Beware false Twitter accounts in BBC #Sexforgrades exposé

October 9, 2019
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An explosive undercover investigation into sexual harassment in universities in Nigeria and Ghana has sparked wide debate online.

One of the academics implicated in the BBC Africa Eye investigation was Dr Boniface Igbeneghu, an associate professor at the University of Lagos.

Igbeneghu was secretly filmed soliciting sex from an undercover journalist posing as a 17-year-old student seeking admission to the institution.

He has since been suspended by the university and by his church, where he was a pastor.

In Nigeria, high profile figures have joined the reaction to #SexForGrades. One is the country’s first lady Aisha Buhari, who has called for urgent actionagainst the sexual harassment of students.

“This simply has to change. It is no longer enough to sweep allegations under the carpet or force victims to withdraw their allegations, victimise or stigmatise them,” she said.

Twitter accounts impersonating academic

But a prominent voice missing so far has been that of Igbeneghu, who has only reportedly said he would not be pressured into commenting, directing all queries to his employer. Some of the other lecturers named in the investigation have reportedly deniedthey offered sex for grades.

But while Igbeneghu remains silent, a number of Twitter accounts have stepped in, many in his defence. We sampled a few.

“I hereby address the public about the viral video that I was payed by the bbc to film that video just to regain global attention and I’ll never stoop so low to Harrass or rape a student of the same age range with my kids.. Thank you. #DrBoniface#BBCAfricaEye#MondayMorning,” @DrBonifaceItweeted on 7 October 2019.

@DrBonifaceI only joined Twitter in October 2019 and posted their first tweet on 7 October, the day the BBC investigation was published. The user has also threatened legal action on the exposé.

At least three other accounts – @Pastorcoldroom, @DrIgbeneghu and @Boniface_Igbe – commented on the sex for grades saga. They were all created in 2019.

The responses to the accounts show some Twitter users thought they were engaging with Igbeneghu.

The user @Boniigbeneghu, who joined Twitter in May 2014 and last tweeted in 2015, has not commented.

How can you avoid getting caught out by fake Twitter accounts?

Activity on many of these accounts is, at the very least, suspicious – from their profile briefs to their tweeting behaviour. These red flags give cause for caution.

As we point out in our guide to verifying Twitter accounts, profiles are often set up to take advantage of a breaking story. You should look out for accounts that are inactive for long periods before suddenly “waking up” and sending a flurry of tweets, only to fall silent again.

@DrIgbeneghu, for instance, first tweeted only when the investigation was published, despite having joined the platform in July 2019. The same behaviour is seen on @Pastorcoldroom, seemingly named for a room frequented by lecturers at the University of Lagos where some of the transgressions reportedly took place.

Another red flag is self-incrimination.

The profile of @Boniface_Igbe reads: “I am a Dr, who only give marks to my students based on her performance on bed. I am also a fake pastor at Foursquare church. never thought about getting caught!”

It is highly unlikely the real Igbeneghu would write this on his profile, given the seriousness of the claims levelled against him.

These questionable accounts only serve to muddy the waters on a topic of wide importance.

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