The Twitter account of a “British sports journalist” named “Simon Rowntree” has suddenly become a source of news for a whole array of Russian media outlets. Thanks to Rowntree, Russian news websites have published scoops about how England soccer fans insulted Vladimir Putin and Maria Sharapova, after the game against Russia's team. And there have been articles citing Rowntree about how England fans beat up a Russia fan, removed their pants in front of him, and wiped their backsides with the Russian flag. In April, thanks to Rowntree, Russian news outlets reported that Manchester City fans insulted Cristiano Ronaldo and his father.
There just one small thing: Simon Rowntree's Twitter account is fake. The first clue is his profile picture, which uses what is obviously a stock photograph. Curiously, the first word of his bio says “Bisexual.”
Even more suspicious is the website where he says he works, Forest Echo News. That site was created on the free website-building service Weebly—a fact it doesn't conceal. Forest Echo News claims to have six writers, which it lists only as a gallery of photos (most of them apparently more stock images) without any further details. Under “Funding Sources,” the site uses a photograph that can be found searching the Internet for “Happy Male Arab Corporate Worker Talking on the Landline Phone.”
Simon Rowntree caught the attention of a few Western journalists when he tweeted that the soccer player David de Gea had been expelled from Spain's national team because of rape allegations. That Rowntree's account was joking became evident in its next tweet, which read:
Rowntree's celebrity is biggest in Russia, however, where his tweets have informed news stories published by major outlets like RT (Russia Today), Championat.com, RIA Novosti, Argumenty i Fakty, Lenta.ru, Vzglyad, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and others. In one instance, RT actually had to issue a correction, when Rowntree's claims about insulting behavior by England fans were refuted.
Rowntree himself, of course, insists that he's the real deal.
Simon's account, registered in December 2014, has managed to publish almost 1,700 tweets and attract more than 8,600 followers. His feed is a mix of his own news reports and retweets of others' sensationalist content.