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Reuters accused of threatening security in Egypt after sourcing fake Twitter account

A lawyer has filed a petition against the Reuters news agency for allegedly threatening national security when it reported a false terror threat linked to a fake Twitter account last week.


Diaa El Din El Garhy, a lawyer representing the Egypt-based Adalah Center, filed the petition on Monday over a report in which the news organization claimed the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis terror network had published a tweet warning tourists to leave the country by February 20.

The message was posted on a Twitter account that Reuters identified as belonging to the group. However, the group has said in past statements that it does not use social media to communicate its intentions.

“Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis issued no statement warning tourists to leave Egypt,” David Barnett, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs told the BBC on Friday. “This specific account [cited by Reuters] has been around for a number of months. It doesn’t always promote Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis statements.”

In later updates of the story, Reuters acknowledged that the account may not have been legitimate, that the terror group “does not post statements on social media sites,” but that “statements that appeared on the Twitter account in the past have afterwards surfaced on jihadist websites which the group says it does use.”

Barnett said the fake account cited by Reuters, and others like it, are run by “people who may support the group, people who may just simply want to cause chaos.”

A Reuters spokesperson acknowledged the news organization cited a Twitter report that may not have been authentic, but otherwise stood by the story.

“In all of the published versions [of the story], questions about whether to trust the Twitter account were addressed in multiple places,” spokesperson Heather Carpenter told The Desk by email.

When asked about the petition against Reuters, Carpenter said the company was looking into the issue, but otherwise declined to comment.

A prosecutor has not yet decided whether to take up the petition filed against Reuters in Egypt, but some have speculated that the company may be investigated over the incident given the prosecutor’s past handling of such matters.

At one time, Reuters had three New York-based social media editors who, among other things, were tasked with identifying legitimate news information on social media platforms. The company fired one employee last year over a non-work related issue (the dismissal is being contested). A second employee quit one month later.

In January, Reuters’ final social media employee left to work for a public radio program, leaving the company without a social media specialist in its newsroom.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).