Ian56, the Twitter account identified by experts as a likely Russian troll, is back from the dead.
For about a day, ‘his’ 32.5K Twitter followers were left to go someplace else for pro-Kremlin narratives on issues like the annexation of Crimea, the downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine and, more recently, the Skripal poisoning in Britain.
The account's disappearance, likely a suspension by Twitter, of course was not the actual death of a person. Experts contend Ian56 (@Ian56789) is the creation of a Russian troll, a human operator who is very much alive.
Recently Polygraph.info profiled the account, which several experts said ticked all the boxes of being a Kremlin troll. It used a fake profile photo, that of the British male model David Gandy. Its biography was contradictory, at times claiming to be an American citizen with voting rights, at other times claiming to be a citizen of the Britain, and once claiming to be a British citizen planning to move to the U.S. Most importantly, the account would relentlessly and prolifically tweet the Kremlin narratives.
Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for information defense at the Atlantic Council who tracked Ian56 along with other suspected Kremlin trolls, announced Thursday the account has been suspended and suggested that the account may have attempted to flag him in return.
Nimmo had published two articles profiling Ian56 and other suspected troll accounts. According to him, Ian56’s behavior was consistent with the fake pro-Kremlin trolls who have been identified by U.S. intelligence and Special Counsel Robert Mueller as operating from the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg – not a real Westerner who just happened to agree with Moscow.
Twitter provides no information on accounts like Ian56, whether the account was suspended or is gone entirely.
“I'm afraid I'm unable to comment on individual accounts, for privacy and security reasons,” said Emily Horne of Twitter.
Polygraph.info is seeking further comment from Twitter on the reason the company would reinstate an account with this profile.
As for Ian56, "he" announced his own return on Twitter, and an account calling itself "The Truth Community," with a location of "Florida, USA," said "messages from truthers" contributed to the account's return.
Nimmo considered the suspension of one account a small victory.
“By taking down one particular account, you’ve made their job harder,” he said. “Once they’re back on, they have to build up their following again. It’s been suspended, it lost its follower network- it will have to rebuild that. It puts a dent in their operation. It doesn’t stop it.”
In this instance, however, the account returned with its followers.
Another significant factor Nimmo pointed out was that the account had been suspended after the publishing of a number of articles about Ian56, including his own. According to him, this suggests that Twitter employees took an interest in investigating the account in detail.
Without knowing the reason for Ian56’s suspension it is impossible to determine whether this was an isolated case or a sign that Twitter might start taking concerted action against other fake accounts using similar methodology to that used by Nimmo.
Certainly the announcement of Ian56’s demise was premature, and in that respect this update can be considered a correction. However, as Polygraph.info pointed out, outside of the Twitter world Ian56 was not silenced, even briefly. The name maintains an account on Gab, a Twitter-like platform popular with neo-Nazis, and he still maintains a site on Blogspot as well, which also appears to spread Kremlin-friendly messaging on a variety of topics.