Emily Zeng's early morning Sept. 24 Tweet is rapidly retweeted by a handful of bogus accounts before being seeded onto the Vote and Change SF Facebook page

On a recent Thursday, a Twitter account purporting to be one Emily Zeng, a District 5 in-law-unit resident, disseminated a snarky and cutting meme targeting District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston

No surprise there: This Twitter account, established in May 2020, exists largely to take umbrage with this district’s homeless situation, its current supervisor, and disseminate homespun memes; Zeng’s Twitter profile describes her as “Meme girl … Meme-ing to get my outdoor living room back in SF D5.”

What’s surprising is what came next — but not if you know how the Internet works. Within half an hour of Zeng’s midnight tweet, it was retweeted by around half a dozen other twitter accounts in what appeared to be a coordinated action. Within an hour, the meme was shared on the Facebook account of the new Moderate political group Vote and Change SF. 

Zeng’s anti-Preston memes have been shared 16 times on Vote and Change SF’s Facebook group since Sept. 12. And, while the Twitter accounts incessantly retweeting her material are small, they are often picked up by larger accounts. All told, thousands of eyeballs are seeing this material. Considering Preston last year eked out a win over Vallie Brown by fewer than 200 votes, and considering those two are running against each other again, this is a real issue. 

What doesn’t appear to be real, however, is Emily Zeng. 

There are no Emily Zengs registered to vote in District 5. For that matter, there are no Emily Zhengs registered to vote in District 5. There are two Emily Zhengs in San Francisco, but neither lives anywhere near D5, in the center of the city. And, again, they spell their name differently.

Is it possible that “Emily” is a nickname? It is possible. To that end, I reached out to every female Zeng and Zheng in District 5. None of the women I reached operate this Twitter feed and several, upon learning of its content, said they didn’t want to be associated with it in any way. 

Maybe “Emily Zeng” isn’t registered to vote. Okay. But there’s also the matter of the photograph on her account. It’s not Emily Zeng. If you undertake a Google image search, that photo traces back to the social media accounts of one Emily S. Chen, a scholar whose Linkedin page states that she’s currently earning a Ph.D in Tokyo. (You can also find photos of Chen here and on that Linkedin page. It’s very hard to conceive of a scenario in which her photo hasn’t been appropriated). 

Emily Zeng’s early morning Sept. 24 Tweet is rapidly retweeted by a handful of bogus accounts before being seeded onto the Vote and Change SF Facebook page.

Chen has not returned our email or Twitter messages regarding her thoughts on this matter. But others have. Because many of the half-dozen or so accounts that regularly — and nearly exclusively — retweet Zeng’s memes also appear to be bogus, and have borrowed the photographs of real people, likely without asking. 

Among them, one for “Joan Vogel” features the photo of a woman named Amy Vogel who is an HR manager in New Jersey. And one for “Amy Vuong” features a photo of a researcher in Washington state named — yes, really — Emily Zeng.  

Vogel did not return our email or call. But I reached Zeng — the real Zeng — on the phone. She gasped when she saw her picture on someone else’s Twitter account. 

“Oh, this is really troubling. That’s not me,” she said. “This is a huge violation of my privacy. They’re taking my professional image to do this.” 

She has reached out to Twitter and reported the “Amy Vuong” account for impersonation. As of Oct. 2, that account remains active. 

Like Zeng’s account, Vogel’s and Vuong’s were both created in May of this year, along with others that exist largely to disseminate Zeng’s Dean Preston memes. 

Messages sent to whoever controls the Zeng and Vuong accounts on Twitter have not been returned. 

In short, however, it’s hard not to conclude that bogus social media accounts, potentially controlled by a single entity, have been disseminating noxious political material to an outsize audience. 

But not on their own. 

A series of photos of Asian women appear to have been appropriated to adorn bogus Twitter accounts disseminating San Francisco political attacks. Photo juxtaposition by Chris Arvin.

Think of what’s going on here as being a bit like Sesame Street. There are both real people and puppets. But, in this case, the real people don’t realize the folks they’re dealing with are puppets. Or so they say. 

Take Jenny Chan. The longtime San Franciscan who frequently shares Emily Zeng memes and has interacted with her directly online multiple times. She had no idea that Zeng appears to be a fabrication. But would that have mattered? I mean, a meme’s a meme, right? 

“I have never thought about that!” says Chan when asked if she’d share a meme from an account she knew to be fake. “I don’t know!” 

Jennifer Yan quote-tweeted this Emily Zeng anti-Dean Preston Meme. Then the whole thing was retweeted by Vote and Change SF, of which Yan is a co-founder.

Another account that prodigiously retweets Zeng memes is @Yap1776, “Jessica Yap.” There’s a fun instance on Sept. 18 when Yap1776 retweets a Zeng meme targeting Preston and anoints her a “heroine,” and then that tweet was retweeted by Vote and Change SF. 

Which is interesting, because Yap1776 is actually Jennifer Yan, and Yan – according to her own header on the Vote and Change SF Facebook page — is a co-founder of that group (and a member of multiple newly formed San Francisco pro-moderate groups). 

You can glean Yan’s identity because, going back a few years, Yelp restaurant reviews were cross-posted on the Yap1776 Twitter account. Those are Yan’s Yelp reviews for restaurants throughout the region and state and, for good measure, she posts photos on her Yelp account of herself and husband dining. 

On Twitter, meanwhile, she shares QAnon-adjacent hashtags and Trump propaganda

And, on Vote and Change SF’s Facebook page, as noted before, Zeng’s anti-Preston memes have been shared 16 times. 

Yan did not return our calls. 

So, if you’re keeping score at home, a coordinated ring of bogus social media accounts are seeding noxious political propaganda into the ether. And it’s being disseminated by newly formed pro-Moderate outfits in which centrist Democrats are — unwittingly or not — partnering with Trumpists to hone in on Progressive politicians. 

Because, perusing Vote and Change SF’s Facebook feed, there’s no shortage of links to right-wing disinformation sites, articles from rightist pseudo intellectual convicted felons, and the requisite San Francisco filth porn. 

I spoke with Vote and Change SF’s chair, Priscilla Muñiz. She made it crystal clear that her only goal is to get moderate politicians elected, which she believes will lead to a better city. She has no interest in disseminating right-wing propaganda; she’s a proud Democrat. But Muñiz is a person who dwells in the real world — not the Internet. 

Muñiz stressed that, “We’re not some right-wing conspiracy group. Our objective is to bring some good leadership into the city. That’s what we’re about.” 

There’s no reason to doubt her. But Vote and Change SF’s Internet presence isn’t something Muñiz personally oversees, and the Internet (let alone Facebook) has a way of undermining everyone’s best intentions. 

There’s no conspiracy involved. 

Vote and Change SF quote-tweets an Emily Zeng meme on Sept. 15.

Most all of the legwork exposing these bogus accounts and the dissemination of their work was undertaken by Adam Miller, a former tech worker  who now contracts with San Francisco progressive campaigns.

It wasn’t very hard for him. The bogosity — to borrow an expression the Car Talk guys used to throw around — isn’t well-hidden. This was quick work for him. 

The question is: Does it matter? Do people even care about the authenticity or motives of a person creating an easily disseminated message if it appeals to them?  

When I peruse Jenny Chan’s social media feed, there’s a lot of anger. But when I speak to her on the phone, I hear a longtime San Franciscan who’s concerned about her city, who’s frustrated by the strangling lockdown, and who feels powerless to help people who are struggling. She sees homeless people languishing out-of-doors during wretched air days, and doesn’t know what to do. 

Similarly, there’s no reason to doubt that all Muñiz wants to do is solve this city’s problems and elect moderate supervisors. But, thanks to the joys of Facebook and the Internet, her group has found common cause with right-wing Trump supporters — whether it likes it or not, or acknowledges it or not. 

Meanwhile, “Emily Zeng” sent out a Tweet earlier today dragging Dean Preston. It was reverberated by several of her bogus internet buddies. 

And some real ones, too. 

 

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Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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  1. When are you going to do an expose on the funders of the The Pissed OFf Voters Guide? Their biggest funders are a Tech CEO, Jenkckyn Gosby (Dean Preston’s wealthy wife) and a few other Tech founders and VCs, along with with Progressive BoS (all who own their own homes except for Haney). I suggested that they rename the Guide to the Pissed Off Millionaires Guide and they blocked me.

    Peskin got fined by the Ethics Commission for sharing a mailing address with them, but they claim he has no influence over them. Do you honestly believe that?

    1. Besides Dean Preston’s wife, other really big donors to The League this year are Jackie Fielder and Shahid Buttar. I took a look at their contributors at SFEthics and almost all of the donors were local politicians, bond committees, or tech workers. Back in 2016 they even took several thousand dollars from Recology. It feels to me like The League has become a slate card.

  2. Joe, I am shocked that someone would post on Twitter without using their real name! And that someone would throw mud at Dean Preston, of all people. It’s not like one of his biggest campaign donors also happens to be the president of a local neighborhood council, and an organizer of tonight’s D5 debate, and a landlord with a bad history of problems — including paying out $100,000 for a wrongful eviction. Oh wait. It is like that. But you’re worrying about pseudonymous accounts in the Twitter-sphere. And after the FBI already warned us to distrust election-related social media and get your real info from reputable sources. Could you please report on some useful election news now?

      1. Physician, heal thyself

        Could it really be that right wing sock-puppet are posting not only on twitter and facebook, but also on the comment pages of MissionLocal?

        Oh the shame. Impossible, Couldn’t be.

      2. Lame retort — Dean’s relationship with slumlords is far more interesting and relevant to policy than some online shitposting meme accounts who have gotten “thousands” of views.

  3. Seriously,

    I generally distribute the League flyers but I guess there are none this year.

    Anything online?

    Getting a pretty good stack of very expensive lit from #22 and i which I assume means they’re evil.

    Go Fielder!

    Go Vilaska!

    Go Preston!

    Go Avalos in 11!!

    Go George Gascon for LA DA!!!

    Go Cardninals!

    h.

  4. Ridiculous. I see as many progressive phantom accounts saying things like, oh await like comments here “Go Dean Preston!”

    As if the guy who lives in a $3M house and who handed out 1,000 tents without a plan, destroying the neighborhood further, has rabid fans just egging him in.

    The REAL STORY is that there is a huge rise of moderate liberals in response to radical socialist devastation of our city. This is the real story.

    And “Pro Trumpers?” He’s the fair and square elected President, not Zog from Plant Krypton. Get over it.

    1. John — 

      That’d be “Zod” from Planet Krypton.

      Glad you’re here to assure us our president was elected “fair and square.” With that in mind, I’m sure you know best what “the real story” is.

      JE

    2. You aren’t moderate liberals. You’re Libertarians who don’t want to admit it. You’re for the criminalization of homelessness, pro-gentrification, anti-regulation, anti-tax, pro-big-business, against rent control , are anti immigrant, and against raising tax to pay for the homeless/addiction services that you complain that the city isn’t not providing. Just because you’re cool with trans rights and Black Lives Matter, doesn’t make you a liberal or a progressive. It makes you a conservative libertarian.

      1. Your list of policy preferences doesn’t describe a single polity in San Francisco besides the one which lives rent free in your imagination.

      2. Disagree – “progs” in this city keep on harping about supporting affordable housing yet there’s no new affordable housing being built. Also progs don’t care about mentally ill people suffering on the streets when they support tent encampments. “Progs” treat their progressivism as an aesthetic and don’t care about the results of their actions.

  5. Given that Emily Chen has a bunch of connections to stanford and a private account, what’s the likelyhood that the Zeng account is her “public” account from which she yells at politicians? Pretty common to have a public and private account these days to try to block professional repercussions.

    It’s a little unclear from how you wrote this if you spoke to Chen or someone else, Joe, but even if you did speak to Chen, I’m not sure her going “oh no that’s not me” is necessarily proof that it’s not her.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      As noted in the story, Ms. Chen did not return our messages.

      I think it’s very unlikely she has any connection to the Emily Zeng account. Especially if you consider the appropriated photos in the other accounts. It also does not make sense to use your own photo in your account where you post aggressive things you’d hope to escape professional repercussions for.

      Best,

      JE

  6. I think it’s worth mentioning that the person in the article, Adam Miller, doxxes a high school student. Pretty shameful to be elevating that kind of person in this article.

  7. The enemy of my enemy does not necessarily make them my friend.

    I might not agree with Ms. Chan’s national political preferences, but that does not make her local critique of Mr. Preston and his faulty policies any less valid.

    Dean Preston needs to go.

    Dean is no “progressive”.

    The fact of the matter is that his anti-housing policies, which amount to a defense of the status quo in service to the parochial interests of NIMBY homeowners and nativist groups, make Dean — at best (in a term attributed to Lenin) — a “useful idiot”.

    VALLIE BROWN for D5 SUPERVISOR!

    1. Karl a.k.a. Koba works overtime as a real estate troll, bashing progressives while simultneuosly claiming they’re not progressive enough for him. Condemns democracy as mob rule, pays lip service for the poor while promoting hyper-gentrifying policies. Real piece of work

      1. Chaz is an apologist for anti-housing NIMBY homeowners that stymie housing creation and — through their corruption of the political process — see their property values soar through roof.

        Chaz fancies himself a “progressive”, and if he’s not a NIMBY homeowner, then — in a term attributed to Lenin — he’s merely a “useful idiot” in service to their interests.

        A real piece of work.

      2. And the quickest, most certain way to gentrify a desirable place like San Francisco is to NOT building housing.
        When you advocate for not building housing, the result is runaway housing prices, displacement and gentrification.

  8. Thanks for the good work, sorry the comments are full of garbage and I hope they don’t get you down.

      1. Sir — 

        To borrow the punchline of a favorite “Peanuts” comic: “You can if you’re stupid.”

        Best,

        JE

  9. Why do you call a video of a group of Trump supporters “propaganda?” You don’t refer to BLM “demonstrations” as propaganda?. Your Trump hatred casts doubt on every political piece you write. You and other radical left-wing “reporters/columnists” throw out President Trump’s when your stories are weak. Who at City Hall do you hate? Obviously not Preston.

    1. I can well understand how a conservative person wouldn’t want their real identity revealed. The vicious mobs openly seeking to physically attack conservative speakers at UC Berkeley sends a clear message that a conservative online poster will likely experience the same. Why is it liberals seem to be all for protecting the identity of a whistle blower anonymously attacking the president, but don’t believe in allowing anonymous whistle blowers to criticize SF political progressives.

    2. Howard,

      Trump is hardly a conservative — He’s a bull in a china shop and a narcissistic and inept one at that.
      Why do you defend him? Why do you put party above country? — especially since your party, the GOP, in effect no longer exists and has devolved into the Trumplican Party.

  10. When a billboard depicting Breed with her legs up on a desk with a pile of money it is racist.

    However, these despicable smears invoke only applause from some of the commentators above!

    Preston has been doing a great job — especially considering the circumstances (and the corporate conservative mayor and right wing supes) — and he deserves to be applauded!

    Why is having a large house not a problem if you are Ed Lee (who got a LOT of kickbacks, judging from a comment about him in the Nuru criminal complaint), Farrell, Stefani, etc.?

    But it is news that a man with a family lives in a large house. Why?

    1. it’s not just the house, it’s the fact that the house that doesn’t have an encampment in front of it, where working class neighborhoods are covered up.

  11. Apart from giving shelter and a modicum of dignity to people who do not have it, what kind of plan do you propose to shelter our unhoused neighbors? Until this plan is ready to shelter them should they remain exposed to the elements?

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