Last week this tweet went viral, racking up almost 10,000 retweets. The user, @oceanseyye, wrote, “my new favourite meme: the bios of racist middle aged english men”. One of the users screenshot in that tweet is "Terry Johnson".
A screenshot of a tweet by "Terry Johnson" had appeared a few weeks earlier in a Daily Mail story collecting racist abuse against British boxing world champion Anthony Joshua.
Terry Johnson's Twitter bio describes him as a fiftysomething Chelsea fan and proud member of the English Defence League.
Only this Terry Johnson apparently isn't a real EDL member, or a real person, for that matter. The account is actually run by a 19-year-old university student who requested to remain anonymous.
The 19-year-old claimed he created the Terry Johnson account in early 2016. "I just made it for laughs really, with some pals, and he sort of became a meme," the student said.
Making things even stranger, though, is that Terry Johnson, we are told, is part of a massive network of fake EDL Twitter accounts. The 19-year-old student BuzzFeed News spoke to estimates that there are hundreds of EDL parody accounts.
He said that they're all made by people in the same age range. The fake accounts are supposed to parody the EDL. A lot of the teenagers behind them are in a group chat together.
"The reason for me is basically the same reason for any kind of shitposting/trolling," the 19-year-old behind Terry Johnson said. "The EDL are a bit of a joke. They aren't really like the [American] alt-right, the alt-right is mostly internet-based and most are at least capable of holding a debate. The EDL is full of fat, bald alcoholics – the wife has left, taken the kids, and all they have left is EDL rallies/fights and football hooliganism, spending all day down the pub moaning about foreigners and the wife."
A second user, who claimed he was running an account called @edljohndavis, also spoke to BuzzFeed News. He said @stevielovesEDL, @alanboozerlee, and the Terry Johnson account were the first three, and the meme spread from them. The @stevielovesEDL and @alanboozerlee accounts have all been since suspended and the user behind @edljohndavis deleted the account.
"The concept of this account is to mimic an EDL member," the man claiming to be @edljohndavis said. "We are the originals and many have seen us as a meme now, I think we are the next Harambe."
But just because the young people behind these accounts are making fun of the EDL, it doesn't mean they disagree with the EDL's far-right politics.
"I'm pretty right-wing myself," the 19-year-old said. "But there's Muslims and all sorts running some of [these accounts]. Some people take it too far I guess with actually racially abusing individuals rather than just being a stereotype. I don't know who owns most of the newer accounts, it's sort of just spread."
Most of the accounts interacting with the Terry Johnson account appear to have lifted their profile pictures from Google. Stevie "Chopper" Dun doesn't appear to actually be a divorced, 62-year-old EDL member. His Twitter bio was taken from an image in an article about a 2012 clash between police and the EDL.
You start to notice a similar pattern in the bios, as well. The profile picture for "big mike" appears to have been taken during a 2012 EDL protest in Newcastle against plans for an Islamic school.
Big Bad Dave's photo here has been floating around the web since at least 2010. Also, once again, you start to notice the similar syntax in the bio: age, something about his family, something racist, references to beer.
And, as you can see, the tweets the accounts currently interacting with Terry Johnson are posting aren't exactly subtle.
"I thought it would be pretty hard to believe Terry Johnson was a real person but the fact I get hundreds of mentions from people falling for it gets me to carry on," the 19-year-old behind the Terry Johnson account said.
"Especially when you get a rise out of a celebrity like Gary Lineker, or even better get a Daily Mail article written about you," he said.
The 19-year-old running the Terry Johnson account said they have encountered real EDL members a few times and they apparently aren't fans of the fake EDL teens.
"We used to wind Tommy Robinson up," the 19-year-old said. "I don't actually dislike the bloke, he's become a lot better recently – and he ended up having to block us all because we were making him look bad or something, I guess."
He added: "It really will be hard to grasp as an American – it 's a very culturally British stereotype."
An EDL spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the group doesn't "play Twitter".
"For us Twitter is a news medium; we are not into Twitter culture," the spokesperson said. "We have almost 7,000 followers. They are people who follow us for what we are and what we do. Usually the fake accounts are set up as spoofs to ridicule us.
"We must say that we are saddened to think that people get their kicks out of gratuitous nastiness like that you describe. There are real victims of this sort of behaviour, usually innocent ones. We would rather fight our battles cleanly, openly, with reason and facts. We would add that there is enough bad stuff going on in the world without having to invent it."
Ryan Broderick is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York City.
Contact Ryan Broderick at email@example.com.
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