'˜I'm not a Russian troll - I'm a security guard from Glasgow'
An alleged Russian online troll named on a prominent news website is actually a security guard from Glasgow, The Scotsman can reveal.
The Scot, who posts under the name Smoo on Twitter, was branded a suspected propagandist in an article on ByLine, which claims to be the most visited crowdfunded journalism website in the UK.
Anonymous social media accounts - particularly those which regularly comment on contentious political issues from a seemingly pro-Russian perspective - have come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks.
“I’m not posting anonymously,” he told The Scotsman. “Smoo has been my nickname since I was six years old. It’s not difficult to track me down.
“People might not agree with my opinions, but that doesn’t make me a Russian troll.”
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics.
But the @Didgery77332 account is not one of them, despite posting numerous messages about Russia and UK politics.
The man behind it, who has asked not to be named, said his interest in political debate and social media stems from the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
Rather than seeking to influence UK decision makers, his main motivation is simply to pass the time at work. He was surprised to discover this week he had been accused of being a Russian troll.
The story, We need to talk about identifying trolls, was published on Monday.
Author James Patrick suggested the @Didgery77332 account could be a Russian troll due to its “horrific use of English” and “pro-Russian posture”.
He queried whether any real Scot would have used the word “wot” in tweets instead of “wae” or “wi”, He added: “In almost a year of daily interaction with Scottish Twitter users, I can hand on heart say I’d never seen one of them use “Wot”.”
He concluded: “Identifying a troll account is incredibly difficult and has to often be based on the balance of probabilities.
“In this case study, the account features a number of classic indicators, as well as the right messaging and off language, and was combined with potentially cut and paste photographs.
“On balance, at the higher end of the probability scale, it was a fair assessment that this account appears to be a foreign-based troll pushing Russian messaging.”
The reality is more prosaic. The account is actually run by a 40-something father from the east end.
The Scot continued: “I work 12 hour shifts, often standing at a gate for hours on end - posting on Twitter helps pass the time,” he said.
Peter Jukes, CEO of ByLine, told The Scotsman: “Though, with the exception of Byline Investigations, we exercise no prior restraint, we do expect our writers to adhere to high journalistic standards, and we respond rapidly to complaints. We have yet to receive one in this instance.
“The whole issue of anonymous trolls, false personas and automated Twitter accounts is fraught with difficulty, but thanks to the work of James Patrick (among a few others) the public is now becoming aware of the problem of online propaganda, some of it clearly directed (via payments) by Putin’s government.
“James Patrick went through his analysis, and went to the account in question for comment. He assessed on the ‘balance of probablities’ it was a Russian account.
“But the bigger picture - the weaponisation of social media for propaganda purposes by a foreign power during Brexit - is now becoming accepted. With 80 articles on Byline in the last eight months, and his book Alternative War, James Patrick has led a lonely campaign explaining the broader strategic picture which only now are politicians and the mainstream press paying attention to.”