EVERY MORNING, KIM Casipong strolls past barbed wire, six dogs, and a watchman in order to get to her job in a pink apartment building high above the slums in Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines. She is a pretty, milk-skinned, 17-year-old girl who loves the movie Frozen and whose favorite pastime is singing karaoke. She is on her way to do her part in bringing down Facebook.Casipong huffs to the third floor, opens a door decorated with a crucifix, and greets her co-workers. The curtains are drawn, and the artificial moonlight of computer screens illuminates the room. Eight workers sit in two rows, their tools arranged on their desks: a computer, a minaret of cellphone SIM cards, and an old cellphone. Tens of thousands of additional SIM cards are taped into bricks and stored under chairs, on top of computers, and in old instant-noodle boxes around the room.
Richard Braggs, Casipong’s boss, sits at a desk positioned behind his employees, occasionally glancing up from his double monitor to survey their screens. Even in the gloom, he wears Ray-Ban sunglasses to shield his eyes from the glare of his computer. (“Richard Braggs” is the alias he uses for business purposes.)Casipong inserts earbuds, queues up dance music, and checks her clients’ instructions. Their specifications are often quite pointed. A São Paulo gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness fanatics, or a bar in San Francisco’s Castro district might want 1,000 local gay men. Her current order is the most common: fake Facebook profiles of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30. Once a client has received the accounts, he will probably use them to sell Facebook likes to customers looking for an illicit social media boost.