Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 11.03.2018
Without warning, Twitter has suspended the account of one of the most effective journalists who is covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian information warriors and ‘bots’ under their control may have acted, en masse, to manipulate Twitter’s procedures and algorithms regarding complaints about ‘abusive’ posts. Whatever the so-far-unknown reason, the effect of Twitter’s precipitate action was to silence an honest reporter of Putin’s War in eastern Ukraine. The reporter in question goes by the handle “English Lugansk” on Twitter. Using a pseudonym is prudent, given the circumstances of Russia’s invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine. Using a real name could expose people living under Russian administration to considerable danger.
What English Lugansk does is translate witness reports from Donbas, using the @loogunda account name. People who live in Luhansk and Donetsk regions are directly harmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and they write about it on social media. They usually write in the Russian language, but sometimes in Ukrainian. These people are witnesses to or victims of Russian aggression. They are quite naturally angry, frightened and upset, and they sometimes use bad language directed at the foreign invaders and local terrorists who are attacking them. English Lugansk translates these reports, verbatim, into the English language. That makes him a reporter. He gives voice in English to what people are already saying in Russian or Ukrainian. Acting as an honest translator in no way makes English Lugansk a purveyor of hate speech.
There has been an outpouring of support for English Lugansk. Rebecca Harms, a Green Member of the European Parliament and a strong supporter of Ukraine, wrote to Twitter asking: “…and the reasons for blocking @loogunda are?” Olexander Scherba, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Austria, wrote to Twitter: “…probably by a mistake, you have blocked @loogunda - a competent and responsible #Ukraine-dedicated account in Eng. Please reconsider!” Euan MacDonald, editor at Kyiv Post, wrote: “@loogunda suspended by @Twitter. An invaluable source of information from Russian-occupied Donbas, I can only assume he has been subjected to a Russian troll attack - please rectify this immediately @TwitterSupport.” Julian Röpcke, a German journalist and political editor at BILD who has reported from Donbas together with English Lugansk wrote: “Dear Twitter, please unblock my colleague @loogunda, who is doing an amazing work on occupied Donbas and has been traveling with me to the region for journalistic purposes! He has no idea why he was blocked so please clarify ASAP!” Ukrainian journalist Kateryna Kruk wrote: “Dear @Twitter waiting for you to unblock @loogunda. Blocking that account was a pure mistake!” Dmytro Zolotukhin, who is deputy minister of information policy of Ukraine, wrote: “Twitter profile @loogunda was suspended, possibly because of the bot-attack. Dear @twitter, could you please provide me with official email contacts for submitting an official request on behalf of the @MIP_UA? [Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine]”
English Lugansk wrote from his backup Twitter account that he has no idea why Twitter suspended his @loogunda account: “We suspended your account but we won’t tell you why,” is how he put it. He speculates that he may have upset Russian information warriors, the so-called Olgino trolls, by highlighting in English a particular piece of Russian-language hate propaganda against Ukraine. The article in question was published by РИА Новости | Россия Сегодня (RIA Novosti | Russia Today – @rianru on Twitter) on March 9. English Lugansk quoted a Russian-language tweet from @rianru which linked to the article, and he wrote in English: “RU state-funded @rianru anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The headline reads, ‘I don’t get the goat’s language - a bus driver in the Donbas refused to speak Ukrainian’.”
The hit piece by Russia Today goes like this: the driver of a bus on the Mariupol-Sviatohirsk route refused to speak Ukrainian with the passengers on the bus and called it "a goat" language; he said that the only normal language used in the bus should be Russian; one of the passengers turned out to be a Security Services of Ukraine officer who asked the bus driver to come to the SBU office in Mariupol. That was the story. Whether it is true or not, the Russian propaganda outlet chose to highlight it because it fits with Russian information warfare dictum that Ukraine is a country wracked by linguistic tension, and that there is a sharp distinction and conflict between Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers in Ukraine. Russian language propaganda against Ukraine uses hate speech regularly, whereas English language propaganda tries to come off as more reasoned and reasonable. The Russian information warriors do not like it when English Lugansk lets English speakers know about the venom and hatred for Ukraine that comes out of the Olgino troll factory written in Russian.
While waiting for Twitter to remove the suspension of his account or to provide any rationale for the suspension, English Lugansk wrote: “This could be as mass report by the (pro-)Russian trolls as a problem of Twitter algorithms - these days many bot accounts have been cleaned, one of the clumsy algorithms could detect me (as well as other human users) as bots.” Not only English Lugansk, but other accounts that are pro-Ukraine have been suppressed by the same manipulation of Twitter’s clumsy algorithms.
Twitter must remove the suspension of English Lugansk’s account. There is no excuse for Twitter to attack the fundamental human right of freedom of the press. It is an outrage that Twitter silences an honest reporter like English Lugansk while it gives a ‘verified’ badge to the RIA Novosti @rianru hate propaganda outlet. Twitter should not be giving official approval to Russian information warfare against Ukraine while giving official sanction to Ukrainian journalism.
JUST IN: At six thirty in the evening in Ukraine on March 11, English Luhansk was back online. He announced to his followers: "After 2 days of suspension, I am back. Thanks to everyone for your support, your help was inestimable." @TwitterSupport gave a boilerplate response about why the suspension occurred: "Twitter has automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk. Unfortunately, it looks like your account got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake." No apology.