On the 19th of August, Twitter banned 936 accounts for “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong.” Of these 936 was the account of Luka Ivezic, a Croatian-born student at King’s College London.
According to Twitter, the suspended accounts were part of a state-backed social media propaganda campaign in China that targeted the Hong Kong protests, and comprised of “the most active portions of this campaign.” The accounts were detected and tracked by IP addresses originating in Mainland China. This baffled Luka, who told the BBC that he had never been to China.
His account, @TechPoliticist, was flagged because of four “suspicious” tweets about various tech topics – such as Artificial Intelligence and bitcoin – linking to western media sources. To the BBC, Luka said: “It is a bit ironic that something like this would happen to me,” considering that he had just completed his thesis on “Disinformation, and how artificial intelligence can empower the tools that China and Russia have to misinform us.”
The BBC has speculated that in an attempt to boost the number of followers he had on Twitter, Luka might have unknowingly given account access to a network that may have been compromised later – causing his account to be “hacked.” Since he had been inactive on Twitter for quite some time, he did not realise this at the time.
Although Twitter initially held that it had correctly identified Luka’s account as affiliated with the Chinese effort to sway public opinion and paint Hong Kong protesters as criminals, it has since changed its stance and agreed that his account was hacked.
According to Luka, his main mistake was not fighting the suspension when it occurred. He brushed it aside, uncaring since his account had been non-operational for a while. He didn’t think there was anything else amiss, because his account was suspended before the upsurge in the Hong Kong protests. Due to his lack of reaction, the email detailing his suspension was deleted from his inbox. If his account had been permanently deleted instead of suspended, he would consequently have no paper trail to refute Twitter’s allegations.
To Roar, Luka said: “I am dissatisfied at Twitter’s quality control, since all things considered, the list they put my account in didn’t actually fit their description and thus by not checking their work, they could have damaged my reputation.” Luckily for him, the prompt media response minimised the impact of the situation and prevented any significant reputational damage being done.
When asked what advice he would give fellow students, Luka said: “Make sure your digital social accounts are well secured, remember that despite the General Data Protection Regulation’s ‘Right to be Forgotten,’ it’s likely that everything you’ve ever posted is permanent and you won’t know how it would affect you in the future.
“Don’t just secure your social media account passwords. If you can, try to save the posts even if you want to delete them – or your account – because you never know if someone will harm you in the future through Photoshopped posts or groundless accusations.
“If I didn’t have the full history of posts, and if they didn’t put up a list of suspicious tweets (of which mine were mundane), I could have been branded a Chinese agent for the rest of my life with little to no recourse left to me to deal with Twitter other than a ridiculous lawsuit.”