The morning after French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced he will run for a second term, several parodic Twitter accounts have mysteriously been suspended.
@_nicolassarkozy , an account created in September 2010 and clearly labeled as a satirical Sarkozy impersonation, was suspended on Feburary 16th.
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.
In fact, the official response, leaked to Pastebin shows 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 were not related to Kaboul.fr, nor impersonating local politicians, 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.
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.
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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