(Reuters) – Twitter Inc on Tuesday said it had suspended a number of accounts that claimed to be owned by Black supporters of President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign, saying the accounts broke its rules on spam and platform manipulation.
“Our teams are working diligently to investigate this activity and will take action in line with the Twitter Rules if Tweets are found to be in violation,” a spokeswoman for the social media company said.
A review by Reuters of some of the suspended accounts showed they often used images of real people that did not match their names and posted identical language in their messages, including the phrase: “YES IM BLACK AND IM VOTING FOR TRUMP!!!”
The accounts sometimes claimed to be owned by military veterans or members of law enforcement.
Darren Linvill, a social media disinformation researcher at Clemson University who said he had been tracking the accounts since Saturday, found more than two dozen accounts that collectively had 265,000 retweets or Twitter mentions. He said the accounts ranged in size but some had attracted tens of thousands of followers.
Twitter declined to specify the number of accounts suspended or to comment beyond its statement.
Twitter’s policy against platform manipulation and spam prohibits coordination among accounts to artificially influence conversation, including the use of multiple or fake accounts.
Linvill said some of the accounts used photos of Black American men that had appeared in news articles. Some used identical images of Trump as their header image.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the investigation, which was first reported by the Washington Post.
Linvill told Reuters that most of the accounts were created in 2017, but had become more active in the past two months. He said all the accounts
Then, on Sunday, the account was gone — suspended by Twitter for breaking its rules against platform manipulation.
The remarkable reach of @CopJrCliff and other fake accounts from supposed Black Trump supporters highlights how an account can be effective at pushing misleading narratives in just a few days — faster than Twitter can take it down.
A network of more than two dozen similar accounts, many of them using identical language in their tweets, recently has generated more than 265,000 retweets or other amplifying “mentions” on Twitter, according to Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill, who has been tracking them since last weekend. Several had tens of thousands of followers, and all but one have now been suspended.
Researchers call fake accounts featuring supposed Black users “digital blackface,” a reference to the now-disgraced tactic of White people darkening their faces for film or musical performances intended to mimic African Americans.
Many of the accounts used profile pictures of Black men taken from news reports or other sources. Several of the accounts claimed to be from members of groups with pro-Trump leanings, including veterans, police officers, steelworkers, businessmen and avid Christians. One of the fake accounts had, in the place of a profile photo, the words “black man photo” — a hint of sloppiness by the network’s creators.
“It’s asymmetrical warfare,” said Linvill, lead researcher for the Clemson University Media Forensics Hub. “They don’t have to last long. And they are so cheap to produce that you can get a lot of traction without a whole lot of work. Thank you, Twitter.”
Linvill said he found some evidence of foreign origins of the network, with a few traces of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet appearing in online records of the accounts. One account previously tweeted to promote an escort service in