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Help us find Twitter impersonators

Update: Twitter suspended the Batohi impersonation account on 13 January 2020.

Shamila Batohi, head of the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), isn’t on Twitter. But someone pretending to be her has been since August 2019.

The account, @ShamilaBatohi, is followed by journalists, a Dutch diplomat, a government department and prominent activists. Former national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) Vusi Pikoli even responded to one of its tweets.

The account’s bio doesn’t contain sloppy errors. And, until recently, it followed only three relevant accounts – the police, the justice department and the NPA. It has since added popular local singer Babes Wodumo to the mix.

The tweet Pikoli replied to quoted a number that appears in the NDPP’s 2018/19 annual report. Seems legit, right?

Twitter account is fake

But there are clues that the account might not be what it seems. 

Go back through the account’s “likes” and you’ll see an unusual number of likes of tweets that mention the account @CakesNandi or tweets from that account

The @ShamilaBatohi account has also liked and retweeted tweets about the Guptas – unlikely terrain for Batohi to venture into, as the NPA might prosecute members of the family heavily implicated in Zuma-era state corruption.

NPA head of communications Bulelwa Makeke told Africa Check that Batohi is not on Twitter. “I reported the account to Twitter but they have done nothing about it,” she said. 

“I am aware of a few other people who, after I confirmed to them that this was a fake account, had said they would also report the account.”

Don’t be fooled

Earlier this year, South Africa’s office of the chief justice warned that two of its judges were being impersonated on Twitter. Both accounts – pretending to be of Raymond Zondo and Sulet Potterill – are no longer accessible.

Not sure if the Twitter account of a prominent South African is legit? Here are a few tips.

1. Does the account have a blue tick?

A blue tick on an account means Twitter has verified that the person is who they say they are. For example, @GwedeMantashe1, set up in July 2013, has a blue tick confirming it’s the account of South Africa’s minister of mineral resources and energy. @Gwede_Mantashe, set up in July 2012, was not legitimate. The imposter account has since been suspended. 

But be careful - some imposters do try to cut and paste the famous blue tick onto their profile, but here’s what Twitter says about it.

2. Inspect the timeline

Scroll through the user’s tweets to check if they are consistent with who they claim to be. Do their tweets reflect real events in their lives? Do they retweet uncharacteristically?

3. Check when they joined Twitter

Twitter accounts show when the user joined the network. Treat any accounts that are started during a controversy with suspicion. 

You can find more tips for spotting a fake Twitter account here.

Do you know of a prominent imposter on Twitter? Email [email protected] with the account handle and tell us why you think it might be a con. We’ll add new impersonator accounts to this story as we find them.

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