Lis Smith, senior communications adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, became a trending topic this weekend after she was accused of running a fake shadow account on Twitter.
The account in question was pro-Buttigieg and often sent messages in support of him and his campaign’s efforts. While the internet was convinced it was Smith pretending to be a fan, a Nigerian man has claimed ownership of the page – which is now deactivated.
An account with the account address “@easychinedu” sent out a tweet about an upcoming Buttigieg campaign: “Team Pete. Hey. It’s Lis,” it read. “It’s Phase 4. Time to leave it all on the floor. Phone bankers, we need you.”
The message read like a message people believe could have came from Smith’s account, so users pondered if the person behind the account was actually her. Some assumed she had sent out the tweet to the wrong account, as the tweet was deleted and subsequently disappeared.
— Taryn Jay (NOT run by Lis Smith) 🌹 (@FeralHogs420) February 16, 2020
After several writers and editors amplified the claim – such as Jewish Currents editor David Klion and Vice editor Tim Marchman, several outlets went out to prove who was once and for all behind the account.
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) February 16, 2020
Apparently, there was a real person behind @easychinedu – a person named, well, Chinedu. Buzzfeed News independently identified Chinedu and corroborated his story. Via email, Chinedu told them that he intended the account as a joke. He was mocking Smith’s typical message language with the tweet, even though he claims he only saw a screenshot of her emails to supporters, as he hasn’t signed up to receive them.
“Clearly, I am not Lis Smith, that’s the whole point,” Chinedu wrote to them. “I also want to apologize to Pete’s campaign and Lis for contributing unintentionally to this new controversy. My account is run 100% by me. I am not affiliated with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, I just support Pete passionately.”
Separately, Newsweek and Slate also talked to the Nigerian man. Newsweek obtained a picture of him holding up the sign “16/02/2020 I AM NOT LIS SMITH.” Chinedu told breaking news reporter Christina Zhao that his life has been turned upside down, and pleaded with the internet to stop trying to find him. He claims that mostly Bernie Sanders supporters have harassed him so far.
Slate’s Ashley Feinberg obtained a video chat interview with the man last night. Feinberg previously reported on Pete Buttigieg’s relationship with someone who was found to constantly update the candidate and his affiliate’s Wikipedia pages.
In Feinberg’s conversation with him, Chinedu went into further detail with the intense, continued harassment all of the attention has bought him.
“It’s very stressful, as you can imagine, I’m responding to emails. It’s almost 10 p.m. here…my Instagram account is locked and I had to deactivate my Twitter account,” Chinedu explained, “and this is all because I just tweet about Pete Buttigieg.”
Chinedu, who has visited the United States ‘several times’, claims that he’s not affiliated with the campaign and just truly believes that Buttigieg is the best candidate in the race. “I read a campaign email on Twitter that said: ‘I’m Lis. You know, this is Phase Four’ [of the election strategy] and… everybody was excited, you know, so I was just having a little fun and joking about it, trying to rally the troops to get out and phone-bank.”
“I guess it is kind of strange, and I understand where the controversy comes from, because it’s like, there’s this Nigerian account that’s tweeting about a very specific candidate from in the U.S. But it’s OK. I just hope it dies down,” Chinedu admitted.
Lis Smith responded to several jokes about the controversy on Twitter, and the campaign had some fun with it too. “Twitter has revealed a lot of things today- none of them about me or Pete!” she said in one tweet.
Honestly, man, I’m not even sure. https://t.co/qeykZdHnKR
— Lis Smith (@Lis_Smith) February 17, 2020
— Team Pete HQ (@PeteForAmerica) February 16, 2020
Even non-Buttigieg supporters jumped in to troll the conspiracy, such as this Andrew Yang-supporting account.
Despite the news reports I can assure you, I am not @Lis_Smith.
— Andrew for Andrew 🧢 (@AndrewforAndrew) February 17, 2020
“Nigerian shadow account conspiracy theories are the new rat emojis. Sad but not surprising,” said Matt Corridoni, a spokesperson for the campaign.