It has recently come to my attention that a whole passel o' people think that Sunflaaash here on Twitter may be where Noel Fielding migrated after internet trolls were trolly at him on his official account. Considering that forensic document analysis is what got this blog attention in the first place, I thought I'd take a crack.

There are a lot of tools you can use in document analysis. There is the blindingly obvious, like checking for spelling -- don't laugh, the guy who forged the Hitler Diaries fucked this up and put the wrong initials on the cover because he couldn't tell an A from an F in Fraktur. It's also surprisingly difficult for people who can spell correctly to spell things appallingly badly. Many an amateur kidnapper has flunked Ransom Note 101 because of this. Phrasing is also a useful thing to pay attention to, particularly if your target is writing in a second or third language, and particularly particularly if that second or third language is English; there are so many right ways to say things in English that which one someone chooses has a lot to do with the structure of their primary language, and where they learned their English. More than one speaker of Indian English has confused the hell out of an American by using 'thrice' in regular conversation.

There are also statistical techniques that measure the frequency of words within a text, and things like the length of sentences and the number of comma-separated phrases, and other such things. These things are extraordinarily useful if you have a Q (questioned text) that you want to compare to a large number of Ks (texts of known authorship) in a hurry, as you can do stat work by computer. Quite valuable if you're trying to figure out who wrote Primary Colors or The Eiger Sanction, or if you're one of the obsessive nutters who thinks that anyone wrote Shakespeare other than Shakespeare. A combination of this and spotting anachronistic word usage is what pretty much proved that the Beale Cipher was a giant put-on.

If you're working with internet text, then typing style also plays a role. Things that are posted on the interwebs don't usually have the benefit of a proper editor and are not always revised well; characteristic misspellings, mis-punctuation, and quirks of spacing remain surprisingly consistent across platforms. People who post a grotesque jumble of chatroom Martian on phpBBs don't type artful sonnets into Twitter. Some of the weirder autocorrect errors and workarounds are due to the device used to post -- I don't have an iPhone, but I'm under the impression that the autocorrect is specific to the phone and not the webpage, and if it makes a bizarre suggestion in one app it'll make the same bizarre suggestion in all the others. Certain typos can also suggest what keyboard layout someone is using, and therefore where in the world they're working from. "Hzllo" as a typo for "hello" would be a bit baffling for an English-speaking QWERTY user, but makes perfect sense if the typist is actually on a German AZERTY keyboard instead.

Mostly, though, I just read the things. The same fweeper that tells me when glyphs are meaningful text also flags stuff that's not quite right somehow, including pieces that I am expecting to be written in one voice which turns out to be in entirely another. I assume that most of it is an unconscious, fuzzy version of the stat work above, and the rest of it is unknowable pareidolic magic.

The Sunflaaash account is done in character (it's from their Future Sailors tour, it makes... actually, no, belay that; it intentionally doesn't make sense in context), and typed in dialect, which complicates things. Fielding does play the character (plays Vince playing the character -- they get kind of meta) on stage. Not that that means much of anything; watch him and Barratt long enough and you'll realize that they're continually picking up character voices from each other, sometimes to the point where they're hard to distinguish. Barratt's primary mode of disassembling the inside of his head and reassembling it on the outside for other people to see is evidently writing, however, and I think it would sincerely hurt his head to type like that, no matter how funny he thought the outcome would be.

Fielding, on the other hand, is summat dyslexic and wants to draw things so badly he was doing storyboards for the Boosh radio show while it was in development. The typing on Sunflaaash account is entirely consistent with someone who seriously once asked Twitter to please for the love of God tell him how to spell 'pajamas', although this is not necessarily very helpful, as there are a lot of people like that, especially on the internet. They've also got the same sign off (one or more 'x' -- on Twitter, as on greeting cards, this is a bye-with-a-kiss, usually taken to be the cheery theatrical 'goodbye, daaaaaaaahlings - Mwah!' type), but again, this is an explicit and noticeable quirk, and would be easy for someone to pick up intentionally. There are somewhat more subtle details of punctuation, like the occasional space between the end of the sentence and an exclamation point, and of capitalization, that tend to match between the two accounts, but I cannot say it's definitive unless I knew what kind of phone/tablet these things were being posted from, and how squiffy the keyboard software was.

(Punctuation is actually really useful if you're trying to spot people who aren't native English speakers. Speakers of Chinese or Japanese tend to stick a space between the sentence and exclamation points, and almost always use two of them. Neither language uses spaces within sentences in their standard orthography, which makes learning to use them a bit screwball, and you always get bang-bang at the end because kanji/hanzi are roughly as wide as they are tall, and !! makes a better square than ! does, thus fitting in better with standard typography. French has two different ways of setting off quotes from the text, neither of which work quite the same as English, and a lot of things in German, even modern books, are typeset with a single line break but no indent at the start of a new paragraph. I love Michael Ende, but my copy of Momo is printed like that, and for the first two chapters I always think it looks like the manuscript has been pitched through a misbehaving file converter.)

Because it's all being done in dialect and of course no one is ever going to own up to it, I can't say for sure whether Sunflaaash is or isn't Fielding, and for the love of little green apples don't bug him about it. I will say that I wouldn't be surprised if it is -- he really doesn't like not being able to get to the audience, to the point where he will actually bitch a bit at live shows if the venue is so big that he can't interact with the front row while standing on the front apron of the stage. It is insanely easy to get him to answer back during shows, whether they're Boosh pantos or his solo work; he gets annoyed at real hecklers, mostly on behalf of the audience members who are not drunken twats determined to ruin the night for everyone else, but he'll engage for quite a while if you can shout something cheerful and cooperatively weird loudly enough for him to hear. Someone decided to wave a sign at him during the warm up to Future Sailors promising him that if he came down to their table, they'd give him a Twix, and it very nearly worked. The credits on their Live At Brixton DVD roll over curtain calls, where Fielding goes from shaking hands, to kneeling on the stage to hug people and kiss cheeks, to just jumping down into the writhing crowd, still in costume with his mic channel open.

Whoever it is, they're not trolling and they don't seem to be scamming, as they're not claiming to be anything but a sort of character RP account. It's not a publicity stunt -- at worst, it's a dedicated fan. There's a lot of ping-pong with BNFs, which all seems friendly and generally sane, if rather fanciful. No harm in following, if you're interested in such things.

Comments