I’ve spent a good amount of time looking into fake and deceptive social media accounts. A couple of the more prominent things I’ve worked on:
- I’ve researched foreign American-impersonating Facebook accounts.
- I did an investigation of the influential fake news creator True Pundit.
I’ve also got a fairly popular Twitter account @apokerplayer, where I’ve encountered and interacted with a slew of random and weird accounts over the years.
This piece is a look at some of the more interesting and bizarre fake/deceptive social media accounts I’ve encountered. One of my main goals with writing about fake/deceptive online accounts is to make people more skeptical. Ideally, we should never assume someone online is who they say they are or that they are stating a point of view they actually believe. If all of us were more skeptical online, I think the world would be a better place.
Jenifer Stevens: The young woman who is an old man
“Jenifer Stevens” used to be very prolific online: she’s had a Twitter account since March 2012; she had a popular Facebook page with a lot of engagement, she had been making frequent comments on articles via Disqus since 2012. At the time of writing this, she still has close to 5,000 followers on Twitter, and she’s written more than 25,000 tweets. She has almost 1400 article comments on Disqus.
Her social media showed a young, successful woman, the CEO of her own company, who traveled around the world for various meetings and jobs, posting pics of the places she went. A lot of work went into running all these accounts, and she got a lot of engagement. Why wouldn’t she? She was attractive, successful, and she was an outspoken Trump supporter, which got her a lot of attention from conservatives.
You can see the above stolen pic of the model Chiara Ferragni on this fashion website.
But Jenifer’s pictures were of a European model named Chiara Ferragni, and her international trip pictures were all just generic photos one could find online with a little searching.
Working with Kyle Murray (who first noticed the weirdness of this account and who wrote a couple pieces about it), I researched this account further. We discovered it was almost certainly the work of a man named Steve Hosid, an older guy who used to be involved with golf video/TV productions, and who had written some golf books. All the pieces lined up: they had at times used the same pictures, and they were both passionate about golf, TV production, and the University of Southern California. And our research was essentially confirmed because Steve Hosid never returned any of our emails or messages, and the @stevehosid account blocked me on Twitter. Also, Jenifer has not left a comment on Disqus since that time. Also, Jenifer’s Facebook account disappeared, either self-deleted or deleted by Facebook due to the reports of us and other people.
Unlike some other fake rightwing-woman accounts that have been outed as foreign propaganda, this one was different. It was obvious Hosid was not just doing this for propaganda reasons; it was obvious he got some enjoyment out of playing this woman and interacting with his fans. There was just too much loving work put into the jet setting details, the fake backstory of being a successful female CEO, the passionate tweets about USC and golf and travel.
It was quite comical to read some of Jenifer’s “as a woman” content with the knowledge it was an older man:
In Jenifer’s Disqus comments, the word “woman” is used 62 times, usually in similar faux-feminine-viewpoint ways.
Jenifer’s early tweets often praised Donald Trump directly:
What was also surprising about Jenifer was how protective people were of her both before and after she was exposed. There were a few well-meaning people who defended her as being real. It wasn’t that they were lying; they had been deceived by being longtime “friends” with her online. Here’s one example of a Facebook and Twitter friend of Jenifer’s who initially defended Jenifer and who eventually came to realize her mistake after we walked her through the evidence:
In exposing Jenifer to her followers, we talked to many people who expressed genuine surprise that she was not real. This was especially true for Facebook friends. One major factor in this for Facebook: USC graduates and associates thought she was real because they saw other USC acquaintances of theirs who were mutual friends with her. This is often how fake accounts get access to a large network of people who believe them; people assume the person must be real if other people essentially are vouching for them. But as you can see, this is flawed reasoning, because many people accept just about any friend request sent to them.
It’s a popular strategy for fake accounts to use pictures of young women. It is a solid strategy because they do get more shares/likes from men, and their influence on women is, worst case, probably unchanged. I’ve witnessed how successful this strategy is. Long after Jenifer has been outed as fake, I have seen maybe ten men reach out to her on Twitter, asking her what’s she’s been up to, or why she’s been so quiet. I have only a couple times seen female Twitter accounts ask this of her.
Also interesting: some people do not care at all that she is fake and continue following Jenifer and interacting with her after being informed. I’ve had some men block me after I told them this. It’s been interesting seeing how surprisingly little some people care about consuming content from known liars.
“Nakie Steve”: The multi-level-marketing exhibitionist
Because of my work on fake accounts, I’ve been contacted a few times by people asking me to look into various weirdnesses or mysteries. This was one of those instances. And it’s a weird one. Note: there is nudity ahead.
Some people in the online Lularoe-seller community (Lularoe is a multi-level marketing clothing company) were perplexed by the goings-on in Lularoe-related Facebook groups. Some accounts, who seemed to be young women, were occasionally being given moderator/admin access to Lularoe groups, and then taking over the groups, kicking other people out. They would then change the focus of the groups to be about a man named “Nakie Steve.”
Long story short: Nakie Steve is the alias of a Chicago-area man named Steve Franks, an exhibitionist whose behavior has become increasingly brazen and worthy of concern over the last few months. Based on research and off-the-record comments by acquaintances of Steve Franks, it is almost certain that he is the person behind the many fake accounts spreading warnings and news about “Nakie Steve.”
Here’s one such group that was taken over by Nakie Steve sock puppet accounts:
If you’re confused by all of this, I don’t blame you. It took me a while to decipher what was going on. Let’s start with the name of this group: “Twatwaffles” is apparently a term mainly used in the Lularoe community (although it’s unclear to me if it was a term that Nakie Steve created). Note the creepy banner that Steve also made.
When Steve takes over a Facebook group, he posts warnings and petitions about himself:
Here’s an especially creepy post from another Faceook group:
Nakie Steve initially got attention online for accepting payments to do humorous partial strip teases for people’s birthdays (the Facebook page with these). The first ones visible online are from earlier this year, but it’s possible he started earlier than that.
Like a lot of deviant behavior, it seems to have escalated over time. He later began to posted fully nude pictures of himself. He also began creating fake accounts that imitated real people, including his wife and some actual young women, at least one of whom lives in the Chicago area and whom he theoretically might know in real life.
There is also a @queenchastity Twitter account, which is almost certainly Steve also. This account occasionally shares news about Steve and the anti-Nakie-Steve petition, along with explicit porn videos (naturally).
It seems probable Steve has had a problem with Lularoe, as he occasionally posts anti-Lularoe content. Then again, it’s possible he just pretends to be angry at them to draw more attention to himself from the community.
For more details on this weird story, see this post by someone in the Lularoe community.
Steve’s behavior is troubling and has been reported to the Chicago police.
The fake promotional/PR accounts of poker player Annie Duke
Annie Duke is a former professional poker player who has a controversial image in the poker community. To put it simply, many serious, long-time poker players dislike her for her past involvement in assorted scandals and controversial poker industry happenings.
Annie has tried to move on to non-poker-related fame, like being on The Celebrity Apprentice, writing pop-psychology books, and being a corporate consultant. If I were to pick one complementary thing to say about Annie Duke, it would probably be that she is quite skilled at publicity. (One prime example of this: a fawning, no-content puff piece from The New Yorker.)
In mid-2013, I happened to notice @mattymatt1970, a recently-created generic-looking account that was suspiciously enthusiastic about Annie Duke. He couldn’t stop tweeting about her:
He’d only been around for a couple months, and his fifth tweet was a tweet defending Annie Duke’s reputation:
Of his 100 or so tweets, maybe 25 of them were about Annie Duke. Some of those were responses defending her, like the above.
The rest of this person’s non-Annie-Duke-related tweets were generic, boring, quickly written ones. Another giveaway of someone just filling space between propaganda posts.
Looking into it more, I found another big Annie Duke fan, @overandout2000, with similar posts (most have now been deleted, so I’m lacking all the screenshots). This account was created only three weeks after the MattyMatt account, and they had a similar style.
On confronting both of these accounts, and telling them I’d send them $50 for any proof they were real, they both blocked me, and stopped tweeting entirely shortly thereafter.
Whether it was Annie herself behind these accounts, or someone she paid to do online PR work, it’s clear they were very bad at the job. Maybe they’ve gotten better.
Moneymakah11: A white guy pretending to be black
I found @Moneymakah11 in a thread about veganism in November 2017. He’s an account with a profile pic of a young black man, and he was insulting vegans by calling them racists, and being very rude and aggressive. (He’s since deleted his early tweets from that time and earlier.)
Unusually aggressive behavior is often a red flag; it should make you question the realness of an account. It’s rare for genuine, non-deceptive accounts, who are using their own actual picture and/or name, to be very rude and aggressive to strangers without a good reason. Generally, there will be some precipitating conversation; they won’t just start berating people they haven’t talked to much before without having some interaction first.
Immediately after I berated the @moneymakah11 account, I received a 1-star Amazon review on one of my poker tells books that read, “Trash.” The account name that left the review was ‘Patrick Empey’, and I traced that name to the Twitter account @empeypp.
On confronting both accounts, it was clear from the way he reacted that @empeypp was responsible for the @moneymakah11 account and the Amazon review. The displayed name of the 1-star Amazon review was quickly changed, which implied to me that he must have quickly created the Amazon account out of anger, not knowing it would make the name he’d chosen publicly visible. The fake name he changed his Amazon account to was Delon Jones.
Both accounts also blocked me in response to me asking them about it, another indicator of guilt. Also, after threatening @empeypp to keep tweeting about his deception, I did get what I thought was an indirect admission from @empeypp that the account was his.
Since then, the @moneymakah11 account is still pretending to be black, and still berating people. I told @empeypp when I last spoke to him that I’d leave him alone if he shut down the fake account, but since he has continued, I decided to mention him in this piece.
Katie Wagner Fox, a fake pro-Trump female account
There are many deceptive far-rightwing accounts. It’s hard to say how many there are because, when done with a little intelligence, it is near impossible to prove that these accounts are fake. For one thing, while some fake accounts have been exposed by their use of images found via Google reverse image search, it is also trivially easy for fake account creators to capture many pictures from the same person on Instagram, and most of these photos are not searchable via major search engines.
But one can get a sense for how many fake accounts there are by how many have been exposed, and by how much suspicious activity there is in general.
While not a super high number of followers, note that this person has made 32,600 tweets: many of these are responses in high-traffic threads (for example, @realdonaldtrump tweet threads). Many of her tweets are retweets of other rightwing accounts.
I sometimes offer fake-looking accounts money ($50–100) to post a picture of themselves with a recent publication. Katie’s account looked so obviously fake, I made this offer to her without even researching her account, and I got no response. Then someone tweeted a reverse image search that showed she was using a stock image photo that was particularly popular with optometrists (I suppose because she’s wearing Ray Ban sunglasses).
After this account was outed as fake, she made her Twitter account protected.
I’ve encountered many suspicious rightwing accounts. As stated, when done with even a little intelligence (using unsearchable images), these accounts are impossible to conclusively prove fake. But it can be telling that many of them, when confronted with the opportunity to prove themselves as real, do not do so, even though you would think they would relish the opportunity to “own” their haters.
Here’s one example of a probably fake account: @suzydymna, an influential pro-Trump female account that often tweets fake news and misinformation:
I several times offered her $100 to post a picture of herself with a recent publication. She blocked me.
I’ve made this offer a total of maybe 15 times to similar accounts and only have paid out twice. While of course it is possible all of these accounts depict real people (one factor might be that the women use real but out-of-date/deceptive photos), it is improbable that so many would turn down a chance to embarass me, and force me to donate money to a conservative cause.
(Kind of funny aside: one of the accounts that I was wrong about wanted me to donate $75 to Donald Trump’s charity but, despite us both searching online, neither of us could find a way to give money to it. Then she wanted me to donate to Eric Trump’s charity, but that one had been shut down due to its legal troubles.)
All of this is not to say that there are not deceptive liberal accounts. I have seen many suspicious anti-Trump accounts, just not to the extent that I’ve seen obviously fake or suspicious rightwing accounts.
My goal with sharing all of these is to get people to be more skeptical of everything online. I do believe that one of our big problems as a country is people believing fake online news uncritically, so if we can get people more skeptical about the sources from which that information comes to them, that’s a good start.
If you’d like to read about some other weird, deceptive accounts, here are some other pieces I’ve written: