The second account Musk recommended in the now-deleted post, @sentdefender, has been identified by a research company as belonging to a member of the U.S. military from Georgia who has amplified Russian propaganda. As previously reported, both have spread false information, including reporting a nonexistent explosion near the White House that sent stock prices down.
Both accounts were among seven cited a week ago by researchers at the University of Washington as the “new elites” of influence on X, with more than 1.6 billion combined views in the first three days of the war.
By that point, @WarMonitors had drawn 132 million views and @sentdefender 302 million views. The University of Washington report said the seven accounts were achieving more views than established media accounts despite having fewer followers.
“Most of the accounts also use video and images frequently, framed in emotional ways,” researchers wrote. “Strikingly, many of these accounts have received prior promotion from X owner Elon Musk, either through direct recommendation or through Musk’s account replying to their content, which may explain some of their dominance of ‘news Twitter.’”
Musk’s Oct. 9 tweet stood for three hours, by which time it had been seen by 11 million people. He had also responded to both of the accounts.
In July, @WarMonitors posted a screenshot indicating that it had been paid more than $16,000 as part of X’s inducements for content creators. Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Both of the accounts describe themselves as news aggregators and reporters of “open-source intelligence,” mainly conveying items that have already surfaced elsewhere to a new audience. (The @sentdefender account’s display name is OSINTdefender).
Unlike more established open-source accounts, they often do not cite a source, let alone include links to the media in which they appear with more context.
Open-source experts, such as those at online investigative site Bellingcat, say those techniques make it harder for followers to know how much weight to give the posts and do not help other researchers build on their work.
The behavior, though, seems optimized for X’s latest changes, which Musk has said are designed to keep people from on the app instead of clicking away to read or watch more. Musk has also taken steps to reduce the traffic going from X to large media organizations, including eliminating headlines from posted articles.
Open-source researchers identified @WarMonitors and @sentdefender using traditional techniques. In the case of @WarMonitors, an old version of the account holder’s X profile included a link to a PayPal address, as discovered by a group calling itself the Unintelligence Agency.
A search on the PayPal address turned up an account on the freelancing site Fiverr with the name Jad Hassanieh, the group said. Past posts by @WarMonitors said the account holder lived in London, is of Lebanese descent and was a student just a couple of years ago. One said he was born a few months after Syria pulled back from occupying Lebanon, which probably refers to April 2005. That would make him 18.
In a direct message exchange over X, @WarMonitors told The Washington Post that the account holder was just a relative of Hassanieh’s and used his PayPal address to preserve anonymity. He said he had posted from London while visiting, and said he was now in Lebanon and asked that the family name not be reported.
“Im out of the game for now. so, irrelevant,” he wrote.
War Monitors has repeatedly referred to Israeli forces, civilian leaders and activists as Nazis, and he responded to someone else on X in June with the riposte “mind your own business, jew.”
He told The Post: “the things i said were taken out of context, they weren’t right to say, but they made sense in context.”
Attempts to reach Hassanieh by email and over X and LinkedIn were unsuccessful.
A European research company called Molfar, meanwhile, dug into @sentdefender and found that the account had previously used the name Simon Anderson, who gave his location as Georgia.
In a published report, Molfar said the email associated with OSINTdefender on Block’s Cash App combines Anderson’s first name with his mother’s.
His mother, Bahiyyih Anderson, posted on Facebook about her son enlisting four years ago.
But a lot of what @sentdefender has published has come from Russian Telegram channels, Molfar found, such as a video of supposed Ukrainian troops who surrendered to Russia. Another post with of what he described as a failed Ukrainian offensive used footage from WarGonzo, a pro-war Russian blogger.
OSINTdefender told followers he supported Ukraine in the war but that the only information at the time was coming from Russians.
Anderson did not respond to a direct message on X, and attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful.