Last week, media reports revealed, that in April the identities of dozens of followers in the Twitter accounts of Estonian politicians and opinion leaders are in question.
Genius.ee wrote about it on April 12. They presented several hypotheses as an objective for setting up the accounts. The portal suspects these are preparations for attacking the accounts of well-known people or for some long-term influencing operation. Delfi Forte suggested in its story’s headline that this could be an attack from a Russian Troll factory.
Using previous bad headings, Propastop tried to get clarification of the situation. We put out some questions and we checked a couple hypothesis.
Why are these accounts causing suspicion?
According to Propastop, such features can identify robot accounts, but new and inactive twitter users who have created an account accidentally and who do not actively use Twitter can appear similar. Not all these traits give rise to name this incident, with total confidence that it is the „creation of a bot army“
Are there real people behind the names?
With new accounts, it is striking that many names are associated with real people through a simple Google search, mostly young people or children. For example, we found several young players or student profiles related to the names of the new accounts on the websites of the Estonian Football Association and some schools. Here are some examples of the accounts created in April:
Johanna Tomberg, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Mathiias Oja, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Mathai Mõttus, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Ralf Jorro, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Rasmus Virkebau, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Mattias Mänd, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
Sven Gerberg, Information available on the website of the Estonian Football association
For the first time, in relation to this theme, Propastop’s editorial staff had some doubts, because we were able to link to one of the newly created accounts; to a real young person who confirmed that he actually became a Twitter account user in April and the questionable account with the markings of a fake account actually belonged to him.
Does this also apply to the other accounts with real names? We have contacted the account holders and we are happy to inform you of the results.
To suppress an identity theft hypothesis, each reader can if desired contribute. Check if there is an account in your Twitter account with your child’s name. If so, ask if he created it himself. If not let us know. Please remember that the Twitter environment has set the user’s minimum age limit at 13 years old.
As an aside, we further note that during the search it was surprising that the personal data, photographs and images of many Estonian children are freely discoverable on the web and if they wish are easily associated with their school, residence or hobby club. This does not seem very secure and is at the same time a good tool for the creators of fake accounts.
Why do accounts have similar followers?
A source of doubt is the fact that many of the newly started accounts are largely covering a known watch list. Repeatedly the Foreign Ministry, Genka, Mihkel Raud, Marina Kaljurand, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Marko Mihkelson, Taavet Hinrikus, Sten Tamkivi and many other Estonian opinion leaders.
Is it not questionable that a group of young people became interested in politics on mass?
Rather there is nothing strange in this pattern. It is precisely this list that is recommended by Twitter for every new entrant from Estonia. To prove this, we created a new account and we saw who Twitter is suggesting to start tracking. The photo shows what Twitter has been offering. All those same individuals that the April created accounts were following.
Conclusion: there is no confirmation of any serious problems
Propastop’s analysis shows that at least there is not much evidence at the moment about a creation of massive hostile robot accounts, we have not found any evidence for the large scale plotting of a Russian troll army
Rather, real young people who are not actively using Twitter are behind the new accounts. The reasons for the increase in their activity should be analyzed separately.
Similar tracking lists can be explained by the Twitter algorithm, which seeks to feed new users popular followed sites to be monitored.
The growing popularity of Twitter in Estonia is definitely being contributed to by the various TV shows that you can get through tweets. For example, on April 4, ETV’s „Cleanse“ program was the motive for several new accounts being created.
Pictures: screenshots from Twitter, open source Rob McDonald/ Flicr/ CC