A slightly forensic Twitter example – in which a key tweet is now unavailable

Image by Pavlofox on Pixabay:
https://pixabay.com/photos/macro-cogwheel-gear-engine-vintage-1452987/


Warning: this post contains antisemitic imagery / phrases. These are used to illustrate a discussion about whether someone replying positively to a tweet (alleged to contain an antisemitic image) was being intentionally or unwittingly antisemitic.

I was reluctant to publish this post on an unpleasant topic but it seems that the people involved have been being reported to various bodies, likely unfairly, and a great deal of on-Twitter commentary about the case is flat-out wrong.

My post focuses largely on the Twitter-technical side of things. If you spot any mistakes in my assumptions or thinking, or can see that I’ve missed an important piece of evidence that changes things, please let me know, thanks – @JoBrodie.


In early February 2019 I spotted that my “Remember Twitter screenshots can be faked” post was doing the rounds*, in response to a tweet sent by Wes Streeting MP who had commented on a screenshot.

The question, greatly contested on Twitter, is whether someone called Annie (whose June 2018 tweet had been included in the screenshot, saying “Good one Angela“) was replying favourably (perceived as ‘endorsing’) to a problematic tweet from someone called Angela, or if Wes had been sent and then shared a faked^ screenshot.

It is possible that more than one faked screenshot has been sent to people in order to give the impression that Annie or others were endorsing a problematic tweet, when she may have replied to an innocent one. It is also possible that Annie endorsed a problematic tweet in error, not spotting its problematic nature. And it is possible that Annie endorsed a problematic tweet. (‘Possible’ in a vaguely technical sense not taking into account how likely someone might be to respond in a particular way to a particular tweet).

From the information I’ve found I think Annie probably replied favourably to a problematic tweet, not necessarily intentionally ‘endorsing’ it though. She and many others maintain that it wasn’t intentional. It’s quite difficult to clearly distinguish among these three options, though other circumstantial evidence / balance of probabilities etc may come into play.

Table of contents

  1. Did Annie send a tweet with those words?
  2. Was her tweet sent in reply to a tweet from Angela?
  3. What was the thread in which the tweets appear?
  4. Is it possible to fake screenshots?
  5. Red herrings and faked screenshots
  6. Is it possible to be unaware that a trope is antisemitic?
  7. Doxxing claims
  8. How I heard about this case.

1. Did Annie send a tweet with those words?

Yes. Regardless of what tweet was being replied to Annie sent the response “Good one Angela” to someone named Angela at 11.09pm on 13 June 2018.

Original reply tweet

My avatar appears at the bottom of the screen on the left as I’m logged in as me.

2. Was her tweet sent in reply to a tweet from Angela?

Yes. Clicking in the bit saying “Tweet your reply” on the original tweet on Twitter brings up an enlarged reply box with the names of people to whom you’d be replying. As you’d be replying to Annie’s tweet her name appears first. Second in the list is Angela. This strongly indicates that Annie’s tweet had been sent in reply to Angela.

Clicking in the reply to bit uncovers the person or people to whom it was sent

There’s my avatar again on the bottom left – I’m logged in as me and clicked the reply button. If someone else was logged in they’d see their own picture.

Further confirmation can be found from Dabr (a simplified Twitter app) – here’s the same tweet showing clearly that it was sent in reply to Angela (Dabr includes all participants in a reply-tweet). It also indicates that Angela’s tweet was sent to someone called Sarah, potentially placing the tweets in a thread [see (3)].

Dabr shows to whom a tweet is sent and the app used to send it

Here’s the original tweet on Dabr (you’d need to log in to be able to see it though).

(i) A note on the timing of tweets – Dabr marks the tweets at 22:09, one hour behind the 11:09 PM timestamp on Twitter. Given that the tweet was sent in June I suspect this is just to do with the way both apps handle GMT / BST. It’s certainly the same tweet, as both URLs have the same tweet ID of 1007022280143237121.

Above a typical tweet URL and below the same tweet URL shown on Dabr

(ii) A note on ‘in reply to’ – the reply-thread makes it clear that it was a tweet sent in response, and not a spontaneous tweet to Angela. However in both cases the format of the tweet would be largely the same. What’s missing here is the phrase “in reply to” which appears on all replies on Twitter but not on spontaneous tweets sent to someone. The likely reason it is missing is probably becasuse Angela’s account is now protected.

3. What was the thread in which the tweets appear?

It appears to be the one below. Someone called Sarah sent a tweet about a band, Angela replied to it and Annie replied to that. As Angela’s account is locked and her tweets are no longer visible the current version of that Twitter thread now looks like this, giving the mistaken impression that Annie has replied directly to Sarah‘s tweet.

This may have been the likely sequence of tweets

  1. Sarah sent the tweet about the band
  2. Angela replied to it (with a now-missing tweet)
  3. Annie replied to Angela.

What we lack is screenshot proof of the three tweets in context.

This tweet shows the screenshot below (of the first and third tweet) with some more context.

Tweet thread showing C replying to A with Tweet B in the middle now missing

Twitter has since temporarily restricted Annie’s account meaning that her tweets are mostly hidden from search results, so now it would be even harder to re-run these searches, so I’m glad I did it in February.

4. Is it possible to fake screenshots?

Yes, very much so, it’s extremely easy. Here’s one to illustrate that point – however it does not seem that the tweeted screenshot sent by Wes Streeting was necessarily faked, if we look at other circumstantial evidence below.

Note that it is certainly technically possible that Wes was sent a doctored screenshot which he then shared in good faith, and that others (eg David, below) have also been sent faked screenshots of tweets which they’ve also shared. It does not seem particularly likely though.

David’s tweet (below), sent two days before the thread above, shows a different post from Angela with the same imagery.

David's tweet shows a similar post from Angela from two days earlier

After publishing this post I sent the link to someone that I’d previously discussed this with and he feels that it’s not the chain of tweets in the thread that’s at issue but the photoshopping of the image shared by Wes. Unfortunately I’m unable to investigate this myself (not a Photoshop expert) and have asked for further info – click on the tweet to see our discussion.

^ 5. Red herrings and faked screenshots

I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) that so many respondents satisfied themselves with a simplistic explanation saying that because it’s possible to find unadorned copies of the image on the web Wes (or whoever sent him the screenshot) must have tinkered with the image. That’s a bit silly.

All of these can be true

(a) a reasonably inoffensive image exists
(b) more offensive variations of this image exist
(c) a tweet was sent containing the inoffensive image, but later photoshopped for some mischief
(d) a tweet was sent already containing an offensive image, and a screenshot was taken of it
(e) someone interacting with a (d) tweet missed its offensive nature

Clearly a version of the ‘raw’ image (a) appears to have been amended (b) at some point as the original has neither the star nor the ring. I suppose it cannot be known for certain which version (c or d) was tweeted out by Angela as the original tweet is no longer available (either because her account is locked or because the tweet was deleted), but…

…an entirely separate screenshot posted by David (in (4)) provides fairly strong circumstantial evidence that Wes’ screenshot was also correct (d). Note though that it does not automatically follow that anyone endorsing such a tweet either spotted or understood the imagery (e).

6. Is it possible to be unaware that a trope is antisemitic?

Yep. Here’s me learning about one myself.

In Annie’s defence she is a very high-volume tweeter with over 225,000 tweets (this includes tweets and RTs) sent since May 2010 (about 70 tweets a day). I think of myself as pretty chatty on Twitter but have sent ‘only’ 116,000 since June 2008 (about 30 tweets a day). With her fast-pace Twitter exchanges it’s entirely believable that she might have missed the nuance of a piece of imagery when responding.

7. Doxxing claims

A separate discussion on Twitter was about whether Wes had published Annie’s personal information (doxxing) in sharing her real name and whether this breaks Twitter’s rules or those of the Labour Party. I think I’d describe what Wes had done as having ‘surfaced’ information that was publicly available elsewhere, but which hadn’t been explicitly shared on Twitter before. In Annie’s own Twitter account she uses her real initials – that doesn’t in itself give her name away but if you come across her name elsewhere it would be confirming evidence.

I don’t think Wes can reasonably be said to have doxxed her, given the ease with which her info can be found (as she has also used the same account name for other services you can find and confirm her info quite easily), however I’d agree that it was a bit ‘ungallant’ of him to have done so as it brought her a lot of unwanted and unpleasant attention (and to him too). It does not appear to break Twitter’s rules about sharing personal information (I don’t know about the Labour Party’s own rules) and I don’t believe it’s illegal, but it may well be ‘GDPR-problematic’.

Edit: 7 March – in fact if you type Annie’s account name into a search on Twitter it will show you a separate account of hers which also uses her real name, that account is also followed by someone who shares the same family name.

This blog post suggests that a police investigation is underway but I don’t know if that’s definitely the case. Lots of people apparently tweeted that they were reporting Wes for faked images and doxxing – but that in itself doesn’t prove that they did of course. Here, lots of people discuss the blog post on Twitter.

* 8. How I heard about this case.

I regularly run a Twitter search for this blog. Its most-shared post, at the time of writing, is “Hate seeing other people’s likes on Twitter? Some options to try” which looks at the options to avoid seeing “Your friend X liked Y’s tweet”. When people share my post they often include additional solutions that they’ve found out, with which I then update the post (I say as much in that post). Searching Twitter for howtodotechystuff.wordpress.com brings up any public tweet containing a link to this blog.

 

 

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