By Sarah Thompson | 12 December 2019
[LEAD STORIES] EDITOR’S NOTE
Meet Carolina Chaney. Take a good look at her Facebook profile photo. Maybe she looks like your kid’s math teacher or your doctor. Privacy settings block us from seeing anything about her, but we do see she is one of 11 administrators of the “Trump – 2020 KAG!#” Facebook group. Carolina started in that role on Monday, December 9, 2019, and posted two stories on her first day. Those posts suggest that Carolina does not like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or former Vice President Joe Biden.
Don’t try to send Carolina a friend request. She is a person who does not exist. In fact, Carolina’s profile image was created by the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com.
Sarah Thompson, a very real person and the authenticity analyst for Lead Stories, found Carolina Chaney and hundreds of other non-existent people serving as administrators and members of dozens of Facebook groups that solely promote the content of TheBL.com, a major web publisher. Thompson’s previous investigation connected TheBL.com to hundreds of fake Facebook accounts using images of real people taken from other websites, but now she’s discovered a new, unreal tactic.
The fake profiles help the publisher distort the popularity of its content, which then makes it more likely to show up on someone’s timeline. When it is political content – which most often is what TheBL.com publishes – it is especially concerning.
LEAD STORIES — TheBL is an undeclared offshoot of The Epoch Times and NTD media. NBC Tech News reporters Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins wrote about the connections between the Epoch Times and Falun Gong in August 2019. Alex Kasprak and Jordan Liles of Snopes uncovered the links between The Epoch Times and TheBL. I wrote about my own investigation into TheBL network of Facebook pages, groups and profiles for the infosec blog SecJuice.
When I began investigating TheBL network in October 2019, many of their fake Facebook profiles used images taken from the photo-sharing website UnSplash.com, where photographers allow publishers to use their work for free as long as they are credited. TheBL ignored the credit requirement. The images were mostly young, good looking people of many races.
They also used repurposed real accounts, sometimes without even changing the name in the link. The URL for the “Kathy Crum” profile (https://www.facebook.com/thom.cuoi) retained the name of “Thom Cuoi” for example, indicating the repurposed account originally belonged to someone in Vietnam. […]