A senior Tory councillor has denied running an anonymous anti-SNP troll account fashioned after the Lady Whistledown character in the popular Netflix series Bridgerton.
Derek Wann, who represents Arbroath East and Lunan on Angus Council, was linked to the account by social media users after it tweeted – in a departure from its usual content – the words “my comments” and a link to a council press release with only his remarks.
Mr Wann, who serves as children and learning convener in the council’s ruling administration, had shared the same press release on his own Facebook page 15 minutes earlier but rejected as “absolute rubbish” any suggestion he is involved in running the (Lady Whistledown) AngusFreeofSNP profile.
The account features a profile picture of Marilyn Monroe and appears to be fashioned after Lady Whistledown, the nom de plume of an anonymous newsletter columnist who uses her words to influence Regency high society in the hit show Bridgerton.
Think before you type
It has published and retweeted content described by opposition councillors as “misogynistic and transphobic”, including disparaging comments about the appearance of prominent female politicians, so any connection to the account would be seen as highly embarrassing for Mr Wann, who campaigns against online bullying and was linked to the ‘Angus, think before you type’ initiative.
Our analysis of social media posts shared by Lady Whistledown over a number of months found striking resemblances to content on the public profiles of Mr Wann, a one-time General Election candidate for the Scottish Conservatives.
This includes a pair of similarly worded posts hitting out at Labour’s Scottish Parliament election candidate Graeme McKenzie, who was criticised for posting campaign materials in the wrong Angus constituency.
On April 26 at 2.11pm, before the story appeared in the press and in what appears to be the first online reference to the gaffe, Lady Whistledown wrote to the account’s 115 followers: “Ouch – does the labour candidate really think Forfar is in Angus South?
“How could anyone support a candidate that is leafleting the wrong town. Parachuted in.”
Two minutes later, Mr Wann – who does not follow the account and said he was unaware of its content until this week – published on his own Facebook: “Labour candidate for Angus South is leafleting Forfar – when you parachute a candidate in, you surely provide them with a geography lesson.
“How can anyone support locally a candidate that doesn’t even leaflet in the right town?”
Mr Wann told us he was first contacted about Lady Whistledown tweeting a link to the Angus Council press release on Monday after the community Facebook page Flatpack Angus shared a screenshot at 10.08pm – nearly six hours after the original tweet went live – and publicly accused him of running the profile.
Lady Whistledown tweeted another link to the Angus Council website with the caption “My comments” 31 minutes later, at 10.39pm, this time to a story about funding for safer travel routes quoting communities convener Mark Salmond.
Angus Council renews commitment to reducing the impact of child poverty | Angus Council – my comments https://t.co/A5Kbxx7B7g
— (Lady Whistledown) AngusFreeofSNP (@DSMith88644302) June 21, 2021
Our analysis shows the only time the profile, which, like Mr Wann’s, typically features tweets posted using the Twitter for iPad app, has ever used the phrase ‘my comments’ was on June 21 in reference to these two posts.
We can also reveal that the final two digits of the mobile phone number registered to the Lady Whistledown Twitter account match the final two digits of Mr Wann’s own phone number.
Vitriolic content shared by the troll account, which regularly tags other members of Angus Council – including council leader and follower David Fairweather – includes targeted abuse at leading female politicians.
Posts on the profile are frequently aimed at the SNP, with first minister Nicola Sturgeon referred to in one tweet as “the Bute House golem” and another, shared by the account in reference to an activist being bitten by a dog, stating: “Dogs know a wrongun”.
In one tweet following May’s Scottish Parliament election, the author appears to poke fun at Dundee’s tragic record on drug deaths, writing: “SNP hold Dundee City West (62% of the vote for Joe FitzPatrick).
“He had to resign as Drugs Minister over rising deaths issue and his vote still increased 4% – does this show that there is a bigger drug issues in the city than we thought?”
In another, responding to Brechin Community Council chairwoman Jill Scott sharing cycling routes in Angus, Lady Whistledown asks: “Would anyone want to cycle through Brechin?”
The account also responds in Twitter conversation threads between Mr Wann and members of the public, taking a more aggressive or heated tone than the councillor has done on his own public profile.
In one exchange, under a post from Mr Wann on local authority funding, Lady Whistledown hits out at a Twitter user critical of the councillor’s position, and after it is suggested the person behind the anonymous account is unaware of how council funding works, responds: “Really – what council do you work for and we can compare notes?”
Opposition councillors told us they recognise patterns in the way Mr Wann and Lady Whistledown write online and said in some instances members have been specifically targeted after doing something that annoys the Conservative group on Angus Council.
Lib Dem councillor Ben Lawrie said he has been aware of the account since the end of last year and that it “appears to be an anonymous account used for criticising political opponents and promoting the aims of the Conservative Party in Angus”.
He believes some of the content shared displays a level of knowledge about the inner workings of the council that go beyond a general member of the public.
“The account posts some pretty unsavoury stuff, targeted criticisms directed at accounts of local politicians as well as retweeting misogynistic and transphobic content,” he said.
“I can understand why the author of these tweets would not want to be associated with them, instead opting to remain anonymous.
“If this person turned out to be one of my fellow councillors I would be deeply disappointed in them. It’s downright cowardly.”
‘Not my account’
Mr Wann denied running the account and said he had discussed with colleagues, including Mark Salmond – who was named in the second council press release shared by Lady Whistledown, whether there could be some sort of vendetta against him.
He said: “It’s definitely not my account. I spoke to Mark Salmond this morning as well. It’s definitely not my account, I can tell you that 100%.
“At the end of the day, I have no comment because it’s not my account. If somebody is putting this online, there’s not much I can do.
“It could be somebody I know but I don’t think it is.
“My Facebook account is open, my councillor Twitter account is open. It bewilders me that this is being linked to me in any way.”