Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Meet the Brownflets: A group of 100% totally real people

Back in 2016, a troll on Twitter named "Heather Brownflet" sent an anti-Semitic death threat to reporter Hadas Gold.  I thought about that troll recently, and a question popped into my head:  What type of name is "Brownflet"?

I began Googling, and a second question popped into my head:  Is there anybody in the United States named "Brownflet"?

I have my doubts.  A search on for the name "Brownflet" doesn't show any results; the closest hit is an Amy Branfladt in California.  Most of the Google results for "Brownflet" lead to social media websites, or else pertain to written records from the 1800's and earlier.

So let's take a look at the social media results.  A Facebook search for people named "Brownflet" yields 45 results.  In my opinion, none of these 45 accounts feel authentic.

Here is Marilyn Brownflet.  She volunteers for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and she attended Colorado State University.  She has 90 friends.  Her entire public timeline consists of sexy pictures of herself.  A Google search for "Marilyn Brownflet" does not show a single result aside from that Facebook page.

Here is Madyson Brownflet.  She attends Murray State College.  She is from Ardmore, Oklahoma.  She posted a few selfies of herself on her public timeline, and nothing else.

Here is Mathaye Brownflet.  She has 13 friends.  Her Intro contains a link-shortened URL, and when I tried visiting it, Facebook told me, "The link you tried to visit goes against our Community Standards."

Here is Kathryn Brownflet.  She posted three pictures of herself on her public timeline, and nothing else.

Here is Aimee Brownflet.  She uses a stock image.

Here is Jade Brownflet.  She also uses a stock image.

Here is Anita Brownflet.  She uses another stock image.

Here is Carol Brownflet.  I did a reverse-image search of her profile picture and saw it had appeared on multiple other websites.

Here is Sandy Brownflet.  Sandy is apparently NBA superstar Steph Curry:

The remaining 36 "Brownflets" don't have profile pictures.  I put their names and account URLs into a spreadsheet for reference.

On Twitter, I saw 23 accounts named "Brownflet."   I looked over the accounts, and, once again, none of them struck me as authentic.  Many of the accounts were spamming shady links or trying to get Snapchat subscribers.  A lot of the accounts had no activity.

If nobody is named "Brownflet"  in real life, then why would the name be prevalent on social media?  Well, I have a theory:  Among the Google results for "Brownflet," there was a page titled "Faire Names for English Folk."  It's a list of  late-sixteenth-century English names, suitable for use during Renaissance faires.  The list contains over 1,000 surnames, many of which are still common today:  Arnold, Fisher, Mason, West, etc...  Other names sound particularly old-fashioned, such as Buslingthorpe, Launceleyn, and Pennebrygg.  When I searched for those latter surnames on Facebook, I got the same vibe as when I searched for "Brownflet."

Here are results for Buslingthorpe:

And Launceleyn:

And Pennebrygg:

I looked through these additional Facebook profiles and didn't get the feeling any of them were authentic.  Also, I noticed the Facebook pages for Kathryn Brownflet and Kathryn Launceleyn both had pictures of the same girl in different clothes.  (Go figure.) 

Going back to my theory:  I suspect that, in the far reaches of the internet, there's a group of fraudsters pumping out an army of fake social media accounts.  At some point, these fraudsters stumbled onto a list of old-fashioned English surnames and plugged those names into whatever program they were running.  What these fraudsters failed to realize is that many of the English surnames are no longer in common use.  Thus, when you search for these names on social media, most of the results seem fake.  

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Why did Engadget think is a Russian propaganda site?

Last month, Engadget and Point ran an investigation that found Russian propaganda is still "a big problem for Reddit."  The piece highlighted three domains alleged to be Russian propaganda:,, and  These sites were supposedly being spammed in dozens of different subreddits:    

As I read the Engadget article, I paid close attention to how the author, Benjamin Plackett, concluded that the domains were indeed Russian propaganda.

For, he cited an academic paper by researcher Jessikka Aro.

For, he cited a 2017 report from Politico.

For, he cited an article on ThinkProgress by Casey Michel, titled: "Why did Columbus Nova register websites aimed at young white supremacists?"  Columbus Nova is a New York-based company with business ties to the Russian conglomerate Renova, which in turn is run by the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. 

Here's where things get murky:  In his article, Michel noted that Columbus Nova registered several domains with variations of the phrase "alt-right."  These included:,, and  Michel also wrote:
There’s no evidence any material ever existed on the sites, and all of them return an error message.
That line caught my attention, because is clearly an active website.  Furthermore, the Internet Archive shows was active in 2017 and 2018, which is in contradiction with Michel's observation. 

So here's what I think happened:  Casey Michel made a typo.  (He probably meant to type or  And Engadget took the typo at face value.

As far as I can tell, is a run-of-the-mill nationalist website.  The masthead lists "Brandon Martinez" and "Charlemagne" as the chief editors.  You can watch interviews on YouTube with them.  Brandon Martinez has an Amazon page, and his author bio says he's Canadian.  I don't see any obvious Russian connection.  Granted, it's not great if people on Reddit are sharing alt-right material, but that isn't the same thing as promoting Russian propaganda.  I think the distinction is important.

Unfortunately I don't have an active subscription on Whoisology right now, so I can't dive into the historical WHOIS records for  (I'd want to check if it was ever registered to the e-mail address   The current WHOIS page for shows it's registered with a proxy service, but that record may have changed over time.    

I'm going to reach out to Engadget and see if they can fact-check whether was ever registered to Columbus Nova.  I'll update this post if they respond.  

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Describing Michael Tracey in two words or less

Michael Tracey recently appeared on Hill TV's Rising With Krystal & Buck to discuss Bernie Sanders.  Here are two headlines The Hill used when posting clips of the interview:

Left-leaning journalist: Sanders would be 'formidable candidate' against Trump

News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist

It just struck me as funny how the person writing those headlines decided to stress that Michael Tracey was "left-leaning" and "liberal."  The reason Tracey appeared on the program was because he'd written an opinion piece for The Federalist in which he explained why many of the left's criticisms of Bernie Sanders were not valid.  

The full 12-minute interview from Hill TV was posted with the headline:  "Journalist Michael Tracey explains why Sanders is 'formidable' 2020 contender"

Hill TV interview with Michael Tracey
I'm not too familiar with Krystal & Buck, although Buck did describe himself at the start of the interview as being on the right:
So there's some really interesting takes on the left--and I'm saying this as somebody from the right--about where Sanders fits into this whole picture.