Apple-focused technology blogger Samantha Bielefeld arrived on the scene in mid-September, with a debut post on her personal blog that criticized the tech blogosphere as “without a doubt dominated by journalists who are men.” She promised, as a small corrective, to “increase the number of women adding their insights, by one.”
Bielefeld claimed she was writing under a pseudonym to protect her career, but over the past two weeks, a number of prominent tech bloggers and commentators have claimed her pen name was hiding something else: that Samantha Bielefeld is actually a man named Victor Wynn Johnson. And there seems to be ample evidence to prove it.
To explain why anyone cares, let’s back up to October, when Bielefeld found herself at the center of the first big controversy of her short blogging career.
She had published a post criticizing prominent app developer and podcast host Marco Arment for changing the business model of his podcast app, “Overcast,” to a donation-based “patronage” plan rather than a one-time paid download.
She argued that patronage only worked for Arment because of his prominence in the Apple community and the wealth and fame he accrued as an early employee of Tumblr. Arment could afford to make his app essentially free and rely on the goodwill of his fans, pillaging market share from competitors who couldn’t afford to do the same.
Whether the argument was valid or not, it caused a minor internet tempest. Arment responded calmly, some of his fans got angry, and everyone debated app-store business models for a week or so. Samantha Bielefeld, a prominent new female voice in the Apple blogosphere, had arrived.
She’d built up enough of an audience that she started offering “memberships” to her blog for a few bucks a month, with extra content promised to subscribers. It complicated her argument about patronage a little bit, but that only made her more interesting.
But in November, she seemed to fly off the rails. She tweeted the phone number of arguably the most influential Apple blogger of all time, John Gruber — albeit with the last three digits x’d out.
Last week, Gruber’s wife, Amy Jane, responded by tweeting email headers that seemed to show that Samantha Bielefeld was really Victor Johnson, a peripheral tech-scene figure, sometime podcaster, and alleged con artist. Amy Jane also noted that a footer on Bielefeld’s blog (“Most Rights Reserved, Some Are Very Outgoing”) copied the same joke Johnson had made on his own blog years ago.
The allegation was troubling for a couple of reasons, one of which was that Bielefeld had written about the toxic environment women in tech faced, and it now seemed that writing wasn’t based on personal experience.
Another: As evidence that she was being harassed over the opinions on her blog, Bielefeld had presented a horrid, vitriolic email that called her a four-letter C-word and suggested she kill herself. The sender? One Victor Johnson.
The Grubers had apparently been suspicious for some time. In August, before Bielefeld’s blog had even launched, John Gruber tweeted a cryptic message that turned out to read: “I think Samantha Bielefeld is not who she claims to be.”
Even the argument about app pricing that propelled Bielefeld to niche internet fame might not have been her own: Michael Johnson of Building Twenty points out that he made it a day earlier, and claims that when he emailed Bielefeld about the similarities, she admitted his posts had “prompted” her own.
Initially, Bielefeld denied on Twitter that she was truly Victor Johnson, and promised refunds to any subscribers who wanted them. But on Monday, Scottish security researcher Alex Waddell published a post on Medium thoroughly dissecting the evidence and concluding, “I can very confidently say the following: Samantha Bielefeld IS Victor Johnson.”
Bielefeld cleared out her entire Twitter timeline shortly afterward. Reached via email, she declined to comment about the controversy that surrounds her, but wrote that she’s “currently working on a blog post of my own.” Hours later, she confirmed on Twitter that she plans to publish by the end of the week.
If Bielefeld is actually a man posing as a woman, Tiffany Arment — wife of Marco — argued in a post on Medium on Tuesday, he’s making the already difficult position of women in tech even more difficult.
“A man is able to opt into abuse. If the abuse received was fabricated, that is an even more painfully egregious offense. But even if the abuse is real, he is receiving the abuse willingly. He can opt out when he’s had enough,” she wrote.
“Women can’t turn it off. It’s our daily lives.”
Funny enough, the top Google result for “Bielefeld” is the Wikipedia page for the Bielefeld conspiracy, an internet urban legend that the town of Bielefeld, population 300,000, doesn’t really exist. It’s quite a brilliant choice for a pseudonym.