How to Spot Hoaxers Impersonating Conservative Figures on Social Media

James O'Keefe of Project Veritas
MANDEL NGAN /Getty

Twitter regularly refuses to verify conservative figures on its platform leaving them vulnerable to impersonation and the actual spread of misinformation. Here’s how to spot hoaxers pretending to be conservative figures like James O’Keefe on Twitter.

Social media website Twitter regularly fails to verify conservative figures on its platform. While many do not care to be verified, it does pose one major issue — they can be easily impersonated. Twitter’s verification badge has in many cases become a “badge of approval,” but was originally intended to verify the identities of public figures and organizations.

The verification badge lets Twitter users know that the account they’re viewing does in fact belong to the real person it represents. That verification is one of the reasons why a recent scam that saw the verified profiles of public figures such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates hacked worked so well, as users saw the verified badge beside the profiles and truly believed that rich celebrities were giving away cryptocurrency to followers. Of course, these accounts had been hacked and a 17-year-old has been charged over the scam.

But this highlights why Twitter’s failure to verify conservative figures can be irresponsible. One popular figure that remains unverified if James O’Keefe of Project Veritas. The investigative journalist still remains unverified on Twitter despite working in an extremely public capacity. Strangely, the official Project Veritas account is verified but O’Keefe is not.

O’Keefe’s real Twitter handle is @JamesOKeefeIII but recently fake accounts impersonating O’Keefe have popped up using handles such as “@RealOKeefeIII.” One such account can be seen below:

The real James O’Keefe recently tweeted about another fake account going by “@realJamesOKeefe” that Twitter has yet to suspend:

The ultimate goal of most hoaxers impersonating a conservative figure like James O’Keefe is to fool normal users into retweeting misinformation. Breitbart Tech is frequently asked how users verify that the account they’re viewing is legitimate if it is unverified, so here are several suggestions:

1: Learn the Conservative Figure’s Real “Hande”

As long as Twitter fails to verify certain conservative public figures, users will have to take it upon themselves to independently verify the real handle (the @username that represents their account) of popular figures. This means that when you view a tweet from an unverified conservative figure, take some time to search for their official social media profiles outside of Twitter. Search can be a challenge on the platform itself, as the company has been accused of running search blacklists making it difficult to find the real account of an individual. Twitter’s poor search functionality is why looking at profiles on other sites or on an individuals homepage is particularly valuable.

Once you have verified the user’s official Twitter handle, be sure to follow that account and double-check that their username is correct when you see tweets from that figure on your timeline. Hoaxers will either try to subtly change the spelling of the real account’s handle, or choose a handle that seems reasonable, such as “@RealJamesOKeefe” to fool people not paying attention.

2: Check the Account’s Follower Count

Most fake profiles impersonating conservative figures will not spend the money needed to purchase thousands of fake followers in order to convincingly fool Twitter users.

Prominent conservative figures on Twitter regularly have upwards of 10,000 followers, or more than 900,000 in the case of James O’Keefe. If an unverified account appears with only a few hundred to a few thousand followers and very few tweets, it is likely an imposter account.

3: Check Who Follows the Account

Most conservative public figures follow each other on social media, so an easy way to verify that an account is legitimate is to check if other conservative figures you recognize are following that account.

If a verified conservative figure’s account is following an unverified account, such as Turning Point USA Founder and President Charlie Kirk (@CharlieKirk11) following James O’Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) then it is far more likely that the account is legitimate. An imposter account may have followers you follow, likely the people fooled by the hoaxer who in turn shared their tweets to your timeline, but will not be followed by a wide range of prominent individuals, verified or not.

These tips do not absolutely verify that an account is legitimate, but they are important tips to help Twitter users better verify that the account they’re viewing represents who it claims to.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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