Chicago Tribune editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis apologized on Thursday for the purchase of 5,000 fake Twitter followers to inflate the appearance of his social media profile.
The purchase was made “on his behalf” in March 2015, Chicago Tribune Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Bruce Dold wrote in a note to readers Thursday afternoon.
“This was done without the Chicago Tribune’s knowledge and created a breach of trust with our readers,” Dold wrote.
Stantis deleted his @sstantis account — which had more than 21,000 followers — and issued a public apology from a new account, @scottstantis, on Thursday, saying he had “tightened control over my new Twitter feed.”
Stantis told Tribune management that he didn’t know about the fake followers “until recent days,” according to Dold.
The first tweet from Stantis’ new account was sent Feb. 7. That’s about five days after the Chicago Sun-Times reinstated film critic Richard Roeper after a similar flap.
“At a time of increasing pressure on news organizations, promoting anything that is fake is a danger to the integrity of journalism,” Stantis wrote. “That I have contributed to the diminishing of readers’ trust in me and in the Chicago Tribune fills me with shame.”
Stantis documented the purchase with personal credit card records, telling management that it was a one-time purchase, Dold wrote.
Through a spokeswoman for the newspaper’s parent company Tronc, Stantis and Dold declined to comment on who made the purchase, or if the cartoonist was reprimanded beyond the public rebuke.
“This purchase had the effect of deceiving readers about the size of Stantis’ following on Twitter. The Tribune Code of Editorial Principles states that we must provide readers ‘with journalism that is trustworthy, relevant and valuable,'” Dold wrote.
Stantis’ fake followers were purchased through the company Devumi, the same source of more than 50,000 Twitter followers purchased by Roeper, as first revealed in a Jan. 27 New York Times report.
Sun-Times management briefly sidelined Roeper’s reviews and, after investigating the bogus followers, pulled the plug on a planned general-interest column.
Roeper deleted his Twitter account and created a new one.