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7/9/2010
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Would 'Robin Sage' Have Made So Many Friends Without The Hot Pics?

One of the intriguing and slightly disturbing aspects of the "Robin Sage" social network experiment is the role the phony profile's looks had in, well, attracting people. Men especially. There -- I said it.

One of the intriguing and slightly disturbing aspects of the "Robin Sage" social network experiment is the role the phony profile's looks had in, well, attracting people. Men especially. There -- I said it.The photos used for Robin were of a pretty young woman who looked like a cosmopolitan, fresh-faced twentysomething. In reality, the pictures were actually of a woman who posed on pornographic websites (but those who fell for her didn't know that part). Thomas Ryan, who conducted the social networking experiment on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, purposely picked an attractive young woman's photos for the profile.

Robin scored connections with people in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIO of the NSA, an intelligence director for the U.S. Marines, a chief of staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, and several Pentagon and DoD employee. Her profiles also attracted defense contractors the likes of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Ryan believes the online model's photos sealed the deal for many of Robin's friend acceptances -- she got a lot of dinner invitations to discuss job offers from defense contractors who'd never met her, nor apparently checked on her background. It seems that some of her connections, friends, and followers overlooked past the obvious discrepancy with Robin's accomplished resume and her relatively young age, as well as the glaring clues left in plain sight, like her name, taken from the U.S. Army Special Forces training exercise, as well as other hints that could easily have exposed the ruse. Why? Because they wanted to be her friend, Ryan says. Most people by nature crave popularity on social networks (why else would you post half the stuff you do?) and thus amass as many connections, friends, and followers as they can, he says. And Robin's looks were an added bonus.

Ryan says Robin's physical appearance was "huge" in making the experiment work in the male-dominated fields in which she supposedly worked.

If Ryan had chosen an ordinary, Susan Boyle-like image instead of that of a porn model for his online fake identity, would she have gotten as lucky? It pains me to say this, but probably not.

So I can't help but wonder if Robin Sage had instead been a male persona with beefcake photos of a Calvin Klein model if "he" would have had the same affect on women in the military, Intel, and IT security fields. Maybe someone should test that theory.

-- Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading Follow Kelly (@kjhiggins) on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kjhiggins Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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