September 9, 2022 - 9:37am

Last night, there was a viral thread from Christina Buttons, a reporter at the conservative Daily Wire, about a children’s book entitled Sex Education for 8-12 Year Olds: Kids Book for Good Parents, by an author named Ana Leblanc. As Buttons detailed in the thread and in a linked article, the book includes some shocking advice, including that parents should “take your child into bed with you and allow him or her watch [sic] as you share intimacy.”

At a time of raging public controversies over Right-wing “book bans” and Left-wing “sexualisation of children”, this was a story almost too good to be true. Here was a woke author instructing parents to commit what would amount, at best, to a deeply irresponsible act, and at worst, to criminal incest and pedophilia. The passage seems to have been discovered by the anti-woke education account @CourageHabit, which, in case any readers missed the point, wrote: 

The problem is, the story almost certainly is too good to be true. As in: it’s fake. “Ana Leblanc” does not exist, and the book is not a real book. 

My first clue here was the text itself, which has the uncanny quality of writing generated by a computer. Note the stilted subtitle — Kids Book for Good Parents — and the grammatical error in the passage quoted at the end of the first paragraph. Or, consider some of the other books listed under “Ana Leblanc” on Goodreads, such as ‘POTTY TRAINING for boys and girls easy toilet plan’ and ‘How to get pregnant fast naturally’. Read the first sentence of the Goodreads description of the latter and ask yourself whether it was written by a human:

How tĐŸ gĐ”t pregnant naturally iѕ a ԛuДѕtiĐŸn аѕkĐ”d bу mĐ°nу ŃĐŸuрlДѕ whĐŸ hĐ°vĐ” been trуing tĐŸ ŃĐŸnсДivĐ” a baby fĐŸr a lĐŸng period ĐŸf timĐ” ĐŸr it is Đ°lŃ•ĐŸ сruсiĐ°l for Ń€Đ”ĐŸŃ€lĐ” whĐŸ hĐ°vĐ” nĐŸt Đ°ttĐ”mрtĐ”d уДt tĐŸ hĐ°vĐ” a baby. 
- 'Ana Leblanc', goodreads

Notably, all of these books are listed on Goodreads for $0.00 on Kindle Unlimited, and all have been delisted from Amazon except for a paperback edition of Sex Education for 8-12 year old kids, which was selling for $7.98 as of Tuesday but is now unavailable. It’s the free Kindle Unlimited versions that are the tell here. As the author David Gaughran explained in 2017, when all of Leblanc’s books were published in the span of a few months:

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

- David Gaughran

As Buttons notes, Sex Education was, at the time of its delisting, “the #1 Best Seller in Children’s Nonfiction on Sexuality & Pregnancy on Amazon.” Of course, that’s exactly the sort of absurdly niche subcategory that would be easy to game. My guess is that whoever was running the original Kindle scam was trying to repurpose old material with a new scam focused on paperbacks, but who knows. 

Then there’s ‘Ana Leblanc’ herself. Her author pages contain no biographical information, and Googling “Ana+Leblanc+author” yields no hits aside from the Amazon and Goodreads pages, Button’s article, and a lesbian short-story writer in Massachussetts named Ann LeBlanc. According to Button, the author bio on the paperback book says that “Leblanc was born in Scotland and began writing books following encouragement from her daughter after a career as a teacher in Glasgow.” Searching “Ana+Leblanc+Glasgow” yields no direct hits either, but it does turn up a recent obituary for an Anne LeBlanc of Nova Scotia, who was born in Glasgow. Perhaps the scammer stole a bit from the real Ms. LeBlanc’s biography, or perhaps it was pure coincidence.  

It would appear that the whole story is a case of two different sections of the Internet colliding: culture war clickbait and e-book scams. Unfortunately, there’s only one person who could clear this up, and Ana Leblanc was unavailable for comment.

Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet