(CORRECTION) @UniteBlue Did Not Receive a Stolen Twitter Account

Mar 4 – CORRECTION: In attempting to prove his ownership of the @ConnectTheLeft Twitter account, Simon @SimonSayeth published the incorrect email from Twitter. Below is a bumped, amended slideshow presenting his newly-recovered, correct proof of ownership for @ConnectTheLeft. Simon is therefore not a Twitter thief, he is merely a cybersquatter. Further analysis below:

As I corresponded with Simon’s former co-volunteers, it became clear that Eileen and Simon had competing visions for ConnectTheLeft. Simon is to be praised for his ambition to unite and ignite the power of many thousands of volunteers. But let’s be clear what has happened to everyone who was still following the @ConnectTheLeft account and suddenly found themselves enlisted in Unite Blue:

As recently as Wednesday of last week, people were discovering they were following UniteBlue simply because they followed ConnecttheLeft before the name change. This is Twitter’s failure in many ways, because by allowing for flexible screen name changes without notifying followers, they’ve diluted the identity stream without any notice.

What could UniteBlue have done? Well, they could have started with a new account instead of changing one that existed as a different entity and affinity group. They could have followed all of the ConnecttheLeft followers. That’s one possibility, and one that would at least have given people the option to follow or not follow with full knowledge.

Indeed, it is impossible to understand progressive politics without knowing how affinity groups work. One thing that activists don’t like is to see their affinity group get suddenly swallowed by a different vision. Imagine you went to an Occupy encampment and it  turned into a Keystone XL protest. Worse, complaints of Unite Blue partisanship abound. Imagine the “union thugs” of right wing imagination were all tweeting at you:

The other morning when I got on Twitter, I saw many disturbing tweets that suggested folks go through their followers and drop anyone not following UB to make room for UB members. Sadly, many of the tweeps who were unfollowed have thousands and thousands of tweets while many UB members I’ve seen have less than a thousand tweets. UB is clearly about quantity, not quality. For many, loyalty to UB has become more important than loyalty to liberal causes or values or even longtime followers. Many tweets contain gushing endorsements of UB, proclaiming that Unite Blue has changed their lives or that UB is the most important thing that has happened to them. Other tweets brag about UB ratings, whatever that means. Although these tweets irritate me, I don’t want to unfollow longtime tweeps. I just want them to get a grip.

[…] Zach Green or @140elect stole my playground. He turned my TL into something unrecognizable–a nonstop stream of praise for Unite Blue, UB hashtags and knee jerk reactions to fear of TGDN.   I’ll unite behind the Democratic Party, fellow liberals, and most certainly behind Barack Obama, but I don’t see where Zach Green shares my loyalties.  I don’t want to be part of the Green Gang on twitter, and  I want them to get off my playground. I miss my “old” buddies, and I want them back, not the zombiefied UB followers I see now. (Emphasis mine)

Grassroots revulsion with Unite Blue began when people were unexpectedly enlisted in what amounts to a sophisticated “Team Followback” scheme. Quite simply, real progressives prefer to build communities rather than show off their follower counts. And if Unite Blue is a community, then the appearance of dishonest and deceptive marketing has made other progressive Twitter communities wary of joining theirs to it. This story was always going to be about the clumsy way Unite Blue chose to introduce itself — and the annoying way its adherents exclude anyone who doesn’t toe the line.

Simon @SimonSayeth had a problem with Eileen @EileenLeft. His Google document makes clear that he blames her for the outcome. My interviews with volunteers indicate the disagreement was mutual, however, and that his leadership style is at least as much to blame for the decline of ConnectTheLeft as Eileen’s understandable inactivity was.

Squatting handles and domains is not against the law. In fact, someone has created a new Twitter account to squat the @ConnectTheLeft handle and keep Eileen or anyone else from ever reviving it to compete with Unite Blue. In the rarefied world that Zach and Adam Green inhabit, I’m sure this is considered good business. Most progressive Twitter users will see it as something else.

March 1 – UPDATE: Simon C. has forwarded new information that will take time to analyze, so everything below should be considered in that light. 

March 1 – ORIGINAL POST: This week, a storm of controversy has roiled around Unite Blue, the progressive social media organizing startup operated by Zach Green and his father Adam. I have found no evidence that Unite Blue is anything other than what it claims to be, so we can lay rumors of right wing infiltration to rest. However, the Twitter account associated with Unite Blue, @UniteBlue, was formerly @ConnectTheLeft — and Unite Blue did not have proper ownership of the account when it was changed.

Briefly, Simon C. @SimonSayeth claims he created the Twitter handle that became @UniteBlue. Eileen @EileenLeft claims that she created @ConnectTheLeft, that Simon only had access to the account as her caretaker, and that he did not have her permission to hand over control of the account to Unite Blue or to change the handle.

So who is lying, Simon or Eileen? The answer is actually quite simple to obtain. Below is a slideshow which conclusively proves Simon’s evidence of ownership is a forgery:

The first issue I had with Simon’s Google document was his screencap of the Twitter account’s creation date. The creation date of the account is a recoverable item, thanks to Twitter’s API, and it does not match his exhibit. Eileen, who owns connecttheleft.org,  created the @ConnectTheLeft Twitter handle on 23 August 2011. The second issue is that Simon spends so much of his document proving his legal ownership of connecttheleft.com, which is not even a fact in dispute. Running over 2,000 words, his document is padded with too many self-congratulating irrelevancies like that.

In short: either Simon is lying, or Twitter is lying. What are the chances of the latter?

Eileen has a son fighting cancer. She works two jobs to support her family. Activism has been low on her priority list for some time, as Simon should know perfectly well. In his Google document, however, Simon never mentions this fact. Instead, he paints a false picture of his handover of an account that did not belong to him:

I noted I did not want to include the Twitter handle in the sale, as I knew Eileen would later seek to call it her own and cause them trouble, but I did give this away to them in hopes they’d have better luck working to bring her into the fold than I did. They did not.

The Twitter account belonged to Eileen, however inactive she may or may not have been when Simon gave it to Unite Blue. Furthermore, her vision of activism didn’t include seeing what she had built get swallowed by another organization while she was busy saving her son’s life.

Regardless of whether they knew the truth or not, Unite Blue took over a Twitter account they did not own, then used the public lists that had been created by #ConnectTheLeft volunteers to build their own brand. Simon speaks highly of Unite Blue in his Google document, and expresses solidarity with the organization using the plural “we” many times. At his website 140elect.com, Zach Green repeats Simon’s claim of ownership:

When I decided to build UniteBlue, I contacted @EileenLeft to see if we could work together on the ConnectTheLeft project. After months of no response, I moved ahead. Shortly before launching, @SayethSimon agreed to help with our project. He gave us the account that he registered and owned outright. It had not been used for a full year. We again asked Eileen if we could use that name, and she said no. At that point we adopted the UniteBlue name instead. The account had under 500 followers at that time, and we posted we were changing the name at that time. (Emphasis mine)

Zach evidently contacted Eileen, but did he even ask whether she owned the @ConnectTheLeft account? Or did he simply accept Simon’s claim on face value because of his forgery? I have reached out to Zach by email and will update if he answers. While I can conclusively say that Unite Blue is not a subversive right wing influence, Simon’s evidence of ownership is clearly fake.

Like it or not, Unite Blue is using a stolen account.

At heart, the problem which allowed this theft is that the vast majority of Twitter users have no power to protect their identity or their brands from hostile action. This problem is particularly acute when accounts are shared, as Twitter lacks any means for the rights holder to control or limit access privileges for other users.

Ultimately, this is about a theft committed by a cybersquatting volunteer against a genuine grassroots organizer — a theft which then benefited two established, well-funded organizers. Zach and Adam Green should consider the optics of this situation and make the right decision, because at the very least they owe Eileen an apology, and the bad actor in this story must be held to account.

More broadly, progressives must learn to be more careful in their social media organizing. Bad actors, fakes, frauds, and opportunists like Simon abound on the internet; some of them will always be with us, trying to subvert or steal our activism. We must all work for better practices in vetting account holders and volunteers so that this incident does not repeat itself. And we must pressure the social media providers for solutions, or else engineer them.

Related:

Four Reasons I Broke Up with Twitter Or How Zach Green Stole My Playground

This #UniteBlue scuffle is Twitter’s fault and they could fix it if they felt like it.

#UniteBlue: One Hashtag To Rule Them All?

@UniteBlue: Developing Revolution or Business Development Scheme?

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