Much of the world is watching what Russian dictator Vladimir Putin will do in Ukraine. Jack Sweeney is watching Putin. Or more specifically, Putin’s plane.
Sweeney, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Central Florida, has garnered a healthy social media following simply by following aircraft owned by the rich and famous.
Using publicly available data from the Federal Aviation Administration, Sweeney’s algorithms track aircraft, whose location he then posts on Twitter. He became national news a month ago when The Wall Street Journal reported that Elon Musk personally offered Sweeney $5,000 to stop monitoring him. Sweeney countered with a promise to quit if Tesla’s CEO gave him a new car. Apparently, Musk balked.
But Sweeney’s eye on Elon gained him 350,000 of Twitter’s faithful.
The Journal now reports that Sweeney has put his skills to work tracking Putin’s plane, and those of other influential Russians. His bot accounts are known as @RUOligarchJets and @Putinjet.
“Even before this war started, people were saying to me, ‘Oh, you should track Putin,’” Sweeney told the Journal on Tuesday.
He went to work after Puti9n ordered troops into Ukraine.
As of Tuesday, Sweeney snagged 30,000 followers to keep up with the longtime Russian president. The oligarchs who hold all the financial power in Russia are seemingly more interesting. The Journal noted that @RUOligarchJets, which keeps tabs on some 40 aircraft, has more than 175,000 followers.
According to the Journal, Sweeney’s bots are on the trail of men like Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea Football Club in England, Leonid Mikhelson, head of the Russian natural gas company Novatek, and Alisher Usmanov, considered the wealthiest person in Russia. Usmanov was on the list of more than two people personally sanctioned by the European Union in the wake of the Russian invasion.
Perhaps the type of aircraft drives the interest as much as the personalities.
Sweeney told the Journal the oligarch’s aircraft include planes like a Boeing 737 and an Airbus A319.
“Their planes are huge compared to other jets,” he said.