A retweet by President Donald Trump, naming the alleged whistle-blower whose complaint triggered the investigation that resulted in his impeachment, was restored to Twitter late Saturday.
The post, originally from the handle @Surfermom77, was retweeted by Trump to his 68 million followers about midnight Friday and by Saturday morning was no longer visible in the president’s Twitter feed. CNN first reported late Saturday that the temporary removal followed a Twitter glitch that affected certain accounts, not deliberate action to delete the tweet by Trump or someone with access to his account.
“Due to an outage with one of our systems, tweets on account profiles were visible to some, but not others,” the social media site posted on its @TwitterSupport account.
The tweet identifies an individual it says is the whistle-blower: the person who first raised alarm about the president’s conduct in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
A mystery also emerged around the @Surfermom77 Twitter handle that Trump retweeted, which by Sunday night was wiped from the social media site. Trump’s Friday retweet was being directed to a new handle, @4Shereene4. By Monday, the user was going as @LovelyGigi33.
@Surfermom77 had described herself as living in California and a “100% Trump supporter” -- as did the handles @4Shereene4 and @LovelyGigi33.
The account, which posted pro-Trump and anti-Democratic material, was temporarily suspended by Twitter on Monday morning. The ban was swiftly lifted and a Twitter spokeswoman described it as having occurred “in error.”
The account is “not currently in violation of the Twitter rules,” the spokeswoman said.
Confirming the identify of the account holder is next to impossible, but the @Surfermom77 account has previously engaged in strange activity. Since its inception in 2013, the user’s profession changed from “historian-documentary writer” to “educator” to “image model,” according to older versions of the account captured by the nonprofit Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The name of the account holder also changed, from “Sophia” to “Evonne” and back to “Sophia.”
Rotating account names is a technique used “to spread partisan content at high volume” while avoiding detection, according to Filippo Menczer, a professor of computer science and informatics at Indiana University, whose team is researching the tactic on social media. While the tweet outing the alleged identity of the whistle-blower was likely authored by a human, rather a bot, the account itself could be “one of possibly many inauthentic accounts controlled by a single actor, to post anonymously -- hiding the identity of that actor,” Menczer said.
Surfermom77 also appeared more than 1,000 times in Twitter’s own data set detailing accounts the company has removed and attributed to state-backed operations. The handle appeared in conversations -- including being retweeted -- with accounts that Twitter removed because they were deemed to be run by Russia, its Internet Research Agency, Iran or Venezuela.
In late 2016 the account was linked to Gab, another social media platform popular among the extreme right wing.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on Trump’s Twitter activity.
Trump has posted about the whistle-blower dozens of times in the past several months and also suggested in comments to reporters that he would like to unmask or face the individual.
“Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser,” Trump tweeted in September.
On Thursday Trump also retweeted a link to a Dec. 3 article from the conservative Washington Examiner newspaper that carried the name of the alleged whistle-blower.
Attorney Andrew Bakaj, who represents the whistle-blower, lamented in a tweet on Saturday that U.S. lawmakers, who in the past have championed the privacy rights of whistle-blowers, including Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, have shown “deafening” silence recently.
“This is a defining moment where legacies will either be solidified or destroyed,” Bakaj said on Twitter.
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