From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Julien Blanc has at least one Aussie friend. The appalling Julien Blanc and his thuggish Real Social Dynamics “pick-up” program has been the subject of a huge protest campaign, so you’d presume the RSD outfit had no friends here in Oz, right? Wrong.

Step forward Sam de Brito, who published a glowing report on RSD workshops in The Sunday Telegraph in 2005. The story recently disappeared from the Tele‘s website, but never mind — blogger John Band found it, and put it back up.

Of course, at that point RSD hadn’t become quite as visibly malignant as it later turned out to be, but you could see where it was going, from Half-Brighto’s story:

“Los Angeles-based company Real Social Dynamics (RSD) offers three-day ‘boot camps’ that train men how to approach and attract women. ‘Most guys fumble their way through interactions with women and have no idea how sexual chemistry works,’ says Tim, one of RSD’s local instructors. Attracting women is a skill set that can be learned and mastered like any other talent — and that’s what we’re here to teach guys.”

After attending the workshops, de Brito concludes that picking up women is “a numbers game. The more women you talk to, the greater your chance of finding a female you like and who digs you”. We wonder how de Brito views those lessons now.

Sam de Brito writes: The piece you quote was written a decade ago when Julien Blanc was 14 and in no way associated with RSD. It was then a small operation run by completely different people. I in no way support the methods espoused by Julien Blanc. He strikes me as a dangerous creep. I’ve never met the man. I am not his ‘friend’. I no longer work for News Corporation which published this article. I have no say over whether it remains on the web or not.”

Manus Island muzzlings. The reports by lawyers and refugee campaigner Julian Burnside that asylum seekers on Manus Island had been promised Australian visas in return for withdrawing their witness statements in relation to the death of asylum seeker Reza Barati have been denied by the government, but we hear that changing stories is not new to those involved at the detention centres. We hear from one insider that a manager at the centre had to change her official report on a separate incident after being “stood over” by the centre manager at the time. We also hear that the immigration department sent lawyers to Manus last week, but we do not know what for. We asked the department if lawyers had visited Manus last week, and what for, but did not receive a response by deadline.

Gambling on data retention. There remains a degree of confusion within the IT industry about the extent to which the government’s data retention scheme will apply to companies. For example, who is required to store the metadata accumulated by a free public wi-fi provider? Presumably the provider’s ISP — except, who’s recording the details of who owns the devices that are going online from inside a store or public transport vehicle? Well, no one, unless stores ban wi-fi access without the user showing personal ID. And here’s another one: what about the gambling industry? In a post at the Daily 25 Betting Blog, a gambling industry insider has explained just how much data gambling companies accumulate on their users, in order to make sure they can block gamblers smart enough to win more than the usual mugs who line up to donate their money. The amount of information accumulated by these companies even before you start betting online is staggering — and begs the question of whether they’d be captured by data retention laws. After all, gambling is a splendid means of laundering money for organised crime …

Liberal Photoshopping explained — kind of. Yesterday we published a photo from the Victorian Liberal party’s election leaflet, and suggested that Deputy Leader of the party Louise Asher had been helpfully Photoshopped in. Today we can confirm that suggestion (still without a response from the party), with this un-doctored version, which can be found on the Victorian Liberal party’s website. Creepily, another tipster pointed out that Mary Wooldridge’s thumbs had also been Photoshopped out of the version in the flyer.

Party tricks. We discovered a few months ago that rogue Victorian independent MP Geoff Shaw is quite talented on the bagpipes, and he used the skill while campaigning in Frankston yesterday, this time with the help of The Age‘s state political editor Josh Gordon on the violin, or “fiddle”, as Shaw referred to it. We hope there’s video evidence as well!

Missing from memorial. Since Wednesday we’ve had a number of tipsters get in touch to ask why a certain high-profile person wasn’t at the memorial service for former prime minister Gough Whitlam. Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the service without his wife Margie. Normally we try to leave pollies’ partners out of the spotlight, but with repeated requests and one person noting that even Paul Keating’s ex-wife Annita Keating was present, we put the question to Abbott’s media team: where was Margie? We didn’t hear back before deadline.

Following or leading? When it comes to Twitter, is it quality or quantity that counts? We’ve reported in the past that Fairfax has mandated that its entertainment reporters must have a certain amount of Twitter followers by the end of the financial year, and News Corp’s reporters have been given “Twitter classes” by Wall Street Journal import Neal Mann. Now we’ve received a tip that some reporters have had suspicious bumps in Twitter followers over the last few months, which looks like they have bought followers. It’s a move that could create the impression of influence to old school media bosses who don’t completely understand the platform, but doesn’t really help when the tweets are only going out to bots. Our tipster pointed out a few accounts that looked like they had interesting spikes in followers, including Fairfax’s soccer reporter Sebastian Hassett and  The Australian‘s media business reporter Darren Davidson. There are ways of measuring the number of “real” or “fake” followers an account has, including using a tool called TwitterAudit, which gave us these results for the two accounts. While almost everyone gets some fake followers on this measure, the numbers on both accounts do seem unusually high:

When we asked about buying followers, Hassett told us “the rumour you have received is completely false. Is absolutely 100 per cent untrue”.

We were told Davidson “has gone from 2000 to 6000 in a couple of months with major jumps on two days in particular” and when asked if he had bought followers, he gave this response:

“Categorically untrue but I would invite and encourage any Fairfax, ABC and Crikey journalists or indeed Crikey subscribers to follow me immediately to find out what is happening in the media industry. Do I have more followers than Crikey subscribers yet?”

Um, not quite Darren.

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