Imagine you’re a college student. You’re just minding your own business, relaxing after a brutal week of midterms, when all of a sudden your friends start messaging you. “Is this you?” one friend asks. The message links to a viral tweet:
“This professor graded tests next to me the whole flight. If there’s a Taiwan Jones at Howard, boy you failed the f— out ya midterm.” Your name is Taiwan Jones. You go to Howard. Crap.
This is the scenario that hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter wanted to believe was real on Thursday night, as the original tweet about the grading professor — and a worried reply from one “Taiwan Jones” went viral.
(Twitter image (edited for language)/The Washington Post)
But we regret to inform you that this delightful anecdote about the power of social media is not what it seems. Many key parts of the tale do not add up. Please keep reading as we slowly and meticulously destroy the joy this story may have first brought to you when you thought it was totally real. It’s what we do.
What Howard is “Howard”?
A Howard University spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post that the historically black college, which is in the midst of its homecoming, did not have a student enrolled named Taiwan Jones.
There are other colleges with “Howard” in their names, so we are checking with them, too. Howard College, a two-year school in Texas, said it did not have an enrolled student named Taiwan Jones, nor did Howard Community College in Maryland.
Let’s look at the viral “Taiwan Jones” account, @JonesTaiwan_.
It’s the one with nearly 150,000 retweets seen above.
After digging around on the history of this account, we can say with a great deal of certainty that until very recently, this account tweeted under at least one completely different handle, @SaucyIV_. That handle now shows up as inactive on Twitter. There are a couple of reasons we believe this is true, but here’s an easy way to see the link between the two handles. If you look at some of the older, still-live tweets from @JonesTaiwan_, they match those we found in a Google cache archive of @SaucyIV_’s account from a few weeks ago.
Here’s an old tweet from SaucyIV_, from a Google cache of the account:
And one from @JonesTaiwan_:
In other words, the “Taiwan Jones” account that went super viral was very likely changed from a previous Twitter handle to match that of the student described in the midterm tweet. It’s a well known, relatively easy trick that shows up again and again in dubious viral Twitter moments. It also works pretty well, as the hundreds of thousands of retweets on the “Taiwan Jones” reply show.
So, who runs the troll account?
We’re not entirely sure, but there are some clues. Before SaucyIV_ became “Taiwan Jones,” SaucyIV_ ‘s Twitter bio indicated that the tweeter was an aspiring Twitch streamer, or someone who wants to make a living by streaming themselves playing video games online. SaucyIV_ ‘s Twitch bio is also named SaucyIV, and on that page, SaucyIV is described as a 16-year-old kid named “Trent” who lives in Canada.
We reached out to “Trent” via a Twitch message, and a business email found on the YouTube channel linked to the Twitch bio, but did not immediately get a response.
Another “Taiwan Jones”?
While we’re here, let’s address a second “Taiwan Jones” account on Twitter, @TaiwanJones_, whose own viral reply to the original tweet has more than 13,000 retweets. It’s also fake, sorry.
It appears to be the alternate account of another Twitter user, @Robinxvl, who said in a tweet that the Taiwan Jones account used to be “sergi esteban,” which he described as his “troll journalist” account, until he changed it to try to go viral as Jones.
@Robinxvl also posted an image of a press request sent by BuzzFeed to the “Taiwan Jones” account Friday morning, which he bragged about turning down because of his “hate” for BuzzFeed. When a Washington Post journalist replied to those tweets asking if they amounted to confirmation that they were behind the Taiwan Jones account, @Robinxvl deleted them.
Was anyone sitting next to a professor grading midterms on a plane?
At this point, we reached out to Roy Handy, the Atlanta-based photographer who sent the original tweet, in which he claimed he had observed a professor grading student midterms on a plane.
Handy, at first, declined to chat about his tweet. When we said we were having trouble verifying that a Taiwan Jones existed at Howard University and that other parts of the story didn’t add up, Handy replied:
“I cannot verify what school the student attends, which is why I said ‘if’ in context of the tweet.”
He continued: “I wasn’t aware of how much power this relatable topic could have across the HBCU community as a whole, so I’d rather leave the tweet to live in speculation of what could be or could not be fact or fiction. Therefore, again, I cannot verify any information on this for a story to be made, but I hope you enjoyed it!”