Did the French Govt. Ask Twitter to Suspend Satirical Accounts?

Powerful People Targeted Botnets: the End of @ Political Satire?

@_nicolassarkozy was managed by Kaboul.fr, a French political and satirical online webzine, that holds many other satirical Twitter accounts, like @_Carla_Bruni, Sarkozy’s wife, @_Jacques_Chirac, the former french president, and @FrancoisHolland, Sarkozy’s main competitor in the ongoing presidential race.

According to Kaboul.fr, which, after complaining, received an answer from Twitter, @_nicolassarkozy was “suspended after being reported.” Twitter also told Kabul.fr that to be granted such priviledge, the suspension had to be made by Sarkozy, or someone acting on his authority.

In fact, the official response, leaked to Pastebinshows Twitter describing the account as “engag(ing) in non-parody impersonation.” The chance that the parodic nature of the account could be missed is slight.

More troubling, three other accounts, all clearly opposing Sarkozy’s political views, were suspended at the same time: @mafranceforte, @fortefrance and @SarkozyCaSuffit. Those accounts where not related to Kaboul.fr, nor impersonating local politician, but straight-ahead, and recently-created, politically-oriented Twitter accounts.

Although the news is making a huge buzz in France, it isn’t the first time a such censorship has occurred in the country. Other Twitter accounts that were problematic to the French president’s personal brand management were massively suspended last summer, those belonging to French gossip website Mixbeat.

A total 29 accounts managed by Mixbeat where suspended during July 2011. The only three of theirs that weren’t suspended were created from a different I.P. address, according to Mixbeat’s Carl de Canada.

The massive suspension of Mixbeat’s accounts occured a few days after its webmaster tweeted some rumors about Carla Bruni, president Sarkozy’s wife, concerning her pregnancy.

All other accounts opened since by Carl de Canada have ended up being suspended, and despite a public dispute with Twitter, and many posts publised on Mixbeat, the website is still unable to be on Twitter in any way, fighting some mysterious forces and an uncooperative Twitter customer service.

The Gallic Infowar @Twitter

Information war on Twitter is a common practice, especialy since the beginning of the Arab Spring, in January 2011. Twitter has proven to be a solid propaganda platform used by many authoritarian regimes.

Twitter botnets, consisting of a network of centrally-controled twitter accounts, are a common practice. By mass-reporting a targeted account as spam, a group can easily get a Twitter account suspended.

But according to Mixbeat, this is not what happened to its accounts. Carl de Canada claims some special messenger from Sarkozy asked Twitter to suspend them.

Still, the Twitter botnet “targeted spam report” technique could explain the three other suspicious account suspensions which occured last thursday. Such tools are quite common, and are actualy far from being the most sophisticated infowar tool made to cheat and deceive social networks. The U.S. army accidentaly posted in June 2010 a call for proposals on its website for a very sophisticated software called “persona management.” A Twitter botnet is far from being as complex.

Five months ago, a large Twitter botnet of several thoursand accounts was mapped by an eReputation management expert team, spotted as they were massively posting and retweeting content supporting Sarkozy. More recently, French State Secretary Nadine Morano was accused of buying false followers on Twitter just like Newt Gingrich.

France is one of, if not the leader in online warfare, when it comes to digital weaponry designed to be used against civilian using the Internet. A market recently estimated by Wikileaks to around $US10 billion. France sells Internet surveillance technology to numerous African and Middle East countries, including Syria , Iran and Qaddafi’s Libya. Both Twitter and Facebook are battlefields for dictatorships willing to extend political oppression to the online world, and, since the Tunisian Revolution, the market is skyrocketing.

As Sarkozy officially opened the race for the presidency in France last week, it looks like this will be France’s first presidential election in which the Internet could play a major role. But it also looks like it will not be, in any way, what happend during Obama’s first run for the presidency. In France, the Internet will most probably be used in a very dirty way.

As we say in the startup world : eat your own dogfood

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