Twitter suspended a suspicious account that spread a misleading video of a white Catholic high school student wearing a Make America Great Again hat and a Native American man standing face-to-face on the Lincoln Memorial last week — and a tech expert told CNN Business that a network of anonymous accounts worked to make the video go viral.
The account claimed to belong to a California schoolteacher, but after the outlet found that the profile photo was of a Brazil-based blogger, it asked Twitter about it — and then the social media giant suspended the account Monday afternoon.
More from CNN Business:
The account, with the username @2020fight, was set up in December 2016 and appeared to be the tweets of a woman named Talia living in California. "Teacher & Advocate. Fighting for 2020," its Twitter bio read. Since the beginning of this year, the account had tweeted on average 130 times a day and had more than 40,000 followers.
Late on Friday, the account posted a minute-long video showing the now-iconic confrontation between a Native American elder and the high school students, with the caption, "This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March."
That version of the video was viewed at least 2.5 million times and was retweeted at least 14,400 times, according to a cached version of the tweet seen by CNN Business.
Then new video emerged that told a far different story
Journalists pounced on the clip, claiming that student Nick Sandmann got in the Native American man's face and that Sandmann's classmates from Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School surrounded Nathan Phillips — who was beating on a drum and chanting — and were mocking and trying to intimidate him when apparently all he wanted to do was head up the Memorial steps.
But additional video emerged — which @2020fight did not include, CNN Business said — showing that, in fact, it was Phillips who approached Sandmann and his classmates, and he had plenty of room to head up the steps prior to the face-to-face standoff.
The Covington students had attended the March for Life, which coincided with the Indigenous Peoples March, and Sandmann said in a detailed statement blasting "outright lies" that beforehand he and his classmates "noticed four African American protestors" who made "direct derogatory insults at our school group. The protestors said hateful things. They called us 'racists,' 'bigots,' 'white crackers,' 'faggots,' and 'incest kids.' They also taunted an African American student from my school by telling him that we would 'harvest his organs.' I have no idea what that insult means, but it was startling to hear." Additional video bears out Sandman's latter claim.
The suspicious Twitter account with the misleading video was the main viral driver
Rob McDonagh — an assistant editor at Storyful, which vets online content — told CNN Business he was monitoring Twitter on Saturday morning and that the @2020fight video was the main version of the incident social media users were sharing.
Multiple newsrooms, including some national American outlets, reached out to @2020fight asking about the video, the outlet added, noting that's one indicator of how viral the clip had become.
McDonagh added to CNN Business that he believed the account was suspicious due to its "high follower count, highly polarized and yet inconsistent political messaging, the unusually high rate of tweets, and the use of someone else's image in the profile photo."
Molly McKew — an information warfare researcher who shared the @2020fight video tweet herself Saturday — told the outlet she soon realized a network of anonymous accounts were working to make the video go viral.
"This is the new landscape: where bad actors monitor us and appropriate content that fits their needs," McKew added to CNN Business. "They know how to get it where they need to go so it amplifies naturally. And at this point, we are all conditioned to react and engage or deny in specific ways. And we all did."
CNN Business said it was unable to reach the person, or people, behind the suspicious account and that it blocked the outlet's reporter soon after CNN Business told Twitter about the account.
What's the latest?
President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that Sandmann and his classmates "have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be."
"They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good - maybe even to bring people together," Trump added. "It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!"
Trump also tweeted Monday night that Sandmann & Co. "were treated unfairly" and "smeared by media" with "false" stories.
To that end, a number of journalists and other notable figures reversed their initial positions and apologized for jumping the gun on the false narrative — while others simply deleted their incorrect posts castigating the students over the incident.
Two Covington students spoke out against the media Monday via a YouTube video, saying they've been the victims of doxxing and death threats and that "some of these threats include that we should all be locked in the school and it should be burned to the ground, the school being bombed, school shooting threats."
CBS News correspondent David Begnaud noted in a video segment that the incident did not take place as originally reported: