Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This month 5 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts.
My subject is:
Have you ever had a chance to directly confront a scammer? How?
It was submitted by: https://thethreegerbers.blogspot.ch/
I don't answer my phone or go through emails enough to have been scammed in the usual way. I don't really have the money it would take. I don't have the assets. What are they going to get? A few litter boxes and some dog toys? I mean maybe someone out there has their eyes on my vintage Merry Mushroom kitchen decor, but I have yet to actually get a call about it.
But. I do have a story. A long story. Complicated maybe. But I've been rolling around the idea of talking about it for awhile.
It involves mutual aid and a facebook group and cults.
Mutual aid is mostly a leftist concept with roots in anarchist theory. It basically means a community coming together to benefit everyone in that community. It could be money or a service. In Portland leftist communities, there are several great examples. At the height of protests after George Floyd, there was a mobile food truck. Everyone pitched in whatever funds or food they could and every night at protests, the people who ran the truck would cook mostly ribs but all kinds of food for *anyone* who wanted to eat. You didn't have to be there to protest to take a plate. There's a particular bloc or mutual aid group that provides eye exams and free glasses for folks. Raccoon PDX cleans up after protests, provides gas masks and respirators and has a filter exchange program for these masks and respirators (used to prevent a lot of the most severe effects of the tear gas being used). They pass out storage for old filters and then people bring in the old ones to be studied by scientists in the area to determine what is in the non-lethal munitions being used on them and get new ones for free in return. There are dozens of these, and they provide community assistance publicly and transparently (accountability of funds are public). I particularly like the idea of mutual aid. It's essentially the same concept as using taxes to provide for citizens, but these groups actually do what they're designed to do because they're in the communities they serve and care and are so very transparent. It works quicker and more easily than the government, and it's a cornerstone to the ideology I subscribe to.
So when I stumbled on a mutual aid group operating on Facebook a couple years ago when I was slightly better off financially, I was pretty excited.
Cue doom music.
I joined a place called "give me your money" that was promised to be a place where people crowdfunded directly for the needs and wants of their peers. Can't make rent? You could post proof and ask. Can't afford food until your paycheck? Ask. Just want to treat yourself to a vibrator or a haircut or a coffee? Ask. You could ask for anything. And the idea of it was fantastic. I went in the group a bright eyed baby leftist leaving neoliberalism behind, and I was excited. I helped someone get meds for their dog and someone else get tickets to their favorite band after a particularly rough patch of life and money for a parking ticket...a haircut after a depressive episode left the person's hair matted. It was a great feeling. I had enough money for our needs, and it felt great to join in with others to help people who didn't have enough.
But it soon became clear that the premise wasn't exactly what it was advertised to be. And I think if you follow along you'll see why.
First, people were allowed and encouraged to pay money to ban people from the group. What benefit does this serve? A person being racist or homophobic should just be banned anyway to keep the community free of hate, and the rules said these kinds of folks would be banned for free but in practice this was not true. It became a competition for a fairly large segment of the group and ultimately for anyone who wanted to "fit in" to comb someone's profile to find things to suggest they weren't a good person, dogpile them for it (meaning several hundred people would comment and join in on the yelling for thousands of comments in a relatively short amount of time), and ultimately pay to ban them without them having their need answered, and if you went against the main consensus and tried to help that person because they needed it despite what the group decided about their worthiness, you would also find yourself in hot water as well. Were there terrible people? Sure. But as mentioned they should have been removed for free as promised. The point is, though, that many people weren't offered a chance to grow or even realize what they did wrong. People were expected to come into the group perfect little leftist echoes. Need help and posted that you like jeffree star makeup 2 years ago? If you didn't immediately denounce him and his racist antics you would immediately face the wrath of the group. But how could you know unless you follow youtube influencer drama? Trump supporter whose kid hasn't eaten all day? Christian asking for a Bible? Said "spirit animal" 5 years ago? Shared a meme that used "savage" a couple years back? You were going to be publicly eviscerated and probably your kid too for being unlucky enough to be born to someone deemed Unworthy of help.
I understand the concept of wanting to know where your money is going, but that isn't mutual aid. That isn't what mutual aid is about. It doesn't require someone to be ideologically pure to take part. And the people who ran the group would understand these particular posts grabbed attention and ended up profiting a lot of money for paid bans for anyone who defended the original post and paid mutes for people who annoyed someone. Honestly, you could get banned just because someone didn't like your face or how you worded something. So a 30 minutes dogpile could result in 100s of dollars for the group owners and all it required was a few button clicks.
This happened a lot. And it was encouraged. And because it was encouraged, the people who participated most often and were the loudest made a name for themselves within the group--the "cool kids" essentially. People would fund their requests no matter how ridiculous in minutes to stay on their good sides sometimes multiple times a day even if the requests were expensive. This ability to get money made people more cruel and also allowed predators and scammers to reign supreme because no one would dare question someone popular with the group until they pissed off the wrong person. When I first joined a predator who manipulated nudes out of multiple women was untouchable. If a woman expressed discomfort with his advances, she was dragged and exiled...until he did it to enough popular women and they tired of it. The same ones to drag others now had space to express their discomfort. So by the time anything was done, people had been exposed to predatory behavior and scams over and over and taken advantage of, so it was really too late. People could easily make enough money to afford trips, meals, weed, and video games consistently for being a particular brand of cruel and every single request might be based on a lie. No one would care until it affected them personally, and by then it would cost the group at least $100 to ban them instead of the 10 bucks for usual bans. Yeah that's right--people who scammed and lied and manipulated STILL cost the group money to get rid of them. It's still happening, too. Sometimes the drama from within the group spills out into friends' timelines, and every couple months like clockwork someone who was trusted is outted as having scammed or lied or preyed on others.
And then comes the cult...
The group owners started creating more exclusive levels of membership. You paid a $10 to $15 fee to get access to another aspect of the group. You could pay $10 monthly to be in an even more exclusive group. And if you were among the cruelest and most influential, you got invited to a secret group to discuss how the group worked and hold even more influence. There were hundreds in the monthly group alone, so if you're keeping track, the people who started the whole thing were making thousands and thousands of dollars a month in just fees related to the group by encouraging "exclusivity" and predatory behavior.
On top of that, someone revealed the original intention of the group was to make fun of poor people who were asking for money only someone didn't get the joke one day and asked genuinely and had their request fulfilled. It was the ill intentions of the two souless grifters who run the thing that started this whole mess and who ultimately realized money could be made off people in need. And now they grift to the tune of tens of thousands of annual income AT LEAST and do so by harming people repeatedly while pretending to just be the most wholesome people you could ever ask to be around.
The group rules suggest that tipping a mod or the group itself when making a request is "customary" but not required. This way of wording it--"not required"--allows the group to skirt facebook rules. You cannot require people in a group to pay money to participate in that group. Only facebook can take your money for shitass features that don't actually really promote your page or group to anyone that gives a shiiiit 🙃 But tips were required. If you did not provide proof of tip within seconds of making your goal, people would start asking if you were going to. If you didn't show proof, you would be banned. You would be publicly dragged and named on a scammer page and all the friends you made in the group would immediately unfriend you and talk shit about you. (More about that to come.) So if you're following (or not), this means that if you needed $20 to buy some ramen and tampons to make it through until you got food stamps again in two weeks, you had to give the group $2. Despite this group making 10s of thousands of dollars annually off all the things they were doing and scams they were running, they were scraping every cent they could off the poorest people. Homeless and need to get out of the cold? Better pay your fucking tip! The excuse was always that you could crowdfund your tip on top of your need but how the ever loving fuck can a mutual aid feel good about squeezing two dollars out of a starving family's hands and if they didn't get that $2 publicly insure they would never be able to get help again by framing them as scammers? It's disgusting. And despite there being some very good people in this group who would give their last dollar to someone who needed it too, they are absolutely brainwashed into believing this group is ultimately good. It almost got me too.
If someone is banned from the group, current members are not supposed to remain friends or talk to this person about the group. If you remain friends with banned members, you often find yourself banned as well unless you're one of the meanest money bringers. So not only are you cut off from the group, you are paraded around for laughs and then socially isolated. Someone once got called out for being too big of a bully and gave what the group collectively decided was a fake apology, and their apology was printed on shirts and sold. For months, people would post making fun of this person, and their pics were used to do it. So keep in mind THEY were too big of a bully but for literal months if not years the group has used that person's pic and apology to make fun of them repeatedly after banning and socially isolating them.
You're not allowed to criticize the way the group runs. You're not allowed to have issue with the way people talk to and about others. You're not allowed to belong to groups who have banned members that are critical of the group or be in groups that formed to be actual mutual aid groups that don't require the paid bans or tipping. Essentially, people are isolated from any person or persons who will point out all the issues with the way the group runs. The owners make flowery posts talking about the group like they're family--like shitty bosses do-- and talking up the group fairly often. It's cult behavior. Isolating people socially while stifling any criticism even for the most racist and transphobic behaviors of those in charge is what cultists do.
Which brings us to the merchandise.
Of course there is merchandise. Grifters always have merchandise.
It started out with a few pins--limited run designs of pin up girls in settings that allowed for the group name to be included. And that's fine. Making pins myself now I realize how much of a markup was being put on these pins (like 400%), but people were buying them so whatever. But then the drops became open exclusively to people who paid monthly money before anyone else. It became competitive to have the pins. People would buy well over the amount needed for themselves then auction them off. Before I left I saw with my own eyes that one pin was sold for $1200 in an auction. If you have that kind of money, sure. I mean, why not have a golden toilet too? But in a group full of people who can't afford to eat? A group supposedly designed to help them get money to eat? And then of course came the claims that people who asked for money shouldn't also buy pins as it was indicative of them scamming for money they didn't need despite the pressure people felt to own some of these pins to get into the inner circle and win favor in that in group so that asking for money would ultimately be easier for them. The culture was made clear to everyone through words and actions: give your all the to the group and never question it, be incredibly cruel, and own the merch. That would be the only way to succeed in getting the kind of money others were consistently raking in. People sometimes *would* forgo eating to buy a pin. And if you're thinking the owners couldn't make money off auctions from private sellers, you're wrong. They required the auctioner to give a percentage of the money made to them. Of course they did. What an easy way to siphon off a few hundred more bucks a week from the cult.
Since then more designs have been added every week, but for a group with nearly 100,000 people having a limited run print of even 300 pins (and sometimes only 25) manipulates the kind of scarcity that enables these auctions and this culture to continue. And now they have bags, stickers, shirts, and more. A group wanting to have merch? Not a problem. This group and in this way? It's not a good look.
After several issues in the group regarding ongoing ableist behavior and very obvious attempts to discredit anyone who dared criticize or discuss problems with the way things work, I left it. There were plenty of times supposed scammers were revealed in the group, but after seeing people in action, it wasn't something I ever really felt keen on participating in. I didn't feel comfortable commenting much. I never asked for help myself, but I made some friends I do really care about who probably won't like this blog post. I made other friends I lost to the group when I finally left it who can't even remain friends with anyone who leaves or has anything to say about it whether they were banned or not. And I never felt like calling them out as a group would work because everyone remaining and new people who join have to figure out on their own why it's not as wholesome as it tries to frame itself as being. Not nearly.
So here I am redeeming myself for never saying anything before-- give me your money is a scam. Don't join it. Don't encourage other people to join it. And if you have an opportunity, I highly recommend you report them for violating Facebook terms of service. Oh and if you see their new app, report it too.
There are more than enough cults out there as it is.