Congressional Democrats want information about the Twitter account that pushed the original video of the Covington Catholic High School student in a standoff with a Native American elder, according to a report published Tuesday.
HuffPost reported that the Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee had requested information from Twitter about the account they suspended Monday that spread the viral video over the weekend.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence, confirmed to VICE News Wednesday that he was seeking details from the social media site on behalf of the Committee.
The footage shows a group of high school students, many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, chanting and mocking a Native American activist near the Lincoln Memorial during a day of rallies in Washington on Friday.
The video led to death threats for Nick Sandmann, the teen at the center of the controversy. Sandmann was criticized online for his apparently racist behavior toward Nathan Phillips.
However, additional footage of the lead-up to the incident showed the students being heckled and abused by another small protest group and revealed it was Phillips who first approached the Covington boys, in an effort to quell the tension between the other two groups.
One of the accounts responsible for the online firestorm was @2020fight, which purportedly belongs to a “teacher & advocate” from California named Talia.
The account tweeted a one-minute video of the incident with the caption: “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March.”
It racked up 2.5 million views and 14,400 retweets.
CNN reported Monday that @2020fight boasted a number of traits typically linked to bot or a troll account, including the use of a fake profile picture and a high volume of tweets — 130 per day — covering partisan topics.
The Huffington Post also reported that the account was advertising itself on Shoutcart, a service that facilitates paid promotional tweets for $20 per post.
Twitter confirmed to VICE News that the account had been suspended. An emailed statement said: “Deliberate attempts to manipulate the public conversation on Twitter by using misleading account information is a violation of Twitter rules.”
However, unlike other bot accounts, such as the infamous @Ten_GOP, it appears the user has deleted the @2020fight account completely.
Now the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are looking for more information, amid suggestions this could be another example of Russian interference to stoke divisions in the U.S.
But experts say there's no evidence yet that the account was inauthentic.
“It certainly didn’t look like a bot: the posts which have been archived online were clearly authored and appeared to be original, not automated. It didn’t look like a foreign account, because the use of language was idiomatic, without the sort of mistakes we’ve seen in the past,” Ben Nimmo, an expert on Russian disinformation at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told VICE News.
So was Twitter too hasty in removing the account?
“It’s a tough call,” Nimmo said. “We know that the account had a misleading profile picture. What we don’t know is what other misleading information it presented, because only Twitter can see the detailed background information, such as where it logs on from.”
Cover image: A screen grab of the video showing the standoff in Washington that was posted online.