In the backdrop of violent protests occurring across the United States on the murder of George Floyd, Twitter said it is “actively investigating” the #dcblackout hashtag after online accounts pushed false and misleading tweets during a night of unrest in Washington over the death in police custody of George Floyd.
Twitter said it has “suspended hundreds of spammy accounts” under its platform manipulation policy.
A spokesman for the company also said, “We’re taking action proactively on any coordinated attempts to disrupt the public conversation around this issue.”
#dcblackout hashtag: revealed to be misinformation
Many of the accounts tweeted about a supposed communication blackout that occurred between 1:00 and 6:00 am.
However, Alaina Gertz, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said, “This appears to be misinformation. We have no confirmation of a cellphone blackout.”
An AFP journalist covering the protests also said she had no issues connecting to the wireless network at 1:30 am (2130 GMT Sunday).
Other tweets shared an image of a major fire next to the Washington Monument, but a reverse image search revealed that the picture was a scene from the American television program “Designated Survivor” which was set in Washington.
Folks. DC is fine. I'm Tweeting this from downtown DC right now. The city isn't on fire. The Washington Monument is fine. Half of the pics folks are passing around are screenshots from Designated Survivor or one of the Modern Warfare games. /1
— Dante The K9 (@DantePD) June 1, 2020
Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in artificial intelligence and policy, said he calculated upwards of 30,000 retweets of false or misleading content shared under the hashtag.
The tweets were subsequently shared as screenshots on Facebook and Instagram.
Amid the backdrop of nationwide protests of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Engler said people wanting to spread misinformation know how to make emotionally charged content that aligns well with preexisting outrage so it is ripe for sharing.
He said he observed inauthentic accounts retweeting content with the hashtag #dcblackout, but they had low follower counts.
“The bots are not actually there to spread the disinformation,” he explained. “They’re used to make the material seem true and seem trustworthy. Then you have actual people with actual networks disseminating this.”
Twitter suspends accounts tweeting under #dcblackout hashtag
Twitter Inc. suspended hundreds of accounts associated with spreading a false claim about a communications failure during protests in Washington.
The action was part of an active investigation into the #dcblackout hashtag, according to a Twitter representative on Monday, who cited the company’s policy prohibiting spam and platform manipulation.
It is the latest example of Twitter cracking down on content violations since protests started last week after the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, while in police custody. The accounts affected by this crackdown have ranged from the spam-like accounts removed Monday to President Donald Trump’s.
Who was George Floyd and why was he killed?
George Floyd, a black man in the United States, recently died due to police brutality at the hands of a white police officer named Derek Chauvin.
Prosecutors wrote that Floyd complied with orders from police officers to leave his vehicle, but did not “voluntarily” get in their squad car. “While standing outside the car, Mr. Floyd began saying and repeating that he could not breathe,” they wrote.
Floyd was soon brought to the ground. One officer held Floyd’s back, another his legs, as Chauvin placed his left on Floyd’s neck. Floyd repeated, “I can’t breathe,” “Mama,” and “please,” as the minutes went by.
The medical examiner noted Mr Floyd had underlying heart conditions and the combination of these, “potential intoxicants in his system” and being restrained by the officers “likely contributed to his death”.
The report says Mr Chauvin had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds – almost three minutes of which was after Mr Floyd became non-responsive.
Nearly two minutes before he removed his knee the other officers checked Mr Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and were unable to find one. He was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center in an ambulance and pronounced dead around an hour later.
Unrest over George Floyd murder brings life in cities to a halt
Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, said her city was sharply limiting access to its central business district after violent protests. She reflected the exasperation of many officials and ordinary residents over the turn from peaceful protest to explosive violence.
She told CNN she was “hurt and angry at those who decided to try to hijack this moment and use it as an opportunity to wreak havoc, to loot and to destroy. You should be ashamed of yourselves. What you have done is to dishonor yourself, your family and our city.”
The shocking videotaped death Monday of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis ignited a nationwide wave of outrage over law enforcement’s repeated use of lethal force against unarmed African Americans.
From Seattle to New York, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding tougher murder charges and more arrests over the death of Floyd, who stopped breathing after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder; three other officers with him have been fired but for now face no charges.
National Guard brought in to combat unrest over George Floyd murder
Governor Tim Walz mobilized all of Minnesota’s National Guard troops — the state guard’s biggest mobilization ever — to help restore order. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to clear streets of curfew violators Saturday night in Minneapolis, and National Guard troops protected the state capitol in St. Paul.
Walz extended a curfew for a third night Sunday and praised police and guardsmen for holding down violence, saying, “They did so in a professional manner. They did so without a single loss of life and minimal property damage.”
“Congratulations to our National Guard for the great job they did immediately upon arriving in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last night,” Trump said in a tweet adding that they “should be used in other States before it is too late!” In another tweet he praised the National Guard for playing “no games.”
The National Guard has been released in Minneapolis to do the job that the Democrat Mayor couldn’t do. Should have been used 2 days ago & there would not have been damage & Police Headquarters would not have been taken over & ruined. Great job by the National Guard. No games!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
The Department of Defense said that around 5,000 National Guard troops had been mobilized in 15 states as well as the capital Washington with another 2,000 on standby.
The widespread resort to uniformed National Guards units is rare, and it evoked disturbing memories of the rioting in US cities in 1967 and 1968 in a turbulent time of protest over racial and economic disparities.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk