Is the vehemently pro-Buttigieg account @easychinedu actually a staffer for the Democratic candidate trying to curry favor with minority voters? Or is it just the latest in a series of troll attacks on the 2020 presidential nominee?
The answer, as anticlimactic as it might seem, is neither.
A conspiracy theory whipped Twitter into a frenzy Sunday morning when a popular tweet suggested that Buttigieg’s senior advisor, Lis Smith, was secretly behind the account of someone named “Chinedu,” whose bio describes them as a “Pete Buttigieg supporter from Nigeria” who loves “wine and dancing.” As of Sunday, the @easychinedu account had been deleted on Twitter.
As supposed evidence, the tweet noted that “Chinedu” frequently left positive comments on Smith’s tweets and posted several pro-Buttigieg messages, including one that appeared to be a slip-up that revealed their true identity: “Team Pete. Hey. It’s Lis. It’s Phase 4,” the account’s author wrote on January 30. A commenter also noted that the two accounts showed similar activity patterns when compared on the third-party site TweetStats. There’s also an Instagram account as well as a LinkedIn account under that same name with similar details.
The theory went viral nearly immediately, no doubt in part thanks to Buttigieg’s notoriously rocky relationship with minority groups, particularly black voters. So the idea that his campaign might have crafted a sockpuppet account for an impassioned, non-white supporter just seemed likely. And it’s not like his campaign hasn’t bungled attempts to drum up such favor before (see: his comment about being gay and empathizing with black Americans).
“Lis Smith” became a trending topic on Twitter soon after Smith herself got wind and tweeted a tongue-in-cheek reply: “Yea guys I totally have the time to be running a sock puppet account from Nigeria. Find better conspiracies!”
Well folks, while that theory would make for quite a headline, it’s simply not true. Turns out: “Chinedu” really is Nigerian, and he really is just that enthusiastic about the Indiana mayor. According to multiple outlets that spoke with the account’s owner (who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of “getting doxxed on twitter by Bernie Sanders supporters”), that January tweet was simply a joke.
“I read the campaign email regarding Phase 4 and Lis introduced herself like that (I don’t receive campaign emails just to clarify, I just read one on twitter),” the man who runs the account told BuzzFeed News. “I was just having a little fun with that. Clearly, I am not Lis Smith, that’s the whole point.”
“My account is run 100% by me. I am not affiliated with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign,” he continued. “I just support Pete passionately. Many others outside the US support Pete as well.” He also offered an apology to the candidate’s official campaign for any confusion his tweet caused.
Buttigieg’s campaign did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. Campaign spokesperson Matt Corridoni publically denied the theory in a statement to Business Insider, saying, “Nigerian shadow account conspiracy theories are the new rat emojis. Sad but not surprising.”
But really, considering his polling number with black Democratic voters are so abysmal (I mean, they’ve been single digits basically his entire campaign), can you really blame the internet for giving credence to this theory? According to one Democratic strategist, he faces an “insurmountable roadblock” when it comes to wooing over minority voters. And he does have a lot of eyes on him at the moment after securing a top spot in the Iowa caucus (whatever the fuck that even means). So yeah, sockpuppet accounts—not that far of a stretch.
Correction: A previous version of this article linked to a parody account for “Chinedu” that has since been removed. We deeply regret this error.