Concerned users worry as Twitter suspends several ‘OSINT’ news accounts

Users feared that censorship or targeted complaints by a foreign government had resulted in the suspension.

June 16, 2019 21:14
3 minute read.
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013.. (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)

A group of popular Twitter accounts that tweet about open-source intelligence (OSINT) and generally try to highlight developing and breaking news stories were suspended on Saturday night for unspecified reasons. They join a growing list of account suspensions – sometimes for political reasons, but also for more arbitrary reasons that have alarmed users of the popular social media platform.

Users feared that censorship or targeted complaints by a foreign government had resulted in the suspension. Steve Lookneer, a News Anchor at Agenda Free TV pointed out that an account called Beep Delete was suspended on Saturday night. An account named Intel Doge (@Inteldoge) wrote “welcome to Twitter, report on things that people don’t like, get mass reported, get banned.”

The concern began when an account named Elint News (@ELINTNews) was suspended. “This is a clear attack against the OSINT community,” wrote Intel Crab, another similar news gathering account. They began to tweet under the hashtag
“#UnsuspendElintNews.” Many of these accounts have between 10,000 and 50,000 followers and they tend to be helpful in examining information when news is breaking, such as during the Gulf oil tanker attack on June 13. Some of them also closely follow conflicts in Israel and India.

“If you tolerate this, then your intel account will be next,” noted an account called Numbers Stations, which tweets about military communications activity. Calibre Obscura, which tweets about arms, also expressed concern. “Happened to me twice. It’ll happen again and Twitter continues to do a terrible job of decision-making regarding account suspension. I was never told what tweets had broken any Twitter rules.” This account noted that OSINT accounts were vulnerable if someone mass complained about one of their tweets. BNL News said their partner @TheUpdaterTU was also suspended, but some speculated this was due to reporting AP articles.
Another account, @NatSecJeff wrote that Elint News received notification that some tweets were in violation of Indian law. Other accounts apparently received similar notes. There was speculation that the suspension might also be due to having multiple accounts.
In some cases, government pressure appears to have ended with accounts being suspended or targeted by online mobs. In February, an account in Indonesia that highlighted gay rights had its Instagram, Twitter and other social media accounts closed. According to The Independent, conservatives had targeted the account and the country’s Ministry of Communications labeled it “pornographic.”

Social media companies have been accused of complying with authoritarian states and their laws requesting that certain accounts be banned. In Pakistan, VOA reported in November that government critics received warnings from social media companies. Tweets considered blasphemous were even blocked at one point in 2014.

Hundreds of accounts have retweeted calls to restore the Elint News account. “Another unwarranted and unjustified suspension,” writes one user. It appears that many feel concerned that the unexplained suspension fits a pattern of these types of suspensions of normal accounts. Users have also shared their own experience of being told by Twitter that foreign governments want their tweets removed.

One user posted a note that said a foreign government had demanded tweets be removed.

“We may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.”

Since there is no transparent place to see which governments have made complaints against which tweets and which accounts were suspended, many users feel left in the dark.

Accounts that they follow and on which they rely on for information are suddenly suspended, and then sometimes restored, but without either users or followers knowing why. There is no regulation for oversight regarding archiving these suspensions, the reasons for them or how they transpired.

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