Sep 18, 2021 • 57M

Episode 82: Dear Prudence, Help! I Can't Stop Pretending To Be A Texas Abortion Bounty Hunter Online

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Journalists Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal scour the internet for its craziest, silliest, most sociopathic content, part of an obsessive and ill-conceived attempt to extract kernels of meaning and humanity from a landscape of endless raging dumpster fires.
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The Prudie fakester: https://www.gawker.com/media/dear-prudie-it-was-me-all-along

Help! My Friend Thinks I Am Stealing Vaccines From African-American Grandmothers To Attend Sex Resorts: https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/03/dear-prudence-daughter-girlfriend-armed-robbery-murder.html 

Help! My Husband and I Can’t Agree On What To Name the Baby We Might Get!: https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/11/having-sex-with-nephew-advice.html 

My Daughter Is Pretending to Be Demonically Possessed… and I Can’t Take It Anymore!: https://slate.com/podcasts/dear-prudence/2020/07/is-it-weird-to-love-giving-gifts-all-the-time-dear-prudence-podcast 

Previous BARPod coverage of Prudie: https://barpodcast.fireside.fm/71

The Goose Post: https://www.thechatner.com/p/i-am-the-horrible-goose-that-lives 

Fox News on the sex-masking study: https://www.foxnews.com/health/couples-face-masks-sex-study 

Texas's insane new abortion law: https://legiscan.com/TX/text/SB8/id/2395961

After our show went up, our tipster pointed out that he had already done a post about this -- we would have credited him had we known at the time!: https://tracingwoodgrains.medium.com/how-one-tight-knit-circle-of-internet-troublemakers-convinced-professional-journalists-they-were-ac05459aa4c5 

“Random strangers can sue any 'abettor' to an abortion anywhere in Texas and collect a minimum of $10,000, plus attorneys’ fees”: https://slate.com/podcasts/dear-prudence/2020/07/is-it-weird-to-love-giving-gifts-all-the-time-dear-prudence-podcast 

"Reddit Bans Abortion Bounty Hunter Forum": https://www.vice.com/en/article/jg83bg/reddit-bans-abortion-bounty-hunter-forum 

And Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/reddit-shuts-down-forum-for-texas-abortion-bounty-hunters-2021-9 

Kendall Brown tweet: https://twitter.com/kendallybrown/status/1433588701385400327 

Steve Silberman: https://twitter.com/stevesilberman/status/1434223870035169282

"Hey Gunslingers come join us on /TXBountyHunters, a new community dedicated to fighting, and profiting from, those who would break the law of our beautiful state": https://rdrama.net/post/12798/hey-gunslingers-come-join-us-on

The subreddit was here -- quickly banned and we can't find an archived version: https://www.reddit.com/r/TXBountyHunters 

 Celebration: https://rdrama.net/post/13597/vice-gets-bounty-hunted

"I think the key takeaway here is when these journos and abortion enthusiasts see a 'Christian' their brains malfunction and they lose what little ability they had to think rationally": https://taytay.life/post/13597/vice-gets-bounty-hunted/272219//?context=5#contex

Mostly complete transcript, with some minor spelling/other issues cleaned up here and there:

Jesse: Hey -- I'm a journalist who cohosts a podcast about internet bullshit. We were tipped off to this whole Bounty Hunters thing. I'd love to send you a few questions about it -- particularly about what it's been like to watch this blow up in the way it has, and to see so many people taking it seriously. Any interest? -Jesse https://jessesingal.substack.com/about

SCD: Text or call?

Jesse: Your call. I can send you a URL to the thing we use to record the podcast -- that way we could talk by voice but keep you anonymous if you wanted.

SCD: I’m at work and won’t be free until Sunday really, if you wanna shoot some questions here on drama I’ll answer, but tbh I don’t know if I have anything that interesting to add.

Jesse: All right let's maybe chat Sunday. In the meantime, just send me anything you're cool sharing about why you did the original post and what it's been like watching it blow up. Thanks.

SCD: [I did it] [f]or laughs, that’s literally it. I don’t believe in taking the internet seriously, never have. I grew up using 4chan, where nothing was off limits, nothing was sacred, and the only real rule was “the first to take it seriously loses.” I guess I never really grew out of that mindset. I’m older now, have a career, a fiancé, and a life, but I still like to view the internet as the Wild West it once was. A place where you could say anything, be anyone and act as retarded as you like. Many who saw the post probably assume I’m pro-life, I’m not. The truth is my online positions and my real life ones rarely line up. In real life I’m pro-choice, vote Democrat, vaccinated, and a loving partner. Online I’m often pro-life, avid Trump supporter, and a misogynist, because these are the positions most likely to cause drama in today’s zeitgeist.

Jesse: What was your reaction to it blowing up?

SCD: Surprise. I made the sub one day before work in about 12 minutes before work, posted the thread, and only had time to check it once or twice before it got banned six hours later. It really just speaks to the current state of the culture war that this thing was ever taken seriously by anyone. So many people on both sides are searching for that next 5-minute hate so hard that whether it’s even real or not is often an afterthought. I’ve lost a lot of respect for journalists, even 2 minutes of digging through my post history would have revealed that it was an obvious troll.

Jesse: So your thought process is simply “This would be a funny thing to seed”? I feel like folks who are less online have trouble understanding that someone might say something online they don't agree with in real life, and that this leads to a lot of bad coverage of internet controversies. Any thoughts on this side of stuff? I feel like trolling is just generally misunderstood, sometimes willfully.

SCD: I don’t really know man, I’m not some internet trolling mastermind, just another dude with a childish sense of humor and a Reddit account. If I had to guess it would probably be something to do with how the internet has evolved. Today’s internet is largely sterile, commercialized, and in my opinion boring. People don’t see the internet as a place where you can be anybody anymore, but instead as a direct extension of who you already are. Thanks to social media most people’s online presence is the same as their offline, whereas before almost everything was anonymous, and you were conditioned to take everything written online with a grain of salt, because you never really knew who you were talking to.

Jesse: Do you think part of it is a reaction against piousness and censoriousness? Even as a grown adult there's some part of me that responds to being told I'm not allowed to say something by just wanting to scream it. It feels like the most intense and creative trolling centers on the most hot-button issues, and I feel like that could help explain why.

SCD: Oh that's a huge part of it, there's actually a huge overlap between rdrama and r/stupidpol users ( a subreddit dedicated to critiquing identity politics and wokeness as a whole). Sanctimonious, moral busy bodies are a favorite trolling target, because they’re literally everywhere online these days and take themselves very seriously. This website itself is a product of our original subreddit getting censored.

Jesse: Last question, I think: What about someone who says, “Look, it's fine to be trollish but people are gullible -- this did scare folks and spread misinformation”?

SCD: The sub was up for six hours and had only 63 members before it was banned. The vast majority of people who were potentially misinformed from it stemmed from the journalists who decided to run a story on an obvious troll attempt. I mean yeah obviously I share some blame for making it in the first place, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it.