).
Please meet “Iranian American” (@IranLionness):
Similar to Saeed, “Iranian American” celebrated my account’s suspension:
The accounts which have engaged (Retweets, Likes) with @IranLioness’ tweet were reviewed in the same fashion as was done with Saeed’s tweet. The vast majority of accounts being reflected in the Retweets and Likes counts of the above @IranLioness tweet are accounts which violate Twitter Rules. In other words, there is next to no support behind the tweet from “Iranian American” (despite Twitter reflecting substantial Retweets and Likes counts).
Manually scanning an account’s Following list (as well as Followers list) often surfaces interesting insights.
Included in this group of early accounts followed by “Iranian American” are a number of Farashgard-focused accounts which regularly contribute to hashtag manipulation (@_Cafe, @Pensylvani, @Sashtyani, @patrick_jane77, @john_lucckk, @YaarDabestaani, and @ajibzade, to name a few).
Despite being suspended just a few hours after Hussain’s piece was published, the “Heshmat Alavi” account was reinstated after about a week.
Below you can see an account that has been confirmed to be a persona (and which continues to violate Twitter Rules) chime in on my account’s suspension (Twitter is knowingly allowing libel at this point):
OK, So What Have You Learned?
The problem with Twitter (specifically) and Big Tech (more broadly) is that they are able to operate with zero accountability.
While it’s easy for Twitter, for example, to issue statements claiming they proactively mitigate against platform manipulation/influence operations — the reality is they are tremendously negligent on this front, complicit in allowing widespread weaponization of their platform (which has a very material impact across the world).
Especially troubling is the feeling that Twitter is focusing more resources at marketing their efforts, rather than properly/effectively tackling actual problems.
Echo Chamber Effect
Companies like Twitter and Facebook have normalized an “us vs. them” mentality.
Facebook, for example, was recently fined $5 billion by the FTC as part of a settlement relating to the company’s privacy policies. I suspect most Facebook employees view the fine simply as a cost of doing business, levied upon them by the FTC (“bad guys”).
I have personally experienced being pegged as a “hater” on a number of occasions by Twitter employees. Other researchers have shared with me that they have had similar experiences while attempting to highlight platform manipulation/influence operations to Twitter employees.
The House Always Wins
When building a following on a (centralized) social network, ultimately you’re building on someone else’s land.
For me, Twitter DMs were what I used as my go-to messaging. There are many people, for example, that I would solely communicate with via Twitter DM — people that I currently have no way of reaching.
Big Tech, unfortunately, has the power to opaquely and unaccountably remove people from their platforms.
I have long suspected that Twitter would (eventually) come up with some bullshit reason to suspend my account.
I will not, however, be silenced.
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!)