The House Intelligence Committee has asked Twitter to provide more information about a viral video of jeering high school students in Make America Great Again hats surrounding a Native American man, a committee aide told HuffPost.
The Twitter account @2020fight on Friday posted the minute-long video of Covington Catholic High School students and Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips, and was viewed over 2.5 million times in the days since. The tweet sparked a national controversy and heated partisan debate over the incident, which included President Donald Trump defending the students against allegations of racism.
But now there is additional scrutiny over how the video became so widely viewed after Twitter suspended the @2020fight account on Monday, following a CNN investigation into several suspicious aspects of the account. The @2020fight account followed over 37,000 users and averaged 210 posts and likes a day, which experts say are classic signs that an account may be automated or inauthentic. The account claimed to be a California school teacher named Talia, but the photo used matched a Brazilian blogger and model.
The House Intelligence Committee is now requesting more information about the @2020fight account. A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) ― who is vice chairman of the U.S Senate Select Committee On Intelligence ― also told HuffPost that the senator’s office had contacted Twitter regarding the video.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that the platform had suspended the account, but would not say whether the account was automated or what specific misleading information prompted it to be shut down. The spokesperson did not respond for a request for comment on whether Twitter will comply with the House Intelligence Committee’s request for information.
“Deliberate attempts to manipulate the public conversation on Twitter by using misleading account information is a violation of the Twitter Rules,” the spokesperson told HuffPost.
The @2020fight account’s video was edited down from much longer footage taken while the students were on a field trip in Washington, D.C. Several other videos showing different angles or moments during the incident have also since become public, including people yelling insults at the teenagers over their pro-Trump hats and the students doing “tomahawk chop” gestures at Phillips.
Although there is increased concern over disinformation campaigns following Russian interference in the 2016 election, experts warned that there is currently not enough information to attribute any specific intent behind the @2020fight account tweets. The account’s posts also appear to be written by a native English speaker, according to two experts who reviewed its archived tweets.
“You can look at an account and say it has a stolen profile picture and its behavior pattern looks very inauthentic, but you would need a lot of very clear signals before you could attribute it to a certain actor,” said Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
As recently as Jan. 13, the @2020fight account was listed on social media marketplace Shoutcart ― a service that allows individuals to pay for “shoutout” posts on highly followed social media accounts, according to Robert Matney, Director of Communications at cyber security firm New Knowledge. The @2020fight account, which had around 41,400 followers at the time, listed a price of $20 a tweet.
“The behavior pattern looks either like someone who has partly automated their account or like somebody who has run their account professionally and not done anything else,” Nimmo said. “Whether it’s part of a larger campaign, who is behind it, you simply can’t tell. But it’s certainly had impact.”