However, this understandable instinct to achieve a more balanced gender representation has apparently led one developer conference to fabricate speakers to bolster their diversity bonafides.
Devternity: Women speakers who did not exist
Dev.events, the organizer of the Devternity developer conference, is one such business. According to an investigation by Gergely Orosz , a writer for the Pragmatic Engineer, Devternity and Dev.events have invented at least two fake female speakers for their events this year. Although, there is evidence that it has been inventing fake women for its events since 2021.
At the time of writing, Devternity's website was down, and the company was not responding to CCN's requests for comments.
One of the non-existent women is 'Anna Boyko' who is described as a Staff Engineer at Coinbase, and a Core Contributor at Ethereum, the world's second most popular blockchain. However, nobody at Coinbase or Ethereum can recall her working there. Natalie Stadler, a "Software Craftswoman" at Coinbase, also "spoke" at the event in 2022 — she doesn't exist either.
Another is 'Alina Prokhoda,' who allegedly worked for WhatsApp and Microsoft MVP as a Senior Engineer. Prokhoda is also supposed to be a blogger at Hashnode, although no evidence exists of her writing there.
Suspiciously, before the event went AWOL, the website said that it did not allow speaker submissions. "Instead, we follow the 'Hollywood Principle' — don't call us, we'll call you."
In all of the above cases, it appears that the portraits were generated by artificial intelligence (AI).
However, the story appears to go back even further as Eduard Sizovs, the founder of Devternity, has connections to an alleged female catfish account as far back as 2018. Julia Kirsina chose Sizovs to be her first Instagram follower and has a history of posting content identical to Sizovs and supporting his ventures, blogs, and podcasts on social media.
A screenshot from a 2018 Instagram post appears to show the person behind the coding_unicorn Instagram account using Sizov's laptop, indicating that they are the same person. 404 Media have obtained IP logs that further cement the link between the account and Sizovs.
The Devternity Organizer Responds
Following Orosz's X thread, the conference has suffered an exodus of speakers and appears to be no longer taking place. "I was supposed to talk at JDkon, but that's not going to happen," said Vlad Mihalcea , a software engineer and author on X. "I asked to be removed from the conference page yesterday, but the organizer hasn't done anything about it."
In response to the original X thread, Sizovs denies "scamming" anyone, saying the appearance of fake speakers was an "auto-generated" website error and a placeholder until the company could replace two female speakers who dropped out at the last minute.
He called the accusations "unfair," having "damaged my and my conference's reputation," and invited the accuser to "attend the conference and see how inclusive, safe, and good it is."
AI Content: A growing problem
The use of fake personas generated by AI is a growing concern. This week, Sports Illustrated was found to have published product reviews under AI-generated authors "Drew Ortiz" and "Sora Tanaka." The headshots match images on a website selling AI portraits, and sources say some articles were AI-written. After questions, the dubious authors vanished from the site.
Sports Illustrated has denied using AI-generated authors for its website content.
"Women in tech is not just a buzz term or a checkbox that conferences have to tick. It's a real and wide audience that many projects need to cater for," said Ekta Garg , the events director of BlockDown Festival . "Tech is not a boys club. The best way to showcase the full tech culture landscape is to allow all communities to have representation and a voice, and every conference should strive to achieve true diversity on and off stage."
Josh Adams has previously appeared in BeInCrypto, Vice, Quillette, Unherd and many others. He is particularly interested in privacy, policy and regulation, and web3 adoption. Follow him on X: @GiveMeACurry