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Additional Citizen-Attacking Twitter Bots Discovered

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Five more fake accounts have appeared, with alleged ties to the Senators.

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This is an extended update to a previous story that we covered, which you can find here. The Ottawa Citizen also did an investigation into this situation last week, save for the recent updates.

After a group of false Twitter accounts were discovered earlier this month attempting to smear the Ottawa Citizen, it appears that five new accounts have appeared with similar intentions. Most of the previous accounts have since stopped tweeting or been suspended by Twitter, although it appears more have been activated to fill their place.

With controversy being sparked in early November as the Ottawa Citizen made an embarrassing video of Ottawa Senators players widespread, the Senators organization fought back, revoking charter flight privileges of Postmedia sports reporters, the parent company of the Citizen. A wave of Twitter bots followed in an effort to spread a message for the Citizen to remove the video, although due to the nature of the online attack, it couldn’t be directly traced to its source.

Earlier this week we saw a second wave of fake accounts emerge, with some key similarities and differences to round one. An example of these new accounts goes by the name ‘anna oburkesw’, created in the early hours of November 7th. The account contains two Tweets, with one of them being the following:

Similar to the 20+ accounts that began the online campaign against the Citizen, the photo can be traced back to elsewhere on the internet, although uses an image other than a young woman. It also uses the same language as its counterparts, in particular claiming the Citizen is ‘working with criminals’, such as in the next example.

A minor difference between the two groups of accounts is who they tag in their tweets (for example, adding ‘@OttawaCitizen’ sends a notification to the Ottawa Citizen’s Twitter account). The original group would tag the Citizen, Ottawa Sun, Eugene Melnyk, and occasionally Postmedia writer Don Brennan. This new group is the same, although instead of tagging Melnyk directly, they tag accounts such as ‘notEugene Melnyk’ and ‘Eugene V. Debts’ — false parody accounts of Melnyk. Some of them have been created in the last month, although most go back further, with two being active as early as 2013.

The only account that differs from the norm of this new group goes by the name ‘Peter MacKenzie’. This is the only account that has crossed over from both waves, sending tweets between November 10th and November 18th. Otherwise, the language and syntax is very similar to the rest, and it also began including the tags of the Melnyk parody accounts on the same date. This connection would lead us to believe that both sets of fake Twitter accounts are connected by the same source.

Unlike the first group of accounts, which were created mostly on differing dates in the last two months, all six of the recently active accounts were created within the same early hours of the morning on November 7th, between midnight and 2:00 A.M. They all contain a cropped out photo that can be found elsewhere online, all using the same language and syntax. Many of them also contain one or two non-related tweets, either being positive about the Senators’ team or something short and generic. These are all clear signs that these accounts are fake, created by an outsourced company that uses machines to quickly go through the Twitter sign-up process. They were then likely purchased and used with the intent to spread a campaign of misinformation against the Ottawa Citizen.

As mentioned earlier, the source of these accounts cannot be traced without crossing some ethical boundaries, and even finding an IP address would likely do nothing if the accounts were created by a third party business. Unless somebody decides to come forward, the person/people behind this campaign will remain anonymous.