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Identity/Imposters
image The big news in the blogosphere last week was the revelation that a blogger named 'Plain Layne' wasn't who she said she was. Of course if you, like me, had never heard of Plain Layne before, then the news didn't mean a whole lot. But the people who thought they knew her seemed genuinely shocked.

Plain Layne wrote about her life, and her life happened to be far more exciting and racy than the lives of most people, which is why she had a fairly large following. Jason Kottke has provided a great summary of some of her experiences:

In the past two years, Layne has discovered she's bisexual; fell in love with a Spanish go-go dancer; made room in her home for her cousin's pregnant girlfriend and now her newborn infant; met up with one of her birth parents for the first time; recounted a fling she had with a former boss (who had a girlfriend at the time); hinted at a rape she endured in Mexico (which turned her into a lesbian); charmed a straight woman co-worker into sleeping with her, becoming her girlfriend and then fiancee (!); broken off the engagement with said co-worker; frequently hooked up with one of the ex-fiancee's friends (another straight girl, if you can believe it); most recently slept with three women in the same week; and somehow, as all this was going on, held down a job at a large corporation working 80 hours a week managing a very successful IT group.

About a week ago Plain Layne's weblog disappeared and was replaced by some random text written in Polish. Faced with this vanishing act, her readers quickly realized that no one had ever laid eyes on her, and internet sleuths soon uncovered clues suggesting her non-existence. There's speculation that her weblog was actually some kind of group writing project... i.e. Plain Layne and all her adventures may have been the creation of many people.

At this stage in the life of the internet, I'm surprised that people feel so shocked and betrayed by this revelation. After all, what were they expecting? The phenomenon of bloggers assuming fake identities is hardly a new one. Here's a brief list of previous fake bloggers (or suspected fake bloggers) that I'm familiar with:
  • Kaycee Nicole Swenson: a middle-aged woman who claimed to be a 19-year-old girl dying of cancer
  • Belle de Jour: Claims to be a London call girl. Probably a writer who has never been a prostitute.
  • Rance: Claims to be an a-list Hollywood celebrity. Probably not. Possibly an obscure cartoonist named Keith Thomson.
  • Hot Abercrombie Chick: Claims to be an attractive young college co-ed. Probably a guy named Daniel Zeigenbein
  • Flashman: LiveJournal weblog that ended abruptly accompanied by a (false) claim that the blogger had died rushing into the World Trade Center to save people on 9/11.
  • She's a Flight Risk: Journal of a twenty-something woman who claims to have run away from her wealthy family and become an international fugitive. Widely suspected to be a hoax.

I'm sure there are thousands of other fake bloggers operating out there. But these are the most famous ones that I'm aware of.
Update: The real author of Plain Layne comes clean. She's a man.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 22, 2004
Comments (10)
A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about a Brazilian professor of Geology who has a rather unfortunate last name. That inspired quite a few people to chime in with other unfortunate last names they've encountered. But I think I've found a contest winner (not that there is any contest). Meet Miss Chew Shit Fun, a professor of Natural Sciences at the National Institute of Education in Singapore. As far as I can tell, that really is her name. (via The Peking Duck)
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 10, 2004
Comments (7)
Yesterday I suggested that the anonymous blogger 'Rance' might really be a cartoonist/screenwriter named Keith Thomson because Thomson's name kept popping up when I tracked down who was initially hyping Rance in internet discussion groups. But people have pointed out that movie studios and talent agencies often create phony identities that they use to hype projects they're working on. Maybe the phony identities they used to hype Rance just happened to have been used earlier to hype Thomson's work. Could be. And whoever runs Defamer seems to feel confident that Rance really is a celebrity.

So I'm willing to consider that Rance is a celebrity. If this is the case, then it would be a celebrity who's a client of International Creative Management, and who probably is also a client of Nick Reed, the same agent who represents Keith Thomson. I searched for celebrities who fit this profile and the person I came up with is Kevin Pollak. He's a comedian; and he's represented by Nick Reed. Plus, what he writes on his online diary sounds a bit like Rance.
Admittedly Pollak is a shot in the dark. But I'm pretty sure that someone at ICM (most likely Nick Reed) helped hype Rance, so ICM somehow holds the solution to the mystery of who he is.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 02, 2004
Comments (13)
The latest buzz in the blogosphere is about the weblog of 'Rance,' an anonymous blogger who claims to be a well-known, A-list, Hollywood celebrity. Or as he coyly puts it on his weblog, "I can tell you what it's like to see your picture on the magazine rack every now and again when you pay for groceries." For a couple of months he's been dishing up dirt on life in Hollywood, and he's succeeded in attracting a huge following. He even got interviewed (anonymously) by Reuters last week. But of course, he won't reveal who he is... which just makes everyone crazy to find out the secret. Is Rance really a celebrity, or is he just an average schmuck pretending to be a celebrity?

There have been quite a few theories about his identity. Xeni Jardin, over at BoingBoing posted a rumor that he was Owen Wilson, though she conceded he could just as easily be George Clooney or Mr. Potato Head. The Defamer weblog posted a clever theory from one of their readers that an LA-based ad agency named Butler, Shine, Stern, and Partners is secretly behind Rance's weblog. Their reasoning was that Rance's url is captainhoof.tripod.com, and the ad agency has a mascot called Captain Hoofers. Defamer also has suggested that Rance is really Ben Affleck, because Rance once made a reference to the initials 'OV,' and Ben has 'OV' tattooed on his back (seems like a bit of a stretch to me).


Anyway, I got hooked by the mystery and decided to see if I could find out anything about the identity of Rance, and I now have a lead suspect of my own. I think Rance is a cartoonist/filmmaker/screenwriter named Keith Thomson.

Here's my reasoning. What immediately struck me about Rance's weblog was that it attracted a very high number of comments from very early on. Within two hours after Rance posted his first entry on December 29, 2003, four people had left comments on his site. Most weblogs, by contrast, struggle to get anyone to read them, let alone leave comments. So how was he attracting so many visitors to his site straight off the bat?

What I discovered was that immediately after Rance posted his first entry on Dec. 29 at 4:49 EST, someone going by the screen name 'InvaderFromPluto' began posting messages about his weblog on various fan discussion groups. For instance, at 5:52, about one hour after Rance had posted his first entry, a message from InvaderFromPluto appears on Yahoo's thematthewperryplace message board. It reads:

i read slate reported a famous tv actor keeping a weblog under
pseudonym "rance" at http://captainhoof.tripod.com/blog/
it's hard to know if it is him, but it might be as it is funny and
seems witty in his sort of way


Obviously Slate hadn't written anything about Rance's weblog. Rance's weblog, at that time, was only an hour old. So how did InvaderFromPluto know about Rance's weblog so quickly, and why was he so interested in promoting it? Perhaps InvaderFromPluto was Rance himself. Makes sense to me.

InvaderFromPluto can be found promoting Rance's weblog in other discussion groups. Here he is with the same message over at HugeHughGrantFans.

So how can we find out who InvaderFromPluto is? A simple Google search revealed that throughout 2002 and 2003 InvaderFromPluto was busy on various message boards promoting the cartoon work of Keith Thomson. He even promoted what seems to be an early Keith Thomson hoax: an online petition trying to stop Britney Spears's lawyers from suing him (even though Spears's lawyers don't seem to have had any intention to sue him).

So I think it's very likely that InvaderFromPluto is Keith Thomson (who else would be so tirelessly promoting his work). Therefore, by extension, Keith Thomson is also Rance. To put it in mathematical form: Rance = InvaderFromPluto = Keith Thomson.

Or, if Rance isn't Keith Thomson, then, at the very least, Thomson seems to be involved somehow.

Here's a bio of Keith Thomson from the atomfilms site:

Keith Thomson played a season of semi-professional baseball in Europe before becoming a political cartoonist for New York Newsday. His work appeared in many other publications, including GQ and Howard Stern's book Miss America. His short film, "Cupidity," played at Sundance and can now be seen on Atomshockwave. He has since written feature film screenplays for Imagine, Paramount and Sony. He also wrote for Bill Plympton's animated MTV show, "Helter Shelter." Thomson is represented by Nick Reed of ICM.

So Thomson is a guy who knows Hollywood. Plus he has a sense of humor. Sounds a lot like Rance to me.
Update: David Emery just emailed me some more evidence linking Keith Thomson to Rance. Check out the
screen name ("Captain Hoof") on this 2002 newsgroup post that links to a Keith Thomson video.
Update 2: Another theory to consider is that the person using the screen name InvaderFromPluto wasn't Keith Thomson. It could have been Thomson's agent at ICM, Nick Reed (Reed gets a 'co-created by' credit on Thomson's films, so he would be just as likely to promote the films as Thomson). If this is the case, then Rance could be Nick Reed. Or he could be one of Reed's other clients.
Update 3: I just posted some second thoughts about the Keith Thomson/Rance connection. I still think Thomson is a prime suspect, but I'm not 100% sure.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 01, 2004
Comments (29)
I've always thought my last name was pretty bad. And I mean that in the literal sense. 'Boese' means 'bad' (or angry) in German. But its meaning wouldn't matter much if only English-speaking people could pronounce it (it's 'burr-za', as if it had an 'r' in it... not 'boose'). But I shouldn't feel too sorry for myself, because this guy in Brazil, Mr. Reinhardt Adolfo Fuck, has me beat hands down. As far as I can tell, that really is his name. He must get endless jokes about it.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Thu May 20, 2004
Comments (693)
image She said she was Princess Antoinette Millard from Saudi Arabia. She was actually from Buffalo, New York. But somehow she managed to con her way into millions of dollars. Her cover was blown when she filed fake insurance claims. It's amazing how the old fake princess con never seems to go out of style.
Categories: Con Artists, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon May 10, 2004
Comments (0)
Micah Wright is the author of You Back the Attack, We'll Bomb Who We Want, a satirical take on war propaganda. Publishers Weekly described him as a "former Army Ranger turned antiwar comic book artist." In an interview with the Washington Post in July, 2003 Wright elaborated at some length on his experience as an Army Ranger. Here's a quote from that article:

He endured rigorous Ranger training, including capturing and eating a snake. He says he participated in classified combat missions in South and Central America, but can talk only about Operation Just Cause, the capture of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. (Or, as he calls it, "Operation Just Because.") Did he ever kill anyone? "That's one of those questions that I really don't like to answer," he says after an uncomfortable pause. "You're shooting at people and other people are shooting and people fall down. Put it this way: I never shot at anybody who hadn't shot at me first."

Sounds pretty exciting and mysterious, except now Wright has admitted that he was never an Army Ranger. The extent of his military experience is some Army ROTC training. So Wright now joins a long tradition of lying about military service. It's a tradition that includes both pro-war and anti-war activists, democrats as well as republicans. I could easily have a whole gallery of the museum devoted to phony veterans. (Thanks, Shane)
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Military
Posted by Alex on Sun May 02, 2004
Comments (5)
image A few days ago I posted about the controversy brewing around the Hot Abercrombie Chick (or HAC, for short). The HAC appeared to be an extremely photogenic young female blogger whose blog was rapidly increasing in popularity. But then rumors started to circulate that she wasn't a she at all. She was a he. And the blog's popularity appeared to be due to manipulation of the way blogs are tracked. Justin Foster and Cameron Marlow have done some impressive internet detective work and traced down who the HAC most likely is: a guy living in St. Louis named Daniel Zeigenbein. They did it by uncovering the IP addresses that the HAC had left behind when posting on message boards, and they all originated in St. Louis. That just happens to be where Daniel Zeigenbein lives. Daniel was mentioned in one of the first posts on the HAC's blog, and Justin and Cameron had long suspected he was the real HAC. Making it even more suspicious, Daniel had a blog that he abandoned right before the HAC started up hers.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Technology
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 28, 2004
Comments (0)
If you're going to cheat on your tax forms, you might as well do it big, like this university cafeteria worker did. She claimed to be a Hawaiian princess and managed to get a $2.1 million refund from the IRS. The only thing is, she really believes she is a Hawaiian princess. Her defense lawyer argues that she suffers from an "irrational insistence upon an identity that is not her own." Maybe she's the second coming of
Princess Caraboo.
Categories: Business/Finance, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 27, 2004
Comments (0)
Ella Schultz, an elderly black woman living in Kentwood, Michigan, is quite the emailer. Over the past year she's been shooting off emails to teachers, school administrators, and even a few journalists. But it turns out that Ella isn't actually real. The person actually sending those emails was Edward Kape, a Kentwood Board of Education member (who has now resigned). Or at least, he was one of the people using 'Ella Schultz' as their nom de plume. He insists there were others, though he's not naming any names. The tip off for those receiving the emails should have been that they came from Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. Whenever I receive an email from someone I don't know who's using a Yahoo or Hotmail account, my b-s detector immediately starts to go off.
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 26, 2004
Comments (5)
image If you're a regular reader of Blogdex, as I am, then you'll recognize the name Hot Abercrombie Chick (aka Amanda Doerty). For some reason her weblog keeps rising to the top of Blogdex's index. I've never been able to figure out why. Her posts just don't seem that interesting or relevant. To be honest, I find them boring. Apparently other people have had the same thought, because now she's being accused of gaming Blogdex. But that's not all. Julia Set reports receiving an inside tip that Hot Abercrombie Chick isn't a chick at all. According to Julia, "Hot Abercrombie Chick is really a male college student capitalizing on cute pictures of his girlfriend (previously unbeknownst to her) in a rush of "beggars" trackbacks... Over the course of the last couple of months, 'Mr. Abercrombie' has played every text-book trick for raising his popularity on the blogosphere. The most recent flood of activity, which probably led to his bust, occurred by spamming comments on popular blogs all over the net." Kevin, over at Wizbang, says he's going to contact 'Amanda' to find out what the truth is. Until he reports back, I guess we won't know if the accusations are totally unfounded, or if the Hot Abercrombie Chick is actually another Kaycee Nicole Swenson. Normally I wouldn't pay much attention to random accusations like this, but there does seem something fishy about the Abercrombie chick's rapid ascent to blog stardom. (via Overstated)

Update:The Hot Abercrombie chick insists she's not a hoax. Though I guess one would expect her to say that. There's still no proof either way... but then, how do we know who anyone else on the internet really is?
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 20, 2004
Comments (4)
image Back in 1987 'Baby Jessica' became famous when she fell down a well and was saved following a dramatic rescue operation. Stuff Magazine is now featuring a photo of 'Baby Jessica' all grown up and posing by a well, but is that really Baby Jessica? Makeup and lighting will do a lot (as will digital touch-up work), but the woman in the photo doesn't look that much like Jessica as she appeared a few years ago in this picture. Here's a link to a hi-res scan of the Stuff article. Note that they refer to Baby Jessica as Jessica McClain, even though her actual name is Jessica McClure. Innocent mistake, or not? (via Jessica's Well)
Update (4/16/04): Check out this interview with Jessica McClure on Good Morning America. That ain't the same girl as the Stuff magazine layout. Also, Jessica McClure apparently has a weblog.
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 13, 2004
Comments (10)
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