@RichardGoldston Backstory Part 1

Rwanda, Kagame, and the Mind-Bending Propaganda Machine

I wrote this note to President Paul Kagame’s office on Jan 21, 2014.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Steve Terrill <steveterrill@gmail.com>

Subject: Twitter question

Date: January 21, 2014 at 8:54:45 AM EST

To: Stephanie Nyombayire <snyombaire@presidency.gov.rw>

Cc: makolo yolande <myolande@presidency.gov.rw>, Gilbert mucyo <gmucyo@ogs.gov.rw>

Hi Again,

Sorry to bother you with this funny bit. I’m wondering if you can tell me what you know about the @RichardGoldston twitter account. It seems to be connected to the GoR.

It is the only non-oficial account I can find that is followed by the @UrugwiroVillage account.

It also happens to be followed by about 40+ other GoR accounts.

The name is fake, apparently based on the name of former ICTR prosecutor, Richard Goldtsone (I can send you a screen shot of these followers if you like).

The photo is also fake. It is actually as US professor, Andrew Manis, who says he has never used twitter and never heard of Goldston. Manis is not happy about this.

The website used in the profile is also fake.

My question is, who is the person using this account that seems to be connected to the GoR and most often tweets in reply to tweets sent to the President. If you don’t know who this is, why is every branch of the Rwanda government, including the office of the pres, following him?

Please let me know if you have any information you can share on this.

Here’s who we’re talking about:

Here’s the real guy:

Cheers, Steve

Steve Terrill




***Then Yolande, then Pres. Kagame’s Director of Comms wrote me back with this:

Begin forwarded message:

From: makolo yolande <myolande@presidency.gov.rw>

Subject: Re: Twitter quesiton

Date: January 21, 2014 at 11:42:38 AM EST

To: Steve Terrill <steveterrill@gmail.com>, Stephanie Nyombayire <snyombaire@presidency.gov.rw>

Cc: Gilbert mucyo <gmucyo@ogs.gov.rw>

Hi Steve,

People assume all kinds of identities on Twitter. We all follow people whose true identities we can’t verify or about which we don’t care much about, sometimes simply because they follow us. I am stalked and abused by anonymous accounts every day and I sometimes follow some of them out of morbid curiosity. Among people who debate politics in the Great Lakes region, I would be very surprised if the majority do not use pseudonyms. For better or worse, Twitter is designed to encourage robust and fearless discourse and therefore has instituted no requirement to verify identity. And, Steve, you can hardly, with any modicum of seriousness, indict GoR —- or anyone else for that matter — for merely following somebody who doesn’t use their real name and/or photo, let alone hold us accountable for said account(s). That flies in the face of reality as it pertains to the Twitterverse.


***Then a week went by and I suddenly stumbled upon proof that it’s Hassan from PK’s office and that Kagame knew about it. Yolande was really messing with my head. Mind-bending. But I decided not to publish anything. I didn’t want to embarrass Kagame or distract from Kwibuka. Instead, I wrote this email, nearly two months before Goldston outed himself….

Begin forwarded message:

From: Steve Terrill <steveterrill@gmail.com>

Subject: Twitter information and the @RichardGoldston account

Date: January 28, 2014 at 11:50:49 PM EST

To: makolo yolande <myolande@presidency.gov.rw>

Cc: stephanie Nyombayire <snyombaire@presidency.gov.rw>, hntiyamira@presidency.gov.rw

Dear Yolande,

I may have some important information to share with you regarding Twitter. Even though we’re told that Twitter accounts are anonymous, there are several circumstances under which the source of a Twitter account can be obtained. If for example, someone in the US feels defamed or otherwise harassed, the authorities here can compel Twitter to reveal identifying information about the source of the offending tweets. It is also technically possible, without the cooperation of Twitter, to identify the source of anonymous tweets through other means.

I have confirmed that the tweets from the @RichardGoldston account are coming from inside the Office of the President. I have also identified the person who is responsible for these tweets. Of course they could be tweeting outside of their official capacity, but it may still be something worth addressing.

I’m sure more information could be found on this and other accounts. I’m letting you know that data like this can be obtained. I’m not looking to ambush you. My concern is that if this were to continue, especially if the most offensive material targeting reporters continued, others would eventually find out where it’s coming from and it may become a story.

I have no plans to make this public. I don’t feel that would serve anyone at this point.

One suggestion might be to implement a policy whereby staff members do not tweet any content that they would not tweet under their own name. A better idea might be to not post at all from accounts where illusory names and photos are used to mislead readers about the identity of the user. A last and most important suggestion would be to shut-down the @RichardGoldston account before it attracts more attention and becomes a problem.