Archive for September, 2014

Mirror SockPuppet & the Real Sophie Wittams

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 by Rob Brown

Ex Tory Minister Brooks Newmark is a fool at best, but his entrapment via social media sets a pretty low bar for journalism. A supposed freelance journalist created a fake Twitter account in the name of ‘Sophie Wittams, a twenty something Tory PR girl’, and started to pursue MPs with a view to persuading one of them to drop their trousers on WhatsApp. Mr Newmark duly obliged. The reporter was “carrying out an undercover probe into claims by sources that MPs were using social media networks to meet women”. In this case though it seems that it was “Sophie” who was trying to meet MPs rather than vice-versa. The Twitter account has since been deleted but I found the cache and you can see it here.

We know very little about the journalist responsible other than that he used a fake ID and profile picture. There has been lots of speculation as to whose picture has been used. A number of tweeters have suggested that it is Lisa Kimble, but the G+ account looks fake. A little more likely is Maria Stotskaya a 24 years old Russian with a VKontacke profile that uses the picture.  I’m pretty sure the picture is actually of a Swedish model called Malin Sahlén. A reverse search of the image leads to her WeHeartIt page. The original has been removed but there are lots of other images of her and the likeness is pretty strong.

Sophie Wittams Malin Sahlén

What is far more interesting of course is the real identity of the journalist behind the “Sophie Wittams” Twitter account.  The web leaves lots of clues even if you attempt to erase them.   There are certainly staff at the Mirror who know. Reporter Matthew Drake who was bylined on the Mirror article must be an individual close to the source. There has also been convincing speculation that Sophie is in fact Guido Fawkes Reporter and Sun contributor Alex Whickam. He appeared to know about the sting before anyone else and has written about being on the receiving end of unwanted attention from MPs.

Update – 11.15pm, 28.09.14 

The Swedish model Malin Sahlén has confimed that the picture used was of her and that it was used without her consent “I am shocked and it is unpleasant that the picture was used without permission…I do not want to be exploited in this way and that someone has used my image like this feels really awful”. 

Update 2 – 8.10am 30.09.14

Media journalist Steve Hewlett named Alex Whittam as the reported behind the sting on Newsnight last night (Monday 29.09.14).

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Murdoch and The End of Press Power

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by Rob Brown

The Sun Front Pages

There has been an enormous amount of speculation in the final days of the Scottish Independence debate as to whether Rupert Murdoch would use the front page of The Scottish Sun to back Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign. Bruised by the phone hacking scandal, the newspaper mogul appeared to be set to back Scottish Independence and aim a missile at the Cameron premiership. The BBC’s Andrew Neil, who is a former editor of The Sunday Times and confidant of Murdoch tweeted: “He thinks the hacking scandal was revenge of the British establishment on him. Break up of Britain would be his revenge.” Neil also reported that Murdoch and Salmond spoke a week ago about a swing in the polls in favour of independence.

Up until 2009 The Sun had consistently backed the winner in UK general elections but by that year, press power was already visibly on the slide. In 1992 after Kinnock lost to Major the headline screamed “It Was The Sun Wot Won It’, Tory MPs acknowledged that The Sun contributed to their election triumph and Kinnock himself blamed the paper for his failure to win the election.  Today the sun has finally set on that level of power and influence.  The Sun’s front pages in both England and Scotland reflect the mood of the public without attempting to influence it.  The Scottish Sun echoes the uncertainty of the vote with its blank page and in the rest of the Union a story about Prince Harry and his girlfriend makes an unsubtle nod to the overwhelming sentiment south of the border.  Whatever the outcome we should celebrate the end of an era where one man can change the fortunes of a nation by deciding on a headline.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).