Twitter Troll Impersonates TMT Account

Sep 15, 2019

An unverified Twitter account has closely copied the appearance of the official Thirty Meter Telescope account and is sending out derogatory and culturally insensitive posts.

The account calls itself TMT Hawaii Community Outreach and uses the handle @OutreachTMT. It has adopted deceptive practices like using the same avatar and banner of photos of the official TMT account and linking to the TMT Hawaii website.

The only discernible difference was the location tag “Not Mauna Kea” in its profile.

Tweets coming from the account, which by all appearances appear to originate from the TMT International Observatory organization, include a claim the TIO does not have the money to construct the planned telescope, a thank you to Gov. David Ige for his support of the project and a racially-tinged post of the character “Maui,” from the Disney film “Moana,” appearing to speak gibberish.

Scott Ishikawa, TMT International Organization spokesman, confirmed to HPR that the account was not affiliated with the consortium seeking to build the world’s largest optical telescope. He also said that the fake account had been reported to Twitter.

After being identified as a fake account by HPR in a tweet, the page administrator tweeted back, characterizing the account as satire and pointing to a “Not Mauna Kea” geotag as sufficient evidence as such.

The account has only 77 followers, several of whom are openly affiliated with the Protect Mauna Kea movement, and was only created in September. It appeared to be in violation of Twitter's guidelines for both parody accounts and impersonation.

The appearance of the fake account comes on the heels of a press conference last week by top state officials, including the governor and State Attorney General Claire Connors, denouncing the use of social media to threaten and intimidate state employees and law enforcement officers working at the anti-TMT protest site on Mauna Kea.

Protect Mauna Kea leader Andre Perez disavowed such tactics, stating the perpetrators did not represent the action taking place on Mauna Kea and are not affiliated with demonstration organizers.

Posts and comments on various social media platforms that have raised concerns include calls for the assassination of telescope supporters and a $5,000 reward for the identity of a state sheriff deputy. Threatening voice messages have also been left on personal phones of police and state employees.

The demonstration blocking the Mauna Kea Access Road, which began in July, has now entered its third month and shows no sign of resolution. While actions on the mountain have remained peaceful, the conflict online has been increasingly ugly.

Leaders on both sides say they remain committed to dialogue and a peaceful resolution, but neither have softened their positions as they relate to construction of the telescope, which would be Mauna Kea’s 14th.