NewsWorldHow a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on...

How a Twitter account gained thousands of followers on the back of Shireen Abu Akleh

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Published on: 05/13/2022 – 17:36 A Twitter account by the name of “MohammedAbuAq” posed as the brother of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed on Wednesday May 11 in the West Bank. Chaining tweets throwing oil on the fire, the latter has gained thousands of subscribers in two days. His imposture can however be unmasked by both visual elements and digital traces that the latter left, showing that this account changed identity several times in barely four months. The MohammedAbuAq account, with the full name of Mohammed Abu Aqleh, presents himself as a “Muslim journalist” according to his biography, living in Qatar according to the flag visible on his account. He claims to be the brother of Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed in the West Bank by an as yet unidentified shooting on May 11, whose image he wears in his profile picture. This account first tweeted on May 11 at 8:30 p.m. stating: “My sister Shireen was killed by Israeli bullets, and there is nothing else. I call on the international community to punish Israel as soon as possible.” Screenshot of the @MohamedAbuAq account as of May 13, 2022. Archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20220512143346/https://twitter.com/MohammedAbuAq © Observers Since May 12, and in less than 24 hours, the latter gained nearly 5,000 subscribers, going from 30,600 to 35,100 subscribers. Since then, he has continued to tweet out a series of tweets claiming to give precise indications of the situation of the family of the slain journalist, first claiming that their house was surrounded by the Israeli army, that Vladimir Putin would have called him promising an investigation, or even that Pope Francis had telephoned him to “calm the situation”. False factual detailsAs Jordanian verification media Misbar shows, several factual details indicate that the account is inventing an identity: Shireen Abu Akleh did have a brother, but his name is Tariq Antoun Aqleh. An interview with the latter was posted on the Jerusalem governorate’s Facebook page, where he announced the date of the journalist’s funeral. According to the same media, which cites a Palestinian political analyst who knows the family, Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother lives in the United States. In the various articles mentioning the journalist’s family, no one with the first name of Mohamed is mentioned as here or there. Finally, information published in the tweets is itself erroneous: the account mentions for example the ” director of the Israeli intelligence agency, Yosef Meir” who allegedly called him to ask him to intervene on Al-Jazeera in order to call for calm. However, no official named Yosef Meir appears in the representatives of the Israeli intelligence services: the head of the ShinBet, the Israeli Internal Security Service is called Rohen Bar, and the director of the Mossad, the Institute for Intelligence and External Special Affairs, is called David Barnea. Investigation into the digital traces of the accountThe France 24 Observers editorial staff investigated the digital traces left by the @MohammedAbuAq account, that is to say the publicly available information allowing the activity of this account to be checked in the past. One way to do this is to check account interactions prior to May 11, the day Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. We can study the responses made to this account on Twitter, in the advanced research tools of Twitter. These searches make it possible to find users who interacted with @MohammedAbuAq for example on May 9, on a tweet since deleted. Twitter user interaction with MohammedAbuAq on May 9. Link: https://twitter.com/bas99900/status/1523724694335098880 © Twitter By searching for this tweet on the WebArchive site, a free tool for archiving web pages on the internet, it is possible to see what this tweet looked like on May 9th. We thus discover that the user @bas99900 had replied not to @MohammedAbuAq, but to a user named @K_oiT_, whose account no longer exists. The account therefore changed its name to Mohammed Abu Aq. This account displayed a flag of Kuwait, a photo of the former Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who died in September 2020, and was named Abdul Wahed Al-Mutairi. He claimed to be a “technical adviser” according to his biography. Archive of the same tweet showing that user @K_oiT_ replied to this user. © Twitter This Twitter account by the name of @K_oiT made several tweets in early May, mostly related to Kuwait. Screenshot from archive of a tweet from @K_oiT_ where this user tweets on a subject relating to Kuwait: “Iran is also trying to sow discord and hypocrisy between Iraq and Kuwait. May God protect Kuwait from the evil of the wicked and from the conspiracy of the impious”. © Twitter In this tweet, the account @K_oiT_ explains that “news is circulating about Yemen joining the Gulf Cooperation Council. […] If the news is true, may God bear witness to us that the State of Kuwait is the second country for our brothers in Yemen, and they will be treated as Kuwaiti citizens without excluding anyone.” © Twitter The user @K_oiT has also deleted all of his tweets which are no longer available today. Tweets deleted by @K_oiT_ but whose digital traces still exist on Twitter. © Twitter One user, but at least 4 different namesEvery Twitter account has a unique digital identity called the “Twitter ID”. It is possible to recover this digital identity through sites such as https://tweeterid.com/ for example, making it possible to check in particular whether the Twitter account has changed its name. Twitter ID of account @MohammedAbuAq © https://tweeterid.com/ Account @MohammedAbuAq has Twitter ID number 1488519840000352264. As the account @K_oiT no longer exists, the only way to confirm this is to study the source code archived pages like here. By doing this, we discover the same number 1488519840000352264 indicating that @MohammedAbuAq and @K_oiT are indeed one and the same account which has simply changed its name. The @K_oiT_ Twitter account has the exact same numeric ID as the @MohammedAbuAq account meaning it is the same account that has changed its name. © WebArchive But it doesn’t stop there: by searching for the number 1488519840000352264 on the Yandex search engine, it is possible to see that this account has changed its identity at least four times. Digital traces appearing on the Twicopy site, which archives Twitter publications, show that the same Twitter identifier was named @Gd_kgo_ then @Palestineismy. The Twitter account with the Twitter ID number 1488519840000352264 also had two other identities: @Gd_kgo_ and @Palestineismy. © Yandex The account was created on February 1 at 2:29 p.m. According to studies of the account’s archives, the latter seems to have first been called @Gd_kgo_ , and presented itself as an Arabic-speaking account relaying “Ukrainian events” according to its name in Arabic. He indicated in his biography to be “a specialized media team to publish all the news around the world in Arabic”. Most of his interactions consisted of reacting to Ukrainian news, the account also displayed the country’s flag. The account went further at the end of March, notably by publishing a tweet indicating: “for those who wanted to fight in Ukraine, a scholarship for permanent residence, a monthly salary, a wife and a house will be granted. Contact us through our embassies around the world.” Tweet made by the account @Gd_kgo_ inviting volunteers to go to Ukraine. © WebArchive At the end of March, the account changed its name from @Palestineismy to Abou Obeïda, specifying in its bio: “Mohab Abu Obeida, official spokesperson for the Hamas Brigades”, posting mainly anti-Israel tweets and about the situation in the West Bank. Screenshot of a tweet from @Palestineismy introducing himself as Mohab Abu Obeida, official spokesperson for the Hamas Brigades. © WebArchive Finally, in April, the account switched its identity to display the Kuwaiti identity @K_oiT_ of the name of Abdul Wahed Al-Mutairi as we explained previously, before changing to @MohammedAbuAq on May 11. It’s not possible to know the exact follower growth of this account, it seemed to have just under 20,000 followers at the end of April. It is likely that his change of identity to present himself as the brother of Shireen Abu Akleh gained him between 10,000 and 15,000 subscribers. What is the purpose of this account? Beyond his versatile attitude assuming that this account seeks to gain subscribers by regularly bartering its identity and by publishing on current topics, it is not possible to know its real motivations, and moreover to know who is the person behind this account. France 24 observers did not find any indication suggesting that this account would, for example, have been sold to several different users who would have thus changed its identity, as is sometimes done for accounts that acquire a critical number of subscribers. .Our team attempted to get in touch with the user behind the @MohammedAbuAq account to learn more about his intentions. We will publish his reactions if they reach us.

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