How a Slate journalist found Mitt Romney's secret 'Pierre Delecto' Twitter account
Slate writer Ashley Feinberg discovered Mitt Romney tweets under the alias Pierre Delecto
Until now, you probably hadn't heard of Pierre Delecto.
He didn't have much of a footprint online. A quick search and you might have found that Delecto had eight followers on Twitter. You might have noticed he barely tweeted from his handle: @qaws9876.
But if you scrolled through those tweets it appeared Delecto had some links to Republican Senator Mitt Romney. And thanks to some sleuthing by Ashley Feinberg, we now know that Pierre Delecto is Mitt Romney.
Feinberg is Slate's senior writer. After Romney admitted he used a fake "lurker" account in a profile piece by The Atlantic, Feinberg sifted through Delecto's account history and connected the dots back to Romney.
As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Feinberg about she figured it all out. Here is part of their conversation.
How did you discover that Mitt Romney's alter ego on Twitter was Pierre Delecto?
Because Mitt Romney is such a big family guy. I assumed that he was probably using his alter ego to keep tabs on his family members. And because he has so many, his eldest granddaughter had few enough followers where it was not too hard to sort of go through them and basically pick out each person who seemed like they were trying to conceal their identity and might possibly be Mitt Romney.
And then, from there, I kind of used the facts that he revealed in the Atlantic piece to sort of piece together who the most likely suspect might be.
And how did you finally confirm that Mitt Romney is Pierre Delecto?
The big thing for me basically was, especially if you scroll down to the very first people he followed, they were almost exclusively staffers on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.
It would be very weird for someone who is not Mitt Romney to follow all of these people and then also all of Romney's family members and basically various Mitt Romney fan accounts. You'd have to be a preposterously big Mitt Romney fan to do any of these things and that seemed very unlikely to me.
Mere coincidence? I don't think so.
So Mitt Romney was finally confronted about Pierre Delecto — whether he was Pierre. How did he respond?
Yeah. McKay Coppins, who wrote The Atlantic piece, called him and he said, "c'est moi," which is "it's me" in French.
Pierre Delecto is some kind of a French name. Why do you think he came up with that?
So, I didn't actually know until after we published the piece, but apparently, he did his missionary time in France.
He's fluent and apparently somewhat of a Francophile, so I guess that explains the Pierre. I have absolutely no idea what Delecto is — I am very curious to hopefully find out one day. But it's anyone's guess.
So what a kind of Twitter activity does Pierre Delecto have?
He doesn't tweet a lot. He has about 10 tweets that all consist of replies, basically in defence of Mitt Romney to whoever he is replying to. But for the most part, he kind of just seems to lurk around and watch.
How many people are actually following him?
Before the piece published it was eight. Then afterwards I think it got up to a little over 1,000 before he finally made his account private. So no new people can actually follow him anymore.
People do have these lurker accounts where they want to just follow what's going on on Twitter without actively engaging in it. What does Mitt Romney claim he was trying to do with this account?
I was actually surprised he knew the term. Basically, it seemed like he was just sort of using it to gather information.
He does have several official Mitt Romney accounts, but those are all staff run. So, from what I can tell, he uses it just to kind of keep tabs on Mitt Romney news, largely, and to sort of see what people are saying about Donald Trump and Republicans in the Senate.
It seems like the vast majority of his activity consisted of either monitoring or defending Mitt Romney.
updated <a href="https://t.co/SNVUeqbLoY">https://t.co/SNVUeqbLoY</a>—@ashleyfeinberg
Why couldn't he do that as Mitt Romney?
Well, you're much more self-conscious when people know who you are defending yourself, for one.
And I think that part of what's so interesting about this is you kind of get a chance to see of what these powerful figures are saying when they don't think that they're being monitored for every word or every word is being interpreted.
Only 10 tweets and they're pretty mild, aren't they? They're just sort of an "I beg to differ" kind of thing. Do you think possibly he started as a lurker and just thought I have to respond to this?
Mitt Romney is also a very, very mild guy. So even like the very tame tweets he was doing would have been, I think, big for him.
I think it started in his first campaign and he didn't really start tweeting until a few years later. So I think once he kind of got used to Twitter itself he would just kind of see a slight against Mitt Romney and have to say something.
Just spoke to <a href="https://twitter.com/MittRomney?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MittRomney</a> on the phone, and asked him about Pierre Delecto. His only response: "C'est moi." Updated my story accordingly: <a href="https://t.co/kcfIopokWh">https://t.co/kcfIopokWh</a>—@mckaycoppins
Are these secret accounts legal? Are they ethical?
Yeah, I mean they're certainly legal. I think in terms of public figures and elected officials, especially, its ethical lines are more questionable. I think there's a responsibility towards transparency, especially for someone like Mitt Romney.
Because especially for a lot of government agencies, you can submit Freedom of Information request asks for their Twitter direct messages. Like, this is generally public information. I think basically trying to create this pocket of secrecy is very counter to that ideal.
Written by Katie Geleff and John McGill. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.