On 4 July 2017, the official twitter account of National Public Radio (NPR) tweeted the entire Declaration of Independence in honor of the United States’ Independence Day. The 113 consecutive tweets were a modern take on a decades-long tradition at NPR, whose “Morning Edition” show has performed a live reading of the document every Fourth since 1988.
Without context, some Twitter users appeared to take snippets from the lengthy string of posts as an attack not on England’s King George III, but on the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. As described by BuzzFeed News:
In celebration of the 4th of July, National Public Radio tweeted out the Declaration of Independence in a series of more than 100 tweets on Tuesday. This follows an NPR tradition in which the text has been read aloud on Morning Edition every 4th of July for the past 29 years.
Many people responded with praise for the historic document, and thanked NPR for sharing it. But… not everyone was so pleased. In fact, several Trump supporters were outraged at what they viewed as a political act by NPR.
There is no doubt that some users genuinely took this view (with some even graciously and publicly acknowledging the error). However, the most commonly cited and outspoken Twitter user was an account that went by @Darren_Mills, whose two most infamous tweets were repeated in numerous outlets including the Washington Post, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, CNN, and BuzzFeed.
Seriously, this is the dumbest idea have ever seen on twitter. Literally no one is going to read 5000 tweets about this trash.
This is why you are going to get defunded.
That account’s prominence rose along with outrage directed against it; however, a critical look at this account, which provided the basis for scores of newspaper headlines, raises serious questions about its veracity.
First, the account has invented biographical details that seem to have no basis in reality. The current biographical information provided on the account is too vague to verify, and reads:
Libertarian. Christian. Ex-writer for big news. Blackballed media journalist thanks to left wing/feminist job lynch mob.
While this description does not provide any hints into which parts of “big news” Mills claims to have been “blackballed” from, an earlier archived screenshot is a bit more specific, if not just as confusing:
Libertarian. Christian. Regular guest on @CSPAN, @MSNBC, @NPR and @Business. Contributing author at @nyt, @̶v̶o̶x̶d̶o̶t̶c̶o̶m̶ and @arstechnica
We can find no record of anyone named Darren Mills ever writing for any of these media outlets. On multiple occasions we attempted to verify Mill’s past journalistic endeavors, and despite a great deal of vitriol from the account, its owner was unwilling to provide any details — at least, thus far. There is, however, a “@Darren_Mills” account on the open-publishing platform Medium, which has a number of works authored by the alleged individual. In one piece, he explains that his low profile on the internet actually stems from his unmanageable popularity as a writer:
Well, first of all, most of these cogs in the leftist machine have previously begged me to write pieces for them. Huffington Post, Washington Post and CNN have all been stalking me for years, annoying me with literally hundreds of unsolicited e-mails, phone calls and even personal visits to my mother’s home in hopes of recruiting me for their globalist agenda. That’s why I deleted my LinkedIn account.
It is possible that Darren Mills really is a pseudonym for a successful writer, and his new identity will soon grow a base past the six followers he currently has on his Medium account, but he has made no such claim.
Besides biographical red flags, there are other issues with his account that should raise alarm bells for anyone interested in double-checking information on Twitter before driving the Internet into national hysteria.
The account, at least in name, has been around since 2008, yet the earliest tweet preserved is an 11 October 2016 Tweet that contains only the lower case letter “f”. This indicates either the wholesale deletion of eight years of tweets (which doesn’t necessarily stand out as a sign of confidence in the veracity of an account’s legitimacy), or that the account was purchased in an effort to gain legitimacy by having an older sign-up date, a common practice in the Twitter misinformation economy.
A final red flag is the profile picture itself. It is a stock image that has been on the internet since at least 2015 and used in a number of men’s style guide posts. For these reasons, we question the legitimacy of the account, or at least the sincerity of its relationship to purported conservative causes. The account has all the hallmarks of a troll account, and a successful troll knows how to play itself into the hands of the people they hope will provide them with a stage.
While we do not speculate on the motives of @Darren_Mills, the idea of an account from a self-described patriot with an American flag in its username denigrating the Declaration of Independence is, without question, the kind of story that plays well in some corners of the Internet. That doesn’t mean such accounts be treated as representative of opposing political viewpoints or even highlighted at all without proper verification, as that serves only to further polarize toxic political environments in the United States and broaden increasing distrust of its national media.