Filed to: WTF
On February 5, 2021, data scientist @conspirator0 tweeted a thread about a cluster of 18 Twitter accounts that have been repurposed — and verified — as official accounts of the state government of Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Most old tweets from the original handles have been deleted and replies and mentions sent to the original handles are still online. The followers on each account appear to be mostly people who followed the previous handles and likely don’t realize they are now following an account associated with a Mexican state government.
The new accounts include state offices such as BCS Social Communication and Public Relations, Fund for the Protection of Marine Resources of Baja California Sur, Information Request System of the State of Baja California Sur, State Institute of Adult Education in Baja California Sur, Fund for the Protection of Marine Resources of Baja California Sur and Baja California Sur General Secretariat of Government. They are tweeting normal content you’d expect state government accounts to tweet about, like local projects and weather reports.
The government of Baja California Sur may be unaware that these accounts used to belong to other people. It’s possible they contract out services for social media management. The new accounts have blue checks so we assume Twitter verified that they are legitimate government-operated accounts.
The first activity on 15 of the accounts was August 27, 2020 and 3 other accounts began tweeting in September 2020, however all of the accounts were created between 2008–2016.
Using the old bios and previous replies and mentions to the original handles that are still on Twitter, we were able to track some of the old accounts back their original owners and contacted them to ask if they knew how their Twitter accounts became verified Mexican state government offices.
The owners of at least two of the old handles are deceased, more on them later, but we were able to contact 2 people who were unaware that this happened and are now unable to login to their old Twitter accounts.
Amy Oguntala — @Amyoguntala
Amy’s old Twitter account (ID 142177657) is now the account for the Government Supply of the State of Baja California Sur — new handle @prod121. The Government Supply of the State of Baja California Sur is not following anyone on Twitter, but many of what appear to be Amy’s old followers are still following the new account and probably don’t realize they are now following a Mexican state government account. The new account contains a link to https://proveeduria.bcs.gob.mx in the bio.
If you search Twitter for Amy’s original handle @Amyoguntala, replies and mentions of Amy from several years ago are still discoverable — except now they’re replying to @prod121 since the handle was changed. Amy’s old tweets have all been deleted.
One of the old tweets that mentioned Amy’s original handle also included a link to her about.me profile which we were able to use to contact her.
Amy Oguntala, SVP, Regional Director at Wealth Enhancement Group in Atlanta, has not used Twitter for several years and is now unable to log in to her account.
Joseph M. Schwartz — @JosephMSchwart1
Joseph M. Schwartz was easy to find. His old Twitter bio used to read:
“political science prof at Temple U; democratic socialist/DSA activist; trouble maker, writer/social critic; born and bred in the Bronx…the Bronx to you…”
Joseph is a professor of Political Science at Temple University, the Vice-Chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He has written for Jacobin, authored two books and many academic papers. His account was archived in 2017.
Joseph’s old Twitter account (ID 521478129) is now the Institute for the Inclusion of People with Disabilities Baja California Sur — new handle @ISIPD12. The repurposed account contains a link to http://isipd.bcs.gob.mx in its bio, however that website links to the main account for the government of Baja California Sur— @GobBCS — and not the new handle, @ISIPD12.
I contacted Joseph via email and asked him if he knew what happened to his old Twitter account. Like Amy Oguntala, Joseph hasn’t used Twitter in a long time and can’t log in to his old account now.
The new account @ISIPD12 is still following three DSA accounts and neglected to undo a retweet of DSA Fort Worth which is still on the timeline of this Mexican state government account.
All of Joseph’s tweets have been deleted. His presence on the platform has been erased and replaced with an account associated with the Mexican state government of Baja California Sur. Only replies and mentions of his old Twitter handle are still online.
Deborah Cotton — @DebCotton
Deborah Cotton was a journalist and cultural advocate in New Orleans. According to nola.com she wrote about “brass bands, second-lines, Mardi Gras Indian practices and other New Orleans mainstays under the name ‘Big Red Cotton,’ blogging, tweeting and filming nearly every Sunday second-line parade.”
“She was the first journalist to treat the second-line community as a beat,” said Kevin Allman, editor of Gambit, which published her weekly blogs starting in 2009. — nola.com
Cotton was one of 19 people wounded during the Mother’s Day second-line mass shooting in New Orleans 2013. She was severely wounded and required multiple surgeries and a lengthy hospital stay.
“A journalist known for videotaping many of the city’s second lines and for speaking out against gun violence, Cotton was shot in the abdomen. She endured multiple surgeries; doctors removed one of her kidneys and other vital organs. Eighteen others also suffered gunshot wounds.” — Mark Hertsgaard for The Daily Beast
The Twitter account for Deb Cotton’s blog “Big Red Cotton” is still online and The Internet Archive hosts 790 of her videos documenting second-line parades as well as her YouTube channel, but her personal account on Twitter has been erased and replaced by the General Controller of Baja California Sur. Only one tweet Deb authored under her original handle DebCotton remains online, an apparent oversight by whomever hijacked her account and deleted her tweets. Since the handle was changed and later verified, it now appears as if the General Controller of Baja California Sur is replying in the 2013 tweet below.
Mentions and replies of Deb’s old handle are still online but her personal Twitter account is gone.
Lewis Aron, Ph.D. — @lewaron
Dr. Lewis Aron died on February 28, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. He was a psychoanalyst, teacher, author and the Director of the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis.
Dr. Aron’s old Twitter account (ID 349157648) is now the Secretary of Finance of Baja California Sur — new handle @secfin12. The link in the bio http://secfin.bcs.gob.mx/fnz/ goes to a website designed with the same branding as the Institute for the Inclusion of People with Disabilities Baja California Sur mentioned above.
All of Dr. Aron’s tweets have been deleted and any accounts he may have been following have been unfollowed but a lot of the followers of this account seem like accounts that would have followed Dr. Aron and probably don’t realize they are now following an account associated with a state government in Mexico. Replies and mentions of Dr. Aron’s original account are still online.
There are at least 10 other accounts that appear to be associated with the BCS government, 5 of which are dormant and 5 are active but none of those accounts are verified and as far as we can tell, none were previously owned by other people like the 18 now verified accounts.
There is a cottage industry selling aged or PVA (phone verified) social media accounts. Older accounts are more valuable because they look more trustworthy. It’s possible a third party compromised the old, dormant accounts and sold them to whoever manages social media for the BCS government, but without definitive receipts like an invoice, it’s impossible to know what happened in this case.
The following graph shows the 18 verified BCS government accounts linked to their previous account handles by their account ID number. At least 12 of the previous handles used to belong to real people.
We tried to contact 8 other people who we were able to connect with the old accounts but have not heard back from them yet. If they respond I’ll update this blog. We have no idea how these old accounts ended up part of a network of verified Mexican government accounts but this is definitely one of the strangest cases we’ve seen involving unusual account activity on Twitter.
Update March 11, 2020:
All but one of the 18 accounts have lost their verification badges.