[UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF PAGE] RogueCyberman, TimeGirlKatie, CyberBabeChloe and friends: a cautionary tale for the Twitter age
Investigative journalism isn’t SFX ’s usual beat, but when something smells fishy, we think it’s only right to address it – and right now there’s a very odd whiff emanating from one corner of the internet. The ingredients in this peculiar tale: Twitter, naked pictures of young women, and Doctor Who fans.
This is a complex story, so allow us to lead you through the chronology.
30 December 2011: A user called @RogueCyberman joins Twitter, and starts following lots of Doctor Who fans. His posts are perfectly innocent – talking about what old Who stories he's watching, and so on.
4 January 2012: A new website – roguecyberman.com (we won’t link to it, as that would increase its hits) – is registered with WhoIsGuard. WhoIs is a site which allows you to find out who’s the registered owner of a website, and view their contact details. WhoIsGuard is a service that protects site owners’ details by acting as a middle man. There are perfectly sensible, legitimate reasons to use WhoIsGuard – you might be fearful that your admin email will be inundated with spam, for example. But it’s also useful for those who wish to hide themselves.
14 January: A user called @TimeGirlKatie describing themselves as an "18-year-old Doctor Who fan" joins Twitter.
19 January: @RogueCyberman posts his introductory blog. But very quickly – by the third post – the website veers into rather different territory...
23 January: @RogueCyberman starts a Twitter conversation with @TimeGirlKatie. She explains she’s been propositioned by a photographer in a club. @RogueCyberman advises caution, because he is himself a photographer – a happy coincidence. @TimeGirlKatie asks if he could take photos of her. He agrees.
24 January: The next day, @RogueCyberman posts photos of Katie on his site. The first few are pretty innocent. More follow of Katie in her bra. More increasingly saucy photos follow.
31 January: Doctor Who fan @geoffreytucker1 becomes suspicious and does a little Google image searching. He finds photos which would appear to feature the same girl on an escort site. He tries to alert other followers to this fact. We will not link to the escort site here, as we do not wish to increase its traffic.
In response, @RogueCyberman claims that the escort site has stolen the photos from his site, and that the Who fan tweeting about them is actually connected with it, and is trying to drive traffic to the escort site by tweeting links to the pictures.
There's one problem with this explanation: there are photographs of a woman looking just like "TimeGirlKatie" on the escort site that aren't on @RogueCyberman's site. In some this woman is referred to as "Katie from Brighton". In others, she's "Lisa from Bristol".
25 February: @CyberBabeChloe, another user describing themselves as an “18-year-old Doctor Who fangirl” joins Twitter.
26 February: Now there are saucy photos of Chloe on @RogueCyberman's site.
27 February: Remarkably, there’s now a third young Doctor Who fan keen on having naked photos taken, Dani (@danivortex).
… And so it continues, with more saucy photos, and a fourth "fangirl", "Moonbase Natasha". At the time of writing, @CyberBabeChloe’s account has been shut down, but has sprung up under another name, @CyberChloe. @TimeGirlKatie is still going strong, and has 1591 followers.
RogueCyberman's latest post lists "11 Beautiful Doctor Who Fangirls To Follow On Twitter". We'd like to make it absolutely clear that this list includes the accounts of real young women, and that they have not had naked photos published on the site.
Chronology established, there are two main explanations that could explain what is going on here.
Here’s the first:
It’s all completely honest, and everyone is exactly who they say they are. @TimeGirlKatie, @CyberBabeChloe and all the rest really are 18-year-old Doctor Who fans who want to have naked photos put up on a blog, and @RogueCyberman is simply doing them a favour. No-one is being misled.
This theory would be easier to believe if @TimeGirlKatie and the others tweeted pictures of themselves that aren’t posed for a photographer. A picture of them holding a piece of paper with their Twitter name on it would do. This is a pretty standard way for people to prove their identity on Twitter, and would prove a connection between the girls in the photos and the Twitter accounts.
Here’s an alternate theory. It's only a theory, which we can't prove.
@TimeGirlKatie, @CyberBabeChloe and all the rest aren’t really clothes-shy young fangirls who enjoy watching “The Sensorites” at all. It’s even possible that all the conversations that take place between them and @RogueCyberman are being carried out by one person – that kind of thing is quite easy to fake with a Twitter client like Tweetdeck. Their photos might have been taken by @RogueCyberman, but they might have been taken from other sources. If that’s the case (and proving it for certain is very hard), everyone who is following them is being misled.
Why go to all the bother? Well, fans of @TimeGirlKatie and the rest can ogle some of their photos – rather cheesy ones, in which they cavort with whipped cream and strawberries – on the blog for free. But other photos – “naughtier” ones – can only be viewed in a “members' area”, which is “tucked away so kids can't see it”. To get access to these, you have to prove your age by signing up to an “adult verification system” called SexKey, using your credit card details. Readers are assured this is free to join and “there’s no subscription”. This is true: but as ever, you need to check the small print.
When you sign up to SexKey, you’re also given a free trial password to a site called PornKing.com. If you don’t cancel that membership within the trial period (three days), you will end up being charged. PornKing’s monthly rate is $39.95 a month – every month, until you cancel. To stress: these terms and conditions are made clear when you sign up, but not exactly in six-inch-high flashing neon letters. These kind of sites make much of their money from people who naively don’t read the small print, or don’t cancel in time. Sites that use SexKey are themselves paid a referral fee for everyone they get to sign up.
Intrigued by all this, in the early hours of Friday, 9 March (1am) we asked @RogueCyberman three questions. By 11am on Saturday we hadn’t received a response, so we asked them again. This time we got a response.
These were our questions:
RogueCyberman's first response was this:
He made many responses after that, but these were his key answers to the second and third points:
And in response to being asked (three times) if he could post a photo of one of the girls holding up their Twitter username, he replied:
Now, if people want to look at naked pictures of young women on the internet, and pay for the privilege, that’s their prerogative. Hell, 50% of the internet is dedicated to it. What troubles us here at SFX is the thought that someone’s fandom might be used to draw them into doing that, to make money. Particularly if there is any dishonesty in that process.
To clarify: we do not believe that @RogueCyberman is doing anything illegal. The signup for the member’s area of his site does make clear the terms and conditions. The question that remains unanswered, for us, is whether the girls depicted in the photos really are young Doctor Who fangirls. And that’s something we can’t prove with 100% certainty one way or the other. You must decide for yourself how to interpret all these facts. We don’t know for certain what the correct interpretation is.
But here’s some common-sense guidance we can give you:
- If someone you don’t know follows you on Twitter, ask yourself whether you are 100% certain they really are who they say they are.
- If you’re going to hand over your credit card details on the net, always make sure you read the small print.
- Passionate fandom is – just like lust – a powerful motivator, that can sometimes make people do foolish things. Be aware that there are people out there who might be looking to push your fannish buttons for their own personal gain
UPDATE (8.20pm, 12 March)
Both the RogueCyberman and TimeGirlKatie Twitter accounts have now been shut down. Initially they were locked, then it appeared as if all the tweets had been deleted, and now the accounts have disappeared completely.
All the images and posts on the website www.roguecyberman.com have also disappeared, leaving just the default installation screen for WordPress. SFX had already taken the precaution of screengrabbing tweets and blog pages in case they were needed in the future.
We assume this is the last we will hear of either of these accounts, but the common-sense guidance above remains pertinent. Be careful out there, people.
UPDATE (26 March)
Several readers have contacted us to say that the Twitter accounts concerned are active again, with the photographs on a new site.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman