Bogus Accounts Breach Front Porch Forum

by Ken Signorello

March 14, 2021, Updated May 19, 2022

The original version of this article inadvertently violated FPF's Terms of Use by quoting content and identifying members outside of that platform. The Retorter regrets the error.

Using the hyperlocal social media platform Front Porch Forum, one or more individuals have created false accounts and used them across eight forum neighborhoods to make it appear as if different individuals were making statements about merger and alternatives. 

 

On March 13th two nearly-identical Front Porch Forum posts showed up in eight Essex Front Porch neighborhoods.

 

Seven posts were created under false accounts in seven FPF neighborhood forums.

The eighth post was listed using an authentic account of an Essex Junction resident. Her post was identical in content to the others, except for the occasional insertion of a youtube link, and all were published the same day.

Regular readers of FPF questioned the origin and content of these posts. Checking the unfamiliar posters' names on public lists – voter checklist, grand list, and whitepages – the identities of the posters could not be verified.

 

Such misrepresentations are against Front Porch Forum rules. We reached out to FPF and they replied: “Creating an account using false information is against FPF Terms of Use. Unfortunately, our system is not able to catch all such cases.”

Upon investigation, four of the email addresses were created on hosts whose records are difficult to penetrate. A fifth email address was just added to FPF on March 12th, the day before the posting blitz. 

The domain for a sixth email address is linked to City Bluff Condominiums’ website which shows “Website Design and Development by Pallas Web Development”.

The seventh email address used to spoof FPF included a domain name created on March 4th. There is no website behind it, but its name server is identical to the one used by the sixth email address (CityBluffcondos.com):  NS1.PALLASWEBDEVELOPMENT.COM 

1024px-Sock_puppet_and_keyboard_edited.jpg

Pallas Web Development is owned by Athena Letourneau Newhard. Newhard has been a strong proponent of merger, as was the author of the eighth post on March 13th. Newhard is also one of the signatories of the Essex Merger Recount petition, along with her husband Adam.

Newhard appears to be responsible for creating at least two of the fictitious users on FPF, unless someone has hacked her client's domain, used it to create a fake account on FPF, and registered a domain under which to create an email address used on FPF.

FPF readers rely on its content, and their trust has been neglected.  Citizens can no longer rely on what they read, nor can they even be sure who is saying it. 

 

Essex is known for computer chip manufacturing but seems to be adding troll farms and sock puppets to its industry.

 

The Merger issue contention is fueling increasingly  aggressive attempts to influence an election outcome. 

Update: The Retorter checked to see if any of these sock puppets voted in March or April's election.

Update: Pallas Web Development was behind the creation of 18 domain names that targeted the current chair (Andy Watts) and former chair (Irene Wrenner) of the Essex Town Selectboard via cyberabuse.

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