Twitter suspends nine accounts linked to profile used by Eoghan Harris

Sunday Independent drops writer and former senator for anonymous account activity

Eoghan Harris was dropped by the Sunday Independent.  File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Eoghan Harris was dropped by the Sunday Independent. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Twitter has suspended a total of nine accounts it believes are linked to an anonymous account used by prominent former Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris.

The well-known writer and former senator was dropped by the Sunday Independent as a columnist this week after management learned he was contributing to an account behind a fake name.

The announcement was made by the newspaper’s editor Alan English on Thursday night. He said the content posted from the account, much of which was directed at Sinn Féin and nationalists, went beyond fair and reasonable comment.

“We regard Eoghan Harris’s involvement with this account as a betrayal of trust and as such his contract has been terminated.”

The account, which used the handle @barbarapym2, after the English novelist, has since been permanently suspended by Twitter, along with eight other Twitter accounts the company believes to be linked to it.

A Twitter spokeswoman confirmed the move on Friday, saying that “platform manipulation is strictly prohibited under the Twitter Rules”.

“The account you referenced was permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam,” the company told The Irish Times.

“We also suspended eight accounts linked to the account referenced for violating our policy on platform manipulation and spam.

“Using technology and human review in concert, we proactively monitor Twitter to identify attempts at platform manipulation and mitigate them – we will continue this approach to platform manipulation and any other attempts to undermine the integrity of our service.”

Harris (79) confirmed he contributed to the Barbara Pym account, which he said was operated by a “team of five or six people”. He declined to name these people, saying he did not want to “get them shot.”

However, he denied association any other anonymous accounts. One of the suspended accounts, belongs to a woman aged in her 40s who was a student of his, Harris said.

He said this woman is appealing the suspension of her account.

“How would I have the energy to run nine accounts?” asked Harris.

Since February 2020, the Barbara Pym account has been posting strident and sometimes abusive anti-Sinn Féin content. It was also regularly used to praise the work of Harris and his colleagues at the newspaper while railing against other journalists’ work.

One of the account’s targets was Irish Examiner political correspondent Aoife Grace Moore.

“This account sent me sexualised messages about whether Mary Lou McDonald ‘turned me on’, the size of my arse and called me a terrorist from the month I started at the Examiner. Since then, I’ve had to go to counselling and the guards,” Moore tweeted on Thursday after the Sunday Independent announced it had dropped Harris.

‘Sniping’

Last October, the Pym account tweeted “Moore thinks she is sniping safely from behind Derry hedges, but she’s actually sniping from an ROI hedge in the Examiner and her SF backside is sticking up in the air.”

In June, Moore tweeted that Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had just taken her seat as the first female leader of the opposition. “So that’s what turns you on?” the Pym account replied.

Harris denied these tweets were offensive on Friday afternoon and said there is a long history of writers using pseudonyms. He said he has asked Twitter to go into the Pym account’s private messages to confirm none of them were offensive.

Moore, who is from Derry, said she was not in a position to comment.

Another account linked by Twitter to the Pym account previously accused Moore of being a “Provo” writing for a “Provo rag.”

In a further detailed statement issued on Friday afternoon, Harris said he is one of a rotating panel of people who “curate” the Pym account, “who oppose Sinn Fein’s campaign to bully Northern Protestants into an Irish Republic.

“Given Sinn Fein’s sinister links, the other contributors are loathe to use their names.”

He said he had no issue admitting his use of the account to editorial colleagues.

“That’s because I am proud of the tweets which are mostly addressed to Loyalists, the most recent of them urging restraint on protests against the Protocol and assuring working class unionists that most of us in the Republic have no malign agenda against their heritage and political freedoms.”

Harris strongly denied Moore received ”sexualised” private messages from the Pym account. Moore has not said the messages were private.

“Furthermore, I also categorically deny that Aoife Moore was ever called a “terrorist” on Barbara J Pym, as she claims, and I call on her to show a screen grab of any tweet supporting her charge.”

He said the two public tweets referenced by Moore were “clearly political and could equally be applied to a man.”

He said “the women on the Pym site” did not regard these tweets as offensive or gendered in any way.

He said Moore receives “scores” of critical messages and that they are not all from the Pym account.

“Far from being a misogynist, I am one of the few journalists to publicly support IRA rape victim Mairia Cahill down the years, including in her recent controversy with [former Guardian editor] Alan Rusbridger, ” he added.

In an interview on RTÉ’s Drivetime programme with Sarah McInerney on Friday evening, Harris said he ran the account with five others, including “trade unionists, historians and businesspeople”.

‘Sinister links’

He refused to reveal the other users’ names “given Sinn Féin’s sinister links” but told McInerney they consisted of the “older generation” and that there were no other politicians or journalists involved.

He said there was a long history of journalists using hidden identities communicate with their readers. “There’s nothing problematic about anonymity in my view.”

When it was put to Harris that in 2008, he had criticised anonymous internet users as “little w*****s masturbating in a room”, he responded: “That was then. That was before Sinn Féin culled that huge vote in the election.”

He said he had admitted being involved in the account to his editors. “That’s because I am proud of the tweets which are mostly addressed to loyalists, the most recent of them urging restraint on protests against the protocol and assuring working class unionists that most of us in the Republic have no malign agenda against their heritage and political freedoms.”

Harris insisted that he had no involvement with any other profiles and that he would “have to be superman” to operation so many accounts.

The accounts were suspended because Twitter has come under “major pressure. And I suspect the pressure is coming from Sinn Féin,” he claimed.

Harris said he was not sorry he became involved in the account. “I would have had to find an outlet to deal with Northern Ireland one way or another. It is my life.”

He also denied he was behind tweets from the Pym account which effusively praised his own writing.