Ex-Employee Says Twitter Ignored His Reports on Fake Russian Accounts

By Sameer Rao Nov 06, 2017

Leslie Miley was the only Black management-level employee at Twitter in 2015 when he and his security team colleagues uncovered a startling number of fake accounts with Russian and Ukranian internet protocol (IP) addresses. He revealed to Bloomberg on Friday (November 3)—two days after the social media giant testified before congressional intelligence committees about Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election—that his concerns about those fake accounts fell on deaf ears.

Miley explained to Bloomberg that he explored these accounts after University of California, Berkeley researchers contacted him about possibly assisting their work on fake Twitter accounts. The request piqued his curiosity, and Miley and two colleagues ran an analysis of all Twitter users. Miley, who could not provide a total results tally to Bloomberg, says that they found most Russia- and Ukraine-based accounts to be either inactive or fake. He initially took the results to his manager, who he says dismissed them.

"When I brought the information to my boss, the response was ‘stay in your lane. That’s not your role,’" he told Bloomberg.

The manager instead pointed him to Twitter’s growth team, which is responsible for increasing the number of users and company revenue. "Anything we would do that would slow down signups, delete accounts or remove accounts had to go through the growth team," Miley says. "They were more concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts.”

Twitter attempted to fire Miley in a late-2015 round of staff cuts. He tells Bloomberg that he preempted his layoff by telling the company his plans to resign over his issues with the lack of staff diversity. He says that he refused a severance package so that he could freely discuss his experiences with the company.

"For many years, Twitter has fought a high volume of spam and spam accounts originating from Russia and Ukraine,” a Twitter spokesperson told Bloomberg. “The numbers of suspensions and other enforcement actions on such accounts number in the millions per week.” The spokesperson’s statement did not affirm or deny Miley’s allegations.

Miley’s disclosures came two days after Twitter and other companies descended on Capitol Hill to discuss how Russia may have exploited social media to influence the 2016 election.

Scholar and writer Jelani Cobb compared Miley to another ignored Black would-be-whistleblower, Watergate complex security guard Frank Wills, in a tweet on Saturday (November 4):

The New York Times noted in its 2000 report on Wills’ death that he worked a midnight shift at the Washington D.C. building complex that housed the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972. He called police after discovering tape placed over a door lock. The arrest of five burglars that night kickstarted the wave of investigations and indictments that lead to then-president Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Many contemporary critics compare Watergate to the current Russian influence investigation, noting that its revelations about President Donald Trump’s associates threaten the stability of his presidency. Relatives told The Augusta Chronicle that what little credit Wills received for Watergate ultimately did more harm than good. He lost out on a number of jobs from organizations who feared federal backlash, and he lived in poverty up until his death from a brain tumor at age 52.