Look up Ian56 on Twitter and the first thing you'll see is a fake photograph. The handsome man in the profile picture isn't Ian56. It's a 38-year-old fashion model called David Gandy.
This, plus the fact that Ian56 is a staunch defender of Russia who posts on average 65 tweets a day may have been what led the British government to mistakenly conclude that he was a Russian bot.
In fact, he's neither Russian nor a bot – as his appearance on Sky News confirmed yesterday. He's Ian Shilling, a British bloke with strong opinions who claims there is "zero evidence" of the Assad regime using chemical weapons and believes that "the whole of the official US and UK foreign policy narrative is a complete fabrication and lie".
Ian Shilling's world is one where conspiracies and false flags have become the norm rather than the exception – a world in which even the Holocaust is seen as a Zionist plot. According to one of his tweets, Zionists in the US and Britain "wanted the Holocaust and funded Hitler, so that Israel could be set up on a wave of sympathy after WW2".
Scrolling through Shilling's Twitter feed and his blog it's hard to find a conspiracy theory that he has not at some time supported, but people who casually come across his tweets about Syria and retweet them are unlikely to notice that. They will probably also be unaware that his claims about false-flag chemical attacks in Syria are a close parallel of his claim about a false-flag Holocaust.
Before Twitter was invented blokes like Ian Shilling could often be found perched on a stool in a bar, trying to interest fellow-customers in the latest plot to take over the world. Thanks to Twitter, though, it's now a whole lot easier and they have the potential to be heard by an international audience.
In Shilling's case, this has given him a significant role in influencing public debate. Exactly how much influence he has is something that a US-based analyst known as Conspirador Norteño has been trying to discover.
Conspirador Norteño began by looking at recent use of the hashtag #FalseFlag – most of which has been in connection with the reported chemical attack in Syria.
Out of 58,733 tweets and retweets using #FalseFlag, 11,700 (or 19.9%) were a direct result of Shilling's presence on Twitter (see diagram below). Looked at another way, 11.1% of the 27,090 Twitter accounts using #FalseFlag had done so on the basis of Shilling's initial tweets.
Conspirador Norteño also found that accounts using #FalseFlag were very likely to have used one or more hashtags from other conspiracy theories such as #FollowTheWhiteRabbit, #QAnon, Pizzagate, #SethRich, #SpiritCooking, and #SyriaHoax.