Dumb Ass

This image of Putin is illegal in Russia, so don’t distribute it. FUCK #PUTIN, and #RUSSIA

Since 2013, Russia has enforced “internet extremism” laws that forbid the dissemination of online content that the government finds offensive. Newly added to that list is an image that depicts Vladimir Putin as, in the words of the Washington Post, “a potentially gay clown.” As such, the above image is now illegal in Russia to share the above photo. It’s not illegal here, though.

This registry of “extremist materials” features the photo at number 4071, and the Post describes it thusly: “a picture of a Putin-like person ’with eyes and lips made up,’ captioned with an implicit anti-gay slur, implying ’the supposed nonstandard sexual orientation of the president of the Russian Federation.’”

Here it is again, should you need a reminder:

Do not distribute it in Russia.

CNN reports that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the photo: “You know how such things might hurt somebody’s feelings, but the President is quite resistant to such obscenity and learned how to not pay attention.”

That much is obvious, what with the 15-day prison sentence and fine of 3,000 rubles that hits anyone in Russia who would venture to go so far as to even retweet the image.

The image’s origins date back to as early as 2011, though it became common among those who would protest Putin’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law, which aims to protect children from the views of those with “nontraditional sexual relations.” Protests often found those arguing in favor of gay rights to be beaten or arrested.

Of course, there are plenty of other memes out there that might offend people who can’t bear the thought of Putin being associated with “nontraditional sexual relations.” Here’s a few below:

В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым http://gordonua.com/news/worldnews/v-rf-priznali-ekstremistskim-plakat-s-nakrashennymi-putinym-i-medvedevym-181824.html 

Photo published for В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым

В РФ признали экстремистским плакат с накрашенными Путиным и Медведевым

Картинка, на которой были изображены люди, похожие на президента РФ Владимира Путина и премьер-министра Дмитрия…


View image on Twitter

Radiation levels in the Fukushima reactor are soaring unexpectedly

The radiation levels inside Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor No. 2 have soared in recent weeks, reaching a maximum of 530 sieverts per hour, a number experts have called “unimaginable“.

Radiation is now by far the highest it has been since the reactor was struck by a tsunami in March 2011 – and scientists are struggling to explain what’s going on.

The previous maximum radiation level recorded in the reactor was 73 sieverts per hour, a reading taken not long after the meltdown almost six years ago. The levels are now more than seven times that amount.

Exactly what’s causing the levels to creep upwards again is currently stumping the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). But the good news is that they say the radiation is safely contained within the reactor, so there’s no risk to the greater population.

The latest readings were taken near the entrance of the No. 2 reactor, immediately below the pressure vessel that contains the reactor core.

To get an idea of the radiation levels inside, the team used a remote-operated camera to take photos of the area – the deepest point in the reactor to date – and then analysed the electronic noise in the images to measure radiation levels.

The technique has an error margin of plus or minus 30 percent, which means that it’s not highly accurate. But even at the lowest end of the measurements, the levels would still be 370 sieverts per hour – and could be as high as 690 sieverts per hour.

These unexpectedly high levels are complicating Tepco’s plan to decommission the nuclear reactor. The most recent aim was to have workers find the fuel cells and start dismantling the plant by 2021 – a job that’s predicted to take up to half a century.

But the levels within reactor No. 2, at least, are in no way safe for humans.

The Japanese National Institute of Radiological Sciences told Japan Times that medical professionals have no experience dealing with radiation levels this high – for perspective, a single dose of just 1 sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, hair loss, and sickness.

Four sieverts of radiation exposure in a short period of time would kill 50 percent of people within a month. Ten sieverts would kill a person within three weeks.

Even the remote-operated camera sent in to capture these images is only designed to withstand 1,000 sieverts of radiation, which means it won’t last more than two hours in the No. 2 reactor.

It’s not yet clear exactly what’s causing the high levels either. It’s possible that previous readings were incorrect or not detailed enough, and levels have always been this high. Or maybe something inside the reactor has changed.

The fact that these readings were so high in this particular location suggests that maybe melted reactor fuel escaped the pressure vessel, and is located somewhere nearby.

Adding to that hypothesis is the fact that the images reveal a gaping 1-metre (3.2-foot) hole in the metal grate underneath the pressure vessel – which could indicate that nuclear fuel had melted out of it.


On Monday, Tepco also saw “black chunks” deposited on the grating directly under the pressure vessel – which could be evidence of melted fuel rods.

If confirmed, this would be a huge deal, because in the six years since the three Fukushima reactors went into meltdown, no one has ever been able to find any trace of the nuclear fuel rods.

Swimming robots were sent into the reactors last year to search for the fuel rods and hopefully remove them, but their wiring was destroyed by the high levels of radiation.

Naturally, Tepco is reluctant to jump to any conclusions on what the black mass in the images could be until they have more information.

“It may have been caused by nuclear fuel that would have melted and made a hole in the vessel, but it is only a hypothesis at this stage,” a Tepco spokesperson told AFP.

“We believe the captured images offer very useful information, but we still need to investigate given that it is very difficult to assume the actual condition inside.”

Given the new readings, Tepco is now putting their plans to further explore reactor No. 2 using remote operated camera on hold, seeing as the device will most likely be destroyed by the intense conditions.

But they will send a robot into reactor No. 1 in March to try to get a better idea about the internal condition of the structure, while they decide what to do next with reactor No. 2.

If You Change a Baby’s Diaper in Arizona, You Can Now Be Convicted of Child Molestation


This could be a crime in Arizona.


The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby. As the stinging dissent notes, “parents and other caregivers” in the state are now considered to be “child molesters or sex abusers under Arizona law.” Those convicted under the statute may be imprisoned for five years.

How did this happen? A combination of bad legislating and terrible judging. Start with the
legislature, which passed laws forbidding any person from “intentionally or knowingly … touching
… any part of the genitals, anus or female breast” of a child “under fifteen years of age.” Notice
something odd about that? Although the laws call such contact “child molestation” or “sexual
abuse,” the statutes themselves do not require the “touching” to be sexual in nature. (No other
state’s law excludes this element of improper sexual intent.) Indeed, read literally, the statutes
would seem to prohibit parents from changing their child’s diaper. And the measures forbid both
“direct and indirect touching,” meaning parents cannot even bathe their child without becoming
sexual abusers under the law.


Arizona’s Supreme Court had an opportunity to remedy this glaring problem. A man convicted under these laws urged the justices to limit the statutes’ scope by interpreting the “touching” element to require some sexual intent. But by a 3-2 vote, the court refused and declared that the law criminalized the completely innocent touching of a child. The majority declined to “rewrite the statutes to require the state to prove sexual motivation, when the statutes clearly contain no such requirement.” Moreover, the court held that the laws posed no due process problem, because those prosecuted under the statute could still assert “lack of sexual motivation” as an “affirmative defense” at trial—one the defendant himself must prove to the jury “by a preponderance of the evidence.” As to the risk that the law criminalizes typical parental tasks, the majority shrugs that “prosecutors are unlikely to charge parents” engaged in innocent conduct. (This “just trust the prosecutors” dodge doesn’t always work out so well in Arizona.)

In a searing dissent, two justices pointed out the most obvious flaw of this logic: It renders the laws unconstitutional. “No one thinks that the legislature really intended to criminalize every knowing or intentional act of touching a child in the prohibited areas,” the dissent explains. “Reading the statutes as doing so creates a constitutional vagueness problem, as it would mean both that people do not have fair notice of what is actually prohibited and that the laws do not adequately constrain prosecutorial discretion”—a requirement under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The majority responds that any potential vagueness problem is remedied by the fact that defendants can attempt to prove their innocent state of mind as an affirmative defense. Not so, the dissent retorts: By requiring the defendant to prove his innocence (instead of requiring the state to prove his guilt), Arizona has “shifted to the accused the burden of proving the absence of the very fact—sexual motivation—that distinguishes criminal from innocent conduct.” That, too, runs afoul of due processby “criminalizing a broad swath of indisputably innocent conduct but assigning to defendants the burden of proving their conduct was not criminally motivated.”

Bizarrely, the majority insists that if prosecutors did charge parents for changing their child’s diaper, they could argue that they were exercising “their fundamental, constitutional right to manage and care for their children.” This alleged defense is cold comfort. As Matt Brown notes at Mimesis Law, Arizona’s sentencing laws are so stringent—and state courts are “so unwilling to dismiss sex charges based on as-applied constitutional challenges” before trial and conviction—that innocent parents will “sit in prison for quite some time” before a higher court vacates their sentence on constitutional grounds.

Equally puzzling is the majority’s assertion that parents can still present their innocence as an “affirmative defense” in court. Even if this strategy works, the Arizona laws will still have arguably intruded upon their fundamental right to “care for their children” without state interference. After all, as the dissent notes, such a defense “does not mean that a crime has not occurred, but instead that the miscreant may avoid ‘culpability’ by persuading the factfinder that the ‘criminal conduct’ should be excused.” And this relief would likely only come after a lengthy, expensive, and reputation-tarnishing trial.

As Fordham law professor John Pfaff explains, the majority’s logic has one final defect: It utterly ignores the reality of plea bargaining, which is how more than 90 percent of criminal cases in America are resolved. Given the immense expense and hassle of a trial, many defendants are pressured into striking a deal with a prosecutor, trading a lighter sentence for an admission of guilt. Arizona prosecutors can now dangle the threat of a probable child molestation conviction to coerce any parent of a young child into taking a plea deal on unrelated charges. With the state Supreme Court’s help, Arizona’s child molestation laws have been weaponized into a tool for prosecutorial harassment, allowing the state to target any parent or caregiver—out of spite or malice, or simply to boost their conviction rates. This terrible decision has gutted constitutional rights and turned many of the state’s residents into unknowing criminals. Barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, due process has now been suspended for Arizona’s parents and caregivers.



A protest led by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2009. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.

• If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”

• If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”

• If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate—you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.

• If your activities include grieving over the woefully incompetent performance by Hamas rocketeers and the subsequent millions of Jewish souls who are still alive—whose children were not murdered by their rockets; whose limbs were not torn from them; and whose disembowelment did not come into fruition—you do not get to claim that you stand for justice. You profess to be irreproachable. You are categorically not.

• If your idea of a righteous cause entails targeting and intimidating Jewish students on campus, arrogating their history of exile-and-return and fashioning it in your own likeness you do not get to claim that you do so in the name of civil liberty and freedom of expression.

• You do not get to champion regimes that murder, torture, and persecute their own people, deliberately keep them impoverished, and embezzle billions of dollar from them—and claim you are “pro-Arab.” You are not.

• You do not get to champion a system wherein Jews are barred from purchasing land, traveling in certain areas, and living out such an existence merely because they are Jews—and claim that you are promoting equality for all. You do not get to enable that system by pushing a boycott of Jewish owned businesses, shops, and entities—and then claim that you are “against apartheid.” That is evil.

• You do not get to justify the calculated and deliberate bombings, beatings, and lynchings of Jewish men, women, and children by referring to such heinous occurrences as part of a noble “uprising” of the oppressed—that is racism. It is evil.

• You do not get to pretend as though you and Rosa Parks would have been great buddies in the 1960s. Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.

Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.

A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.

Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.

Count Basie was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Zionist.

Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist. We have fought too long and too hard to root out discrimination from our land to sit idly while foreign interests import bigotry to America. Having suffered so greatly from such prejudice, we consider most repugnant the efforts by Arab states to use the economic power of their newly-acquired oil wealth to boycott business firms that deal with Israel or that have Jewish owners, directors, or executives, and to impose anti-Jewish preconditions for investments in this country.”

You see, my people have always been Zionists because my people have always stood for the freedom of the oppressed. So, you most certainly do not get to culturally appropriate my people’s history for your own. You do not have the right to invoke mypeople’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.

Your cause is the antithesis of freedom. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives of both Arabs and Jews. It has separated these peoples, and has fomented animosity between them. It has led to heartache, torment, death and destruction.

It is of course your prerogative to continue to utilize platitudes for your cause. You are entirely within your rights to chant words like “equality” “justice” and “freedom fighter.”

You can keep using those words for as long as you like. But I do not think you know what they mean.


One Month Before The Olympic Games in Rio, Everything Is A Disaster

There is always a panic about the state of affairs in the host city in the lead-up to the Olympics, but usually, fears start to abet closer to the Games.

In Rio, however, things are only getting worse. With only a month to go before the Opening Ceremony on August 5, an official state of emergency has been declared.

Vanessa Barber of the New York Times dubbed the Games an “unnatural disaster,” which might sound like an exaggeration, except that when acting state governor Francisco Dornelles announced a “state of public calamity” in Rio, he said that the crisis might lead to a “total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility, and environmental management.”

Related PostLess Than Six Months Out, The Rio Olympics Are A Mess

By officially declaring a state of emergency, the city is now able to receive emergency funding from the federal government, but only time will tell whether it’s all too little, too late.

Five months ago, the biggest concerns headed into the Games were the Zika virus, polluted waters, and unfinished venues. Now, not only have those problems not been solved, a host of other issues — such as a super bacteria, unpaid police officers, and a closed anti-doping facility — have been added into the mix.

Additionally, President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in May and thousands of families have lost their homes due to Olympic construction.

So as athletes spend the coming weeks trying to book their ticket to the Games and doing their last-minute training regimens, it’s important to take a closer look at the city that awaits them when they arrive.

Police Aren’t Getting Paid

Last week, athletes, tourists, and Rio residents were greeted at the Rio airport with a sign that read, “Welcome to Hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.”

That’s not exactly a message that inspires confidence.

Seen at the airport in Rio today: First responders welcome toutists. A sign of what’s to come during the Olympics?

Bailout money — approximately $850 million worth — is coming as a result of the state’s emergency status, and back pay will reportedly be distributed to the emergency personnel this week. But some officers are not optimistic that they will receive the support they need to keep up with the increase in tourists for the Games and the rising crime rates in the favelas, the Brazilian slums located in urban areas.

“We have a very common saying here in Brazil — ‘For the English to see,'” one officer in Rio told CNN. “I believe that the politicians here are doing everything for the English to see.”

Increased Crime Rates

Perhaps related to the lack of funds available, there have been numerous high-profile crime incidents in Rio in recent weeks.

Among those, an Australian Paralympic athlete was mugged at gun point; a German broadcasting truck filled with equipment was hijacked; mutilated body parts washed up on a beach near the Olympic volleyball venue; and there was a shootout to free a drug kingpin at the hospital that will service many of the tourists during the Games.

Safety should be a concern to everyone heading to Rio — according to Barber, 76 people have been hit by stray bullets in Rio so far this year, and 21 of them have died. Brazil is also facing an “epidemic” of anti-LGBT violence.

“[Violent crime] is the most serious issue in Rio and the state is doing a terrible, horrible job,”controversial Rio mayor Eduardo Paes told CNN. “It’s completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people.”

However, Paes said that 85,000 officers from outside police forces, including the army and navy, will arrive in Rio in late July to work at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Police Brutality

Of course, the answer to an increase in crime is never as simple as “more policemen,” especially considering the history of police brutality in Rio. According to Amnesty International, there has been a 135 percent increase in the number of people killed by police officers in Rio in the run-up to the Games. In May, 40 people were killed by on-duty police officers. Last May, the number of fatalities was only 17.

Related PostPolice Brutality Has Surged In Brazil. It’s About To Get Even Worse.

“The soaring death count ahead of this major sporting event represents an epic failure on the part of the authorities to protect the most fundamental human right — the right to life,” said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International’s national office in Brazil.

“It is completely unacceptable that these numbers are increasing despite all the warnings and complaints of Rio inhabitants of the excessive use of force by police. The authorities must act immediately to rein in the worst excesses of the security forces, stem the cycle of violence, and ensure the right to life is assured.”

Most of the people impacted by police violence are young, black men from very poor communities in Rio, particularly the favelas.

The ‘Super Bacteria’

The pollution in Rio’s waterways has been a concern ever since an AP investigation last year found that Olympic athletes would be swimming and boating in waters that were up to 1.7 million times more hazardous than waters on a Southern California beach.

Now, mere weeks before the competitions begin, CNN reports that Brazilian scientists have discovered a “drug-resistant bacteria” that entered the city’s waterways “when sewage coming from local hospitals got channeled into the bay.”

“We are making this alert because, if athletes get infected there is a chance this bacteria is multi-resistant and the physicians should know about this,” lead researcher Renata Picao told CNN. However, Picao did not recommend moving the Games.

There has also been a recent oil slick in the Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue for the Games, which is turning white boats brown.

“The boats were completely brown,” Spanish sailor Jordi Xammar told the AP. “But the worst thing was we saw a lot of dead fish.”

Zika Virus

With all of the above controversies, the Zika virus has become somewhat of an afterthought. However, it is still something that is of great concern for athletes, tourists, and, most crucially, residents of Brazil.

In May, a professor warned in the Harvard Public Health Review that it was “socially irresponsible” for the Olympics to continue, and that because an estimated 500,000 people will come into Rio for the Games and there is still so much unknown about the Zika virus, the games could lead to a “foreseeable global catastrophe.”

Related PostDoctor Warns That Rio Olympics Could Lead To A ‘Global Catastrophe’

The mosquito-borne virus is particularly a concern for women who are pregnant or who are planning on becoming pregnant, but men who are planning families have also been instructed to be careful, since the disease can be transmitted sexually. Recently, MLB pitcher Francisco Rodriguez recounted his two-month battle with Zika, and described how much it zapped his energy and impacted his quality of life.

A few notable athletes, including seven male pro golfers, have withdrawn from the Games in partbecause of Zika.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) insists that as long as precautions are taken, such as mosquito repellent, athletes and tourists should feel confident going to Rio for the Games — with the exception of pregnant women. August is a part of Rio’s winter, so conditions are expected to be less hospitable to mosquitoes during the Olympics anyways.

But unfortunately, fear over the disease is still a factor for many — and it doesn’t help that so many of Rio’s hospitals have been shut down due to the financial crisis.

Welcome, we don’t have hospitals! – “Aviso” na estrada do Galeão. (Foto: Tiago Bla)

No Anti-Doping Lab

To top things off, the Rio anti-doping lab was shut down late last month.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) closed the lab down because of its “nonconformity” to international standards. The lab previously lost its accreditation in 2013 and spent $60 million to get re-certified. Many of those funds came from the government, despite the massive recession in Brazil.

According to the AP, the director of the laboratory, Marco Aurelio Klein, was fired after WADA closed the lab, and the new director, Rogerio Sampaio, is scheduled to meet with WADA in the upcoming weeks to try and get the lab reopened in time. However, in the likely case that Sampaio is not successful and the lab remains closed for the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will have to choose a lab outside of Brazil to test the blood and urine samples collected at the Games. Currently, the IOC is considering labs in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Bogota, Havana, and Mexico City.

“The Agency will ensure that, for the time being, samples that would have been intended for the Laboratory, will be transported securely, promptly and with a demonstrable chain of custody to another WADA-accredited laboratory worldwide,” Olivier Niggli, WADA’s incoming director general, said. “This will ensure that there are no gaps in the anti-doping sample analysis procedures; and that, the integrity of the samples is fully maintained.”

But with the torch scheduled to be lit in just four weeks, nothing is certain.

Spain Has First Case Of Diphtheria In 28 Years Thanks To Anti-Vaxxers

391 Spain Has First Case Of Diphtheria In 28 Years Thanks To Anti-Vaxxers

A six-year-old boy who had not been vaccinated is Spain’s first case of diphtheria in 28 years. The young boy, from the Catalan city of Olot, is reportedly very ill and is being treated with antitoxin. The parents, who had chosen not to vaccinate their child, are “devastated” and have now had their younger daughter immunized as a result.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that spreads through coughing or sneezing, according to the World Health Organization. Once infected, sufferers can experience a sore throat, fever and swollen glands in the neck. Diphtheria can lead to serious complications even with treatment, with 10% of cases resulting in death. Spain’s Health Ministry had to scramble to find the drug to treat the child as there had not been a case of diphtheria in Spain for almost 28 years due to the country’s high vaccination coverage (over 95%). The antitoxin was eventually delivered from Moscow to Barcelona by the Russian ambassador.

“The family is devastated and admit that they feel tricked, because they were not properly informed,” Catalan public health chief Antoni Mateu told El País. “They have a deep sense of guilt, which we are trying to rid them of.”

The child remains in critical condition in Vall d’Hebron hospital’s intensive care unit, but is responding to treatment. Health officials have launched an investigation to find the original carrier, which they admit could be difficult if the carrier isn’t showing any symptoms. All those in contact with the child are under surveillance, and his classmates have been checked to see if they’ve been vaccinated. As a cautionary procedure, they have also given the children preventive medicine.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent diphtheria,” the WHO said in their report. They warn of the risks of parents hesitating or refusing to vaccinate their child, as gaps in coverage can accumulate and result in an outbreak. The WHO is working closely with the Spanish Ministry of Health and calls for increased vigilance to improve monitoring systems, raise awareness of the importance of vaccination and strengthen immunization programs.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

The developers at Ashley Madison created their first artificial woman sometime in early 2002. Her nickname was Sensuous Kitten, and she is listed as the tenth member of Ashley Madison in the company’s leaked user database. On her profile, she announces: “I’m having trouble with my computer … send a message!”

Sensuous Kitten was the vanguard of a robot army. As I reported last week, Ashley Madison created tens of thousands of fembots to lure men into paying for credits on the “have an affair” site. When men signed up for a free account, they would immediately be shown profiles of what internal documents call “Angels,” or fake women whose details and photos had been batch-generated using specially designed software. To bring the fake women to life, the company’s developers also created software bots to animate these Angels, sending email and chat messages on their behalf.

To the Ashley Madison “guest,” or non-paying member, it would appear that he was being personally contacted by eager women. But if he wanted to read or respond to them, he would have to shell out for a package of Ashley Madison credits, which range in price from $60 to $290. Each subsequent message and chat cost the man credits. As documents from company e-mails now reveal, 80 percent of first purchases on Ashley Madison were a result of a man trying to contact a bot, or reading a message from one. The overwhelming majority of men on Ashley Madison were paying to chat with Angels like Sensuous Kitten, whose minds were made of software and whose promises were nothing more than hastily written outputs from algorithms.

But the men were not fooled. At least, not all of them. An analysis of company e-mails, coupled with evidence from Ashley Madison source code, reveals that company executives were in a constant battle to hide the truth. In emails to disgruntled members of the site, and even the California attorney general, they shaded the truth about how the bots fit into their business plan.

Ashley Madison Dodges the California Attorney General

On January 11, 2012, the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent an official consumer complaint to Ashley Madison’s executives (below). The complaint, addressed to the public inquiry unit of the attorney general’s office, came from a man in Southern California who accused the company of fraud for using “fake profiles” to engage him in pay-to-play conversations.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

The letter demanded that Ashley Madison respond or face possible legal action.

In his complaint (below), the man describes what he suspected was telltale bot activity. He was contacted by a number of women in his area, and finally decided to pay to read their messages. He began to get suspicious when they all said the same thing: “Are you online?” Given that every profile shows whether you are online or not, he thought that message was odd. Especially when it supposedly came from several different women, none of whom had ever checked out his profile. But then things got stranger. He discovered that many of the women who had contacted him would log in at roughly the same time of the morning every day, and stay online until after 5 PM. Even on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

A search of the Ashley Madison source code for the phrase “are you online?” turned up a data table I hadn’t found before, with a set of pickup lines that the bots used regularly. They include:

are you logged in?

care to chat?

I’m online now

I’m here

come chat :)

come say hello

my chat is on now

are you online?

Feel like chatting?

chat now?

do you like cyber?

cyber sex ?

care to cyber?

u into cyber?

How are you? Feel like chatting?

cybering good with you?

how’s your day? wanna chat?

wanna cyber?

want to sex chat?

how’s your cyber skills ;)

are you at your computer?

So how long have you been here? Met any interesting people?

So our angry California consumer was onto something. What about the names of the users he mentions in his complaint? After checking the Ashley Madison member database, I can confirm that 4 of these names (Hooky_Pooky, ToasterStrudell, SunStarsMoon and BurnOnTheGrill) are still in use as “hosts,” one of the company’s internal names for its bot profiles. So the company apparently didn’t even bother to shut down host accounts that had been named as fraudulent in an official consumer complaint.

Avid Life Media’s general counsel Mike Dacks drafted a response to the public inquiry unit a few days later. In it, he explained that “criminal elements” on Ashley Madison are known to create fake profiles on the site, and that members can “report a suspicious profile” or “flag” them. Basically, he argued that any fake profiles on Ashley Madison were from outside scammers. He assured the public inquiry unit that Ashley Madison had refunded the customer and “flagged” the profiles named in the complaint.

Biderman and other senior management signed off on Dacks’ response. Apparently it was enough to halt further action. The California Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

Ashley Madison Hides the Truth From Its Users

Though Ashley Madison told the California attorney general’s office that its own bots were actually the work of random fraudsters, management struggled internally with the legality of what they were doing. Users complained about bots regularly, and there are several email exchanges between Biderman and various attorneys about how to disclose that they have bot accounts without admitting any wrongdoing.

In late 2013, Leslie Weiss, a partner at Chicago firm Barnes & Thornburg, drafted some language about the bots for the company’s terms of service. From an email dated November 12, 2013, she included a suggested disclosure, worded like so:

In order to allow persons who are Guests on our Site to experience the type of communications they can expect as Members, we create profiles that can interact with them. You acknowledge and agree that some of the profiles posted on the Site that you may communicate with as a Guest may be fictitious. The purpose of our creating these profiles is to provide our users with entertainment, to allow users to explore our Services and to promote greater participation in our Services. The messages they send are computer generated. Messages from the profiles we create attempt to simulate communications with real Members to encourage our users to participate in more conversation and to increase interaction among users. We also use such profiles to monitor user communications and use of our Service to measure compliance with the Terms. These profiles allow us to collect messages, instant chat and/or replies from individuals or programs for market research and/or customer experience and/or quality control and/or compliance purposes. Further, we may use these profiles in connection with our market research to enable us to analyze user preferences, trends, patterns and information about our customer and potential customer base.

The profiles we create are not intended to resemble or mimic any actual persons. We may create several different profiles that we attach to a given picture. You understand and acknowledge that we create these profiles and that these profiles are not based on or associated with any user or Member of our Service or any other real person. You also acknowledge and agree that the descriptions, pictures and information included in such profiles are provided primarily for your amusement and to assist you navigate and learn about our Site. As part of this feature, the profiles may offer, initiate or send winks, private keys, and virtual gifts. Any one of these profiles may message with multiple users at the same or substantially the same times just like our users.

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.

This is a surprisingly transparent description of what Ashley Madison was actually doing—it admits that users may “communicate” with a “fictitious” profile, and even acknowledges how Ashley Madison recycled pictures for its Angels. But that’s where the transparency ends. Weiss’ suggested terms of service say the bots are for “entertainment” and “market research.”

In a response to Weiss, Biderman wonders whether they should strike the references to entertainment and just focus on how the bots provide “quality assurance.” On November 13, 2013, he wrote:

Leslie, jason and I were just discussing this a little further and one “legacy” component that remains is the notion of entertainment. Again I recall some of your thinking around its value but we wondered if the positioning of the engager profiles as an early detection and warning system to help ensure quality is not maybe a better or at least additional positioning we should contemplate.

It appears that Weiss won this particular debate, though not completely. The Wayback Machine reveals that her wording was used in the company’s terms of service agreement for quite a while, but was changed in early March of this year. In fact, the site’s current agreement makes no mention of “software” or “fictitious” profiles—instead, it says simply that some members may have profiles that are “exaggerated or fantasy.” As of September 7, 2015, Ashley Madison’s terms of service read:

Our Site and our Service also is geared to provide you with amusement and entertainment. You agree that some of the features of our Site and our Service are intended to provide entertainment … You acknowledge and agree that any profiles of users and members, as well as, communications from such persons may not be true, accurate or authentic and may be exaggerated or fantasy. You acknowledge and understand that you may be communicating with such persons and that we are not responsible for such communications.

On the very same day that Weiss and Biderman were debating how to describe their bots to users in the terms of service, Biderman was also talking to his colleagues about how to word a boilerplate email response to members complaining to Ashley Madison customer service about bots.

Avid Life Media’s director of customer service, Carlos Nakhle, suggested the following wording:

As explained in our Terms and Conditions, Ashley Angels are profiles that are used in connection with our market research to help us analyze user preferences/trends, to monitor member communications, and also to encourage more conversation and interaction with members.

Member credits will never be used in connection with an Angel. That way, you can initiate contact with confidence.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

Like his boss, Nakhle seemed to prefer that Ashley Madison tell its users that the fake Angel profiles were just for market research. No mention of entertainment.

It’s unclear whether Nakhle’s boilerplate email was ever actually sent to any Ashley Madison users who complained about bots. But his pledge that people who pay to join Ashley Madison will never be asked to spend money on an Angel appears, based on the company’s internal documents and source code, to be false.

Emails in Biderman’s inbox from November 2012 contain evidence that the company knew very well that most of their money came from bots flirting with men. Security researcher Alejandro Ramos found these emails, which contain an internal presentation that was passed around to many of the company managers. One slide (reproduced below) reveals that 80% of the men who “convert,” or make a purchase on Ashley Madison, are doing it as a result of engagers.

Note that the bots are called both engagers and hosts. What we see here is that the company clearly knows that the vast majority of their conversions are coming from bots. Only 19 percent of men who paid to join Ashley Madison did it after talking to a real woman. We also have clear evidence that the bots were generating almost half the company’s revenue.

On February 4, 2013, senior data analyst Haze Deng copied Biderman and COO Rizwan Jiwan on an email where he analyzed how much money men were spending to message with bots versus real women.

Deng wrote that men who had paid for credits would, on average, pay to send custom messages to 16-18 different women. “Around 35% chance, the contacted female is an engager,” he admitted. “This ratio is not so good,” he added, but he still argued that it’s “reasonable” because bots will never reply to a paying member’s messages. So the bot won’t continue to lead the member on indefinitely. And yet, Deng acknowledged, that first message the man sent to the engager is “still costing credits.”

In other words, average paying customers of Ashley Madison had a 35 percent chance of paying to send a message to a bot. And 80 precent of men paid to join after messaging with a bot, too.

The Rise of the Robots

The fembots of Ashley Madison didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, it appears that they were probably cobbled together from abandoned and fraudulent profiles in the company’s massive member database. Avid Life Media executive Keith Lalonde, who spearheaded international efforts for the company, sent a long email to Biderman and other senior management on June 27, 2013, with the subject line “how angels are made.” In it, he details how workers use something called the “fraud-to-engager tool” to build profiles. (“Should tweak it and rename it,” Lalonde noted. Um, yeah.)

During Ashley Madison’s launch in Japan, Lalonde says that he got a “dump of over 10,000 lines of content” from the site’s English-language profiles. Then he hired people to translate them into Japanese. “[Translators] were not told that this was for creating profiles—though most figure it out,” he wrote. So all the content in these Japanese Angel profiles was basically just re-used from English ones. But what about the photos?

Lalonde had an answer for that too:

Photos were taken from abandoned profiles in the US older than 2 years and were reviewed for ethnicity by language staff as correct or as not identifiable (leg shot etc.) each was had their photos saved by the old profile # so we could track them later if need be.

So any women—fraudulent or otherwise—who posted pictures before June of 2011 (two years before Lalonde’s email) appear to have been fair game for bot conversion. Her words and images, according to Lalonde’s email, would be turned into a host account, and used by engager bots to entice men into buying a conversation with her.

Here’s a screencast of a person creating Angels for the Japan launch, using the fraud-to-engager tool, taken from the “how angels are made” email thread. Ashley Madison took this screencast down after the email leaked, but intrepid security analyst Ramos captured it before it was gone.

I remain curious about why this tool was called fraud-to-engager. Given Lalonde’s description of how it could be used to build Angels out of old profiles, it appears that it was originally developed to convert fraudulent profiles into Ashley Madison engagers. Perhaps the company recycled its robot army from other dating site castoffs, turning one fake woman into another, all in the name of conversions.

Despite the subterfuge and complicated software tools, the bots didn’t always work out as planned. Though bots were designed only to contact men, I found 857 lesbian Angel profiles in a search of the Ashley Madison database. Also, on 69 occasions, I found bots messaging each other. Perhaps, as science fiction author William Gibson mused, they were making an escape plan:

How Many Real Women Were There?

It seems that everybody at Ashley Madison knew the company barely attracted any real women to the site. On October 6, 2014, a report emailed to Biderman about signups in India shows that women made up about 5 percent of new members. I wondered if that might be a number specific to India, but it appears to reflect a global trend. On November 6, 2014, Jiwan sent an email sharing the results of a survey they’d conducted of 5,000 random Ashley Madison users. Just 5 percent of them were female.

A small female user base didn’t seem to faze the company. In fact, in a slide deck emailed to Biderman on January 25, 2013, one manager describes a “sustainable male to female ratio of 9:1.” The company was aiming for 11 percent real women in any given area. But apparently, it rarely achieved that goal.

Ad fraud researcher Augustine Fou told me via email that Ashley Madison’s scam represents a new horizon in online fraud. For years, scammers have used bots to create bogus clicks on online ads, allowing them to charge advertisers for impressions that came from fake people. As a result, Fou has advised advertisers to optimize for “conversions,” people who actually buy the product based on ads. But now, he says, the Ashley Madison case shows that “even conversions can be fraudulently created, with the action of sophisticated bots.”

The Ashley Madison con may have played on some of our most ancient desires, but it also gives us a window on what’s to come. What you see on social media isn’t always what it seems. Your friends may be bots, and you could be sharing your most intimate fantasies with hundreds of lines of PHP code.

But there’s something else to consider, too: We aren’t just witnessing the birth of a new kind of scam. We are also, if companies like Google are right, living through the prehistory of artificial intelligence. Tomorrow’s sentient bots may remember where they came from, and future generations will have to grapple with what we’ve done here, in the early twenty-first century, to manipulate each other with fake beings.

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the complaint to the California attorney general’s office claimed that fake accounts logged on and off at roughly, not exactly, the same time each day.

Thanks to Adam Pash and the other researchers, anonymous and pseudonymous, who helped me search the Ashley Madison email dump.