Fake Twitter Account Drives Media Coverage

Toronto Drug Squad Inspector, Donald Belanger, doesn’t use Twitter — yet an account has been impersonating him for years

Geoff Golberg
Aug 7 · 3 min read

Background Information

Earlier this week I was pointed towards some interesting tweets from @BelangerPolice:

Donald Belanger (Toronto’s Drug Squad Inspector) states that Ali Vakili — an Iranian resident in Canada with ties to the MEK — is laundering money via his company, Luna International.

Moreover, @BelangerPolice alleges that Mr. Vakili deposited $350K into the account of John Bolton’s daughter, Jennifer Sarah Bolton, in 2016. To support the claim, SWIFT details are provided:

The initial tweet from @BelangerPolice received strong engagement (51 Retweets, 94 Likes, 8 Replies). Additionally, the bio of @BelangerPolice closely resembles that of other Toronto Police affiliated accounts:

There’s only one problem: Inspector Donald Belanger doesn’t have a Twitter account

This was uncovered by Iranian-American journalist, Negar Mortazavi, who reached out to Toronto Police to inquire about the (odd) tweets:

Source tweet

Inauthentic Tweets Get Picked Up By Media

Despite confirmation from Toronto Police (August 5th, 2019) that Inspector Donald Belanger does not have a Twitter account, the @BelangerPolice account remained active until Twitter suspended the account earlier today (August 7th, 2019).

As a result, a number of outlets have picked up this “story” — a few of which I have included below:

US Journal coverage
Iran Front Page coverage
Anti-Corruption Digest coverage

This example perfectly illustrates the power of information operations — highlighting just how quickly a “story” can progress from inauthentic tweets to media coverage.

Tip Of The Iceberg

I was able to grab account data prior to Twitter suspending the inauthentic @BelangerPolice account.

Appears it isn’t the only account misrepresenting their affiliation with Toronto Police (there are several, in fact).

For instance, meet @HegedusTPS (Richard Hegedus is indeed a Toronto Police inspector; this account, however, doesn’t appear to be authentic):

Here’s a tweet from @HegedusTPS thanking the fake @BelangerPolice account for following theirs:

I wonder if Toronto Police are aware of Twitter’s negligence?

Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will take a deep dive into the data!

Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies. Geoff spends (far too much of) his time developing techniques and building tools to identify social media manipulation (of various flavors!)

Geoff Golberg

Written by

Founder, Social Forensics | Previously: Co-Founder, Elementus | Featured in BBC, CNN, BuzzFeed, and Quartz, among others | geoffgolberg.com

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