The row over Samira Ibrahim’s tweets (written up by my fellow blogger Marc) is raging. Mainstream US journalists are now beginning to cover the story, and Jeffery Goldberg has written that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum raised concerns with the White House about the offensive tweets earlier this week, in time for Secretary of State John Kerry and Michelle Obama to avoid the embarrassment of presenting Ibrahim with an award this Friday.
Samira Ibrahim’s current position is that her account was hacked to make these offensive tweets. According to reporter Nicole Gaouette on Twitter, the State Department believe her after examining “thousands of her Tweets.”
Examining thousands of someone’s old tweets is a good start because there can sometimes be giveaway signs that the tweets in question were made by someone else – inconsistencies in the data that stand out or seem odd. Alternatively, if there are no inconsistencies, then it’s at least circumstantial evidence that the tweets are probably genuine.
The easiest giveaway is the method used to tweet. This used to be shown after every Tweet. It would say something like “via Twitter for iPhone” or “via Seezmic” (a Twitter app) or “via web” for those people tweeting to the Twitter website itself. This information isn’t shown on the Twitter website any longer, nor on their native apps, but it’s still there, embedded in the metadata sent with each Tweet. You just need to access it and check.
There are three offending tweets still on the Twitter site:
- One celebrating the Burgas bombing
- One calling the Saudi royal family “dirtier than the Jews“
- and one positively quoting Hitler
A tweet celebrating the September 11 attacks was deleted shortly after it was sent.
Let’s look at the source of those tweets by pulling the data off the Twitter API:
This tweet on the Burgas bombing was sent from an Android phone using the Twitter for Android native app.
This Tweet on the relative dirtiness of Saudis and Jews was also sent from an Android phone using the Twitter for Android native app.
This tweet positively quoting Hitler about how evil the Jews are is, yup, also posted from the Twitter for Android app.
Now, it’s pretty unusual to use a hacked account on a phone. If someone had gone to the trouble of compromising Samira Ibrahim’s account and then using their access to tweet incriminating statements over a period of months, they’d be more likely to use a computer behind some sort of proxy. But the important question here is “What platform does Samira Ibrahim usually tweet from?”
If she has an iPhone then these three Android tweets would stand out. If she usually uses another Twitter app (Tweetdeck, say, or Echofon) or only tweets from her computer then these tweets would be suspicious.
But no. Samira Ibrahim’s tweets are all marked either “via Twitter for Android” or “via web”. Her most recent claim that her account had been hacked was posted via, yup, Twitter for Android!
Is this conclusive evidence that Samira Ibrahim’s account was never hacked and that she wrote the offensive tweets herself? Of course not. It could be coincidence that her attacker used the same apps as she did. But taken as a whole, it is extremely unlikely. The tweets were sent over a period of a few weeks, and in the meantime she was active on Twitter as usual. And, when she referenced ‘Jews’ in the Saudi tweet, another tweeter helpfully contacts to her to suggest she uses ‘Zionists’ or ‘Israelis’ in the future. Samira (or the supposed hacker) replies to this suggestion politely saying she would learn from it!
So there’s no killer single piece of evidence that Samira Ibrahim is lying, but there is no evidence at all that she’s telling the truth.
The State Department has only a few hours to sort this mess out.
UPDATE: per Hannah Allam, the State Department will defer presenting the award to Ibrahim and will ‘review’ the remarks.