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Why did Twitter suspend a Reuters journalist’s account in Egypt?

On Wednesday December 13, Reuters journalist Amina Ismail’s Twitter account was suspended. Her account has since been reinstated, but why was it suspended in the first place?

Ismail’s was the latest in a series of suspensions of the accounts of Egyptian activists and journalists in recent days and weeks.

A quick search of the name “Amina Ismail” on Twitter on Dec 13, 2017 (the day she was suspended) shows the most recent article she wrote: “Sources: Egyptian authorities arrest 3 supporters of Ahmed Shafiq.” Shortly after this article was published, Ismail was trolled online (see below), with threats of violence and rape, and accusations she was behind the forced disappearance of two people.

Screenshot from Twitter search “Amina Ismail”

The accounts: @11zK2Hd19Wv0tpy, @3ryhT27shdCj2nn, @G9WUORtN6sVE9FN, @1Lzcag0bfk33ZDF, under the names of يناير ثورتنا، لساها ثورة يناير، شباب 6 ابريل، كابو 6 ابريل are impersonating groups and movements related to the January 25 revolution, like the April 6 Youth Movement, and using slogans from the uprising.

By scraping tweets from these accounts, (with the help of @tomt and Littlefork), one can see that all of them were created within an hour of each other in July 2017. They all share the same “user_lang” (profile language): Russian. They all follow similar accounts, also in Russian.

Although the reason provided by Twitter for Ismail’s suspension was “account impersonation,” there seems to be no evidence of a credible account that she could be suspected of impersonating. It seems likely, then, that this is not the case.

It is not possible to know with any certainty why Ismail’s account was suspended by Twitter, but we have seen false flagging tactics  —  where dozens, or even hundreds of bots flag content or accounts for removal by certain platforms  —  used before by troll armies targeting journalists and activists in the region.

Ismail’s case raises concerns of online hate speech and violent threats against women in journalism. While her account was suspended, those threatening her remain active.

This case is also an example of what happens when terms like “fake news” are used by companies and governments to restrict the work of journalists and news agencies.

The author is still looking into what happened in Ismail’s case.

This article was first published by Medium, which is currently blocked in Egypt. It is republished by Mada Masr with kind permission of the author.

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Wafaa Heikal