But after a little Internet stalking–this is how reporting works, people! One of the bots, @Karriehga, which went by the name Maralyn Estes, showed a photo of a beautiful blond with dark eyes and hair poofed back like a Kentucky prom queen. And some clever Googling led me to a blog that included her full name. “You can leave a message, and she’ll call you back in a few weeks,” her boss Darlene told me. I expected this to be equally difficult, given the sketchy nature of what a company like this does.That allowed me to find her Facebook page, which didn’t list an email address, but did show that she recently clicked “like” on an events planning company. But its work is perfectly legal–in the name of viral marketing, big brands have done far worse–and so all I had to do was call a toll-free number and hit a few buttons.Instead, I was hunting for the woman in the profile picture, the person whose identity had been stolen.
This is a mostly pointless exercise, I knew: The story behind every photo would be different. The company Buy Real Marketing will sell you 1,000 of them for $17, or 25,000 for $247–meaning the value of each is about a penny. He ordered the $17 package from Buy Real Marketing, via its website There’s no way to know if these were purchased follows or just pure coincidence, of course, but the list is wide-ranging.
And what would one of these women say–that she’s flattered to find her face spamming everyone on Twitter? But it seemed worth doing, if only to tell one story, to have one answer. One bot from this batch followed Kelly Osbourne, former Formula 1 racer Tiago Monteiro, the Huffington Post, and an “Internet marketing consultant” named Trent Partridge, among 2,000 others.
So I asked Elizabeth’s old friend: Did he still know her? If you click on a profile photo in Twitter, the photo will open in a tab of its own–and oftentimes will be larger, or more broadly cropped. But after that, Darlene said she’d help me get in touch. Then I looked at my computer screen, which still had @Karriehga up.
He did, he said, though she’s since gotten married and changed her name. After four days of silence, though, I did more sleuthing and found her on Facebook under her married name. I’d drag that onto my desktop, then run it through two image search engines: Tin Eye and Google Images. After dozens of searches, a pattern emerged: Most bot photos had a long digital tail, having been posted on dozens of sketchy porn sites or blogs devoted to the barely legal. It had just tweeted something, as these things regularly do.
So I asked her: Judy, who are the faces on your bots? Not even spam.”Me: “I mean, I see a lot of what certainly look and function like bots. Amanda’s email showed up the next morning: “I heard you contacted my employer Darlene yesterday and would like to talk to me.