Twitter Mishandling Disinformation Targeted at Virginia Republican Gubernatorial Candidate

Earlier this month the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights released a report (PDF) claiming that the claim that social media censure conservatives was unfounded and that “claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it”. Not surprisingly, the conservative media has disputed that report. There doesn’t have to be an anti-conservative animus from social media companies for conservatives voices to be harmed by social media companies, if they are handling things poorly across the political spectrum. A situation that unfolded within the last week with a conservative voice shows that at Twitter they are not living up to their claim to be a “powerful antidote to the intentional spread of false information”.

On Friday morning a Twitter account portrayed as being a current member of the Virginia Senate and gubernatorial candidate, Amanda Chase, posted a tweet saying:

Del. McGuire is right. We have a drug problem in Virginia, and legalizing marijuana will only lead to more marijuana overdoses and deaths. Democrats want more marijuana deaths. As your governor I would never allow marijuana to be legalized.

That tweet then went viral. At this point it has been quoted in nearly 20,000 other tweets according to Twitter’s stats. Among those quote tweeting it were an author with over 600,000 followers, a comedian, actor, host, political commentator with over 400,000 followers, and another comedian with over 100,000 followers.

A journalist from Mashable, Adam Rosenberg, had also run with it, though later deleted tweet and posted a reply claiming it was a “convincing fake”, though I would say it wasn’t an obvious fake (he blocked me for have noted that while quote tweeting his second tweet):

It also was covered by TMZ on Saturday.

There was a big problem with this, the account didn’t belong to State Senator Amanda Chase as portrayed. It is not clear who it belongs to, but in response to what appears to be a real account for the State Senator stating that the account was fake, the account responded:

What the hell, Senator? You told me to set this account up. That’s it. I quit. Not being your social media coordinator anymore. Good luck finding other people to run your campaign. – Kelly

That claim though doesn’t match with the continuing tweeting by that account and what the description of the fake account has been changed to since then:

Reps #Virginia’s 11th. 2021 Republican candidate for Governor. Follow on Parler. All tweets by Kelly (not Sen Chase) unless noted otherwise. Fan acct.

The account doesn’t appear to be a “fan acct” and the person continues to tweet as if they are the State Senator, including suggesting people email her office:

Share your story with me:

On Twitter’s About page on civic integrity they state:

We want everyone’s experience on Twitter to be safe, secure, and informative. And while our open and real-time environment is a powerful antidote to the intentional spread of false information, we’re also taking proactive steps to stop abuse, spam, and manipulation before they happen.

This situation runs directly contrary to that claim since Twitter has not acted as antidote here, but instead that it acts as a conduit for disinformation. Instead of being proactive in this situation, Twitter doesn’t appear to to have acted. By comparison TMZ posted an update to their article the same day it went up stating:

Looks like a parody account passing as State Senator Amanda Chase is responsible for the bizarre marijuana tweet, because the real McCoy’s calling it a fake.

An unverified account with the handle @AmandaChaseVA — which appears to be authentic, as it was set up in 2016 — writes, “You know you’re the front runner for Governor when your opponent starts trying to duplicate your social media accounts.  Make sure you’re following the @AmandaChaseVA not the counterfeit account @SenAmandaChase.”

She adds her team has reported the duplicate account, which is being investigated.

Also contrary to Twitter’s claim that they are a powerful antidote, people were responding to the tweet pointing out the account was fake with replies as if the State Senator had tweeted the overdose tweet.

Not that they would respond to me, but I tried to find a press contact for Twitter to get their side on this, but was unable to find one. I have filed a report through their website to report the impersonation, though it appears that has been done prior without action from Twitter so far. Though calling it a report is maybe an overstatement as the only information you can provide is impersonated person’s Twitter username and full name:

Social media isn’t the only problem here, as not only did TMZ run with this, but Forbes ran with it after it was clear that this tweet wasn’t from the real State Senator. On Sunday night they published a piece “Did Virginia Lawmaker Claim Marijuana Overdoses Are A Problem? Here Is The Response”.

The post notes the tweet from an account claiming to be a parody, though it says there are still questions:

At first waft, this seemed to be from Virginia State Senator Amanda Chase (R). After all, isn’t everyone who they say they are on social media? The profile of the account even has a picture of Chase.
Ah, but a closer look has raised questions of whether @SenAmandaChase really represented Chase. Another Twitter account @AmandaChaseVA subsequently claimed that @SenAmandaChase is a counterfeit account:
Holy mistaken identity, Batman. Is this a case of the pot or rather the “pot should not be legalized” calling the kettle not a kettle or not a pot, or something like that? Regardless, as of today, neither account has yet to have been verified by Twitter. The @SenAmandaChase account does currently have the word “parody” in its bio while the @AmandaChaseVA account does include the words “authorized by Chase for Governor.” So the chase does continue over what Chase really thinks about marijuana overdoses.

But it repeatedly embeds the fake tweet, which includes the State Senator’s name and face, something that seems likely to help with the intended disinformation here.

The writer of that story, Bruce Y. Lee, is apparently a professor City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health:

I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am a Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health, Executive Director of PHICOR (@PHICORteam), Professor By Courtesy at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, and founder and CEO of Symsilico.

I have contacted Forbes asking why they felt it was appropriate to cover this in a way that seems to assist the disinformation campaign, and will update the post if they respond (not that I expect them to respond to me).