Earlier this week the story of a supposedly enraged Brexiteer pleading with Ladbrokes to refund a £500 bet on Marine Le Pen winning the French election, that he claimed his 13-year-old son had placed, went, in internet parlance, viral.
A Twitter profile titled ‘Colin Johnson’ (@wollygogg) was roundly mocked after evidence surfaced of the same account previously bragging of the wager in a tweet to BBC journalist, Andrew Neil, contradicting his claims of foul play.
But in a twist to this tale of what at first appeared to be delicious internet schadenfreude, the person behind the account has now claimed they are not in fact Colin Johnson, and the entire thing is an elaborate ruse.
He claims he created profile last month and spent quite a bit of time retweeting right-wing accounts in order to “create a story: obnoxious Brexiteer backs Le Pen, taunts liberals while endearing himself to [Andy] Wigmore, [David] Vance, [Arron] Banks etc (I hoped to get public support from them), loses bet and then throws a fit”, he told The Guardian.
After Le Pen’s election defeat the account proceeded to tweet at Ladbrokes demanding a refund for the allegedly accidental bet.
The apparently-deleted tweet showing him boasting to Andrew Neil of the bet was seized upon and the account was hammered as an example of a sore loser trying to frame his son for his mistake.
The hoax gathered speed and was sceptically reported by publishers (including this one).
Speaking to HuffPost UK yesterday, the man claiming to be Colin told us: “My son went on ladbrokes and didn’t realise it was logged on. He clicked on Marine and put £500 to see what number would come up in the winnings
“Then he clicked enter, he had no idea my account was logged on. so i check last night and realise £500 is gone!”
He also sent a screengrab of a betting slip showing the £500 bet dated 23 April.
When asked about the tweet appearing to show him talking of the £500 bet, he insisted it was a fake.
But after his admission to the Guardian Tuesday evening, the person behind the hoax wasn’t exactly forthcoming when contacted by HuffPost today.
Speaking anonymously, the man said: “I guess I wanted to do two things.
“Firstly, I was sick of seeing the ethno-nationalists and alt right crowing at their election victories. I wanted to setup a chance to give everyone else a laugh.
“The alt-right are using deceptive tactics to create fake content and - by extension - attack the liberal left.
“I saw a post on FB where someone had shared their bet on the French election and I pinched the image for the story. Obviously I had to change the number to £500.”
But there is a real Colin Johnson and he lives in Great Yarmouth, just as the @wollygogg account purported, and has an autistic 13-year-old son.
The person behind the now deleted Twitter account did nothing to distance himself from the real Colin Johnson and even posed as him in an interview with the Mail Online which has now been removed.
The article also ran pictures of the real Mr Johnson and his son.
The real Mr Johnson has a YouTube channel on which he yesterday posted a video detailing the harassment he’d received since the hoax, saying: “I’ve been getting harassed something chronic by a little group of trolls, saying I’ve been betting or my son’s been betting.
"They’ve been saying I’ve been betting on some fascist group that ain’t even in this country. I don’t even know who – Le Pen or some bollocks like that. I had to ask someone that I know, because you know I don’t keep up with politics.
“Anyone who knows me, I’m not fascist, I’m not into none of that bollocks whatsoever.”
Opinion on the truth of the matter appears to be split into two camps: those who think both Mr Johnsons are the same person attempting to backtrack, and those who think a prankster maliciously impersonated someone with the end result of an innocent 13-year-old child’s picture being splashed across the internet.
When asked if the original reply to Andrew Neil had ever existed (replies sent later in the thread suggest it did) and what he felt about getting a 13-year-old involved in the hoax, HuffPost UK received no reply.
The @wollygogg Twitter account was then deleted.
In his comments to HuffPost UK and The Guardian the person behind the account attempted to portray it as an experiment to portray just how easy it is to hoax people in the increasingly polarised world of social media.
Unfortunately, it may have backfired...