Twitter has suspended dozens of fake accounts claiming to be run by Black supporters of President Donald Trump. One account claimed to be run by a Black police officer and garnered over 24,000 followers in six days before it disappeared on Sunday. Many of the accounts used photos of Black men from news reports or other sources, with one account even having the words "black man photo" in place of an actual profile photo.
There were over two dozens accounts, many of them using the same language in their tweets, with over 265,000 retweets, Clemson University social media researcher Darren Linvill told the Washington Post Tuesday. Linvill started tracking the accounts earlier this month and all but one of them have been suspended. In their brief lifetimes, some of the accounts had tens of thousands of followers. Linvill called the practice "asymmetrical warfare," noting that creating the accounts takes little time, but they can "get a lot of traction without a whole lot of work."
Some researchers have called creating fake accounts "digital blackface." The accounts often claim to be run by Black men who are police officers, veterans, steelworkers, businessmen, and Christians. One account was called @CopJrCliff, who claimed to be a Black police officer in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state in the 2020 election. The account tweeted a picture of Trump with the words "VOTE REPUBLICAN." The account lasted just six days and only published eight tweets, with one tweet getting over 75,000 likes. The @CopJrCliff account used a profile photo that showed a Portland, Oregon police officer, Jakhary Jackson.
Linvill found evidence that some of the accounts were created outside the U.S. One had traces of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet in online records, while another account previously promoted an escort service in Turkey. However, it is difficult to track where the accounts came from or if they were created as part of a coordinated effort. But they were all very similar, reaching thousands of Twitter users despite only being active for a few days.
Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy told the Post Twitter took down some of the accounts Linvill pointed out for breaking its rules on platform manipulation and spam. "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," Kennedy said.
Mandiant Threat Intelligence, which tracks online disinformation, also identified some of the fake accounts for its clients last month. They noted that some accounts misspelled Trump's name and included links to sites selling campaign t-shirts. “They are impersonating Black Trump supporters, Black authoritative figures such as veterans and police officers, and various prominent individuals in order to gain rapid traction and virality," Lee Foster, Mandiat senior manager of information operation analysis, told the Post. The firm noted that some of the accounts' links to custom Trump shirts showed that they also had a "financial motivation."