Sorry, posting your cat will not plant a tree

When is a scam not a scam? Never. Also: Travis Scott and New Zealand's attempt at a Capitol Riot


I just wanted to check in because it’s been such a weird week.

While anti-vaxxers waved Donald Trump flags in New Zealand (more on that later) and rapper Travis Scott got eight people killed, Instagram was full of people posting photos of their pets — so that someone would plant a tree.

The sticker went viral, and millions of people posted their hearts out, many assuming they were saving the planet at the same time.

Newsflash: Nobody was planting a tree if you posted a photo of your cat.

It appears to be the work of Plant A Tree Co (they claimed responsibility), an Instagram account with over a million followers that is definitely a scam. They posted this yesterday. It starts believably…

“We posted the new “Add Yours” story as a fun tree planting campaign where we can show off our awesome pets! We immediately realized the post would grow too big and that we didn’t have the resources to plant that many trees, so we deleted it 10 minutes later.”

… before arriving at the grift:

“We want to use this awareness for lasting impact, so we created this fundraiser. It is raising money towards @treesforthefuture which is an organization that we love, who is dedicated to planting trees. WE ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH @treesforthefuture, we are simply raising money through this Instagram fundraiser which will directly go to them, so that they can use it to plant trees.

Please share this post and the fundraiser on your story, and tag all your friends, celebrities, and @instagram so they can see this and so we can ACTUALLY plant 4 million trees.”

Hogwash. Tripe. A big bag of absolute bullshit.

You know it’s some kind of scam because if you go to their website, they claim to be giving away free necklaces:

Newsflash: No-one is giving away free necklaces why the hell would they do that it makes no sense what is wrong with you.

If you look at the history of this place, you see a company that jumps on any social issue it can to garner likes. During the Australian wildfires in 2019 they posted a photo of a kangaroo which got over two million likes. They said that for every hundred people that shared their post, they’d give $1 to the New South Wales Rural fire service. They did not do this.

The account became inactive for some time, and only appeared again during during Black Lives Matter — a time when people decided that posting a black square was the best way to do some good for humankind (instead of, you know, donating money or actually doing anything of real consequence).

My advice when you’re wondering if a fancy looking website is a scam? Go their to their Privacy Policy, or any of the links found at the bottom in tiny writing. Scam websites just copy and paste the template from somewhere else, but forget to complete it (because they’re running hundreds of these sites). In the case of Plant a Tree Co, their policy page looked like this:

Looking a bit further into Plant A Tree, and you find it’s run by Zack Saadioui. He’s a man from Florida (Florida is always a red flag) with a LinkedIn profile that makes your skin crawl. It has more motivational posts than cats on earth.

He also likes showing off his abdominal muscles:

Zack’s main hustle? A thing called “Prked”, an app which makes so little sense I can’t be bothered explaining it. As some side trivia, the Instagram account for Prked features a lot of my Serbian stock model twin, Marko:

That’s him in the bottom right. If you missed my quest to find my stock model twin, you can read about that here: I meet my twin, Marko - the fake gynaecologist.

Anyway, I guess my point is you’re allowed to post of a photo of you cat anytime you like! Don’t wait to do it because of some Joseph Gordon-Levitt-esque prompt from a scammer.

Also: Go and actually plant your own tree if you want to save the fucking planet! But of course no-one is doing that: Instead, they’re now donating to Plant A Tree’s Instagram account: $30,063 so far and counting.

Why does Travis Scott actively despise his fanbase?

Someone who doesn’t appear to enjoy saving the planet — or human lives — is rapper Travis Scott. Despite police warning Scott that his concert was likely to be a deadly disaster, the attention-seeking rapper decided to give exactly zero fucks for anyone except himself.

With a heaving crowd in front of him clearly getting out of control — as people were being sucked down into a vortex of hot, panicked bodies, air crushed out of lungs, hearts giving up entirely — Scott kept going. As he saw emergency vehicles in the crowd, he egged the crowd on.

Young people desperately climbed onto the risers the camera crews were filming from, begging for the death trap to be stopped. But their cries were ignored, and people kept dying.

Eight died in total, and hundreds ended up in hospital. Five are still in the ICU.

In the days following this week — as 18 families started suing — Travis Scott went into damage control, posting an apology video. He delivered a performance worthy of a YouTube star. His wife Kylie Jenner also posted. After offering thoughts and prayers (which as of writing have failed to bring back the eight dead fans), she extends those thoughts and prayers to Travis, too. Because, well — poor Travis.

“My thoughts and prayers are with all who lost their lives, were injured or affected in anyway [sic] by yesterday’s events. And also for Travis who I know cares deeply for his fans and the Houston community.”

He’s certainly got a strange way of caring. I guess I don’t really have thoughts or prayers for Travis Scott, who has a history of inciting violence at concerts: This clip from 2015 shows him telling the crowd to beat up a man who touched his shoe. The crowd beats the man up.

Of course TikTok users jumped on the theory that Satan was involved — because such theories get clicks. Yes: Social media influencers continue their rush to the bottom:

Internet users have seized on several far-fetched “symbols” present at the concert, including imagery of flames and burning doves. Some TikTok users described the stage as “an inverted cross leading to hell”. Others cited numerology, falsely claiming that Travis Scott and his fellow performer Drake “were born 66 months 6 days apart”.

I guess I’d just like to point out to Travis Scott is that it is possible to respect your fans instead of getting them killed.

Perhaps he should take a page out of Linkin Park’s book: When they saw their fans being hurt they — gaspstopped the show. Because it’s just fucking music. No-one should die over a song.

New Zealand’s attempt at a Capitol Riot

I can’t let this newsletter go by without looking at what happened in New Zealand this week.

In Wellington, around 2000 protestors — many gripping Trump flags and yelling QAnon slogs — marched to Parliament. Earlier this week I asked the question: “Could the Capitol Riots happen in New Zealand?”, which broke down the obsession New Zealand’s conspiracy theory crowd has with bad American ideas.

For some Webwormers, it was a step too far.

Sharon called me “dumb” before bidding me “goodbye”. Allan gave me some Bible verses — and had clearly not read my newsletter about Evangelical Christians’ obsession with the end times:

Cheers Allan, and cheers Sharon. I imagine I lost some readers. I’m okay with that.

The fact is, a lot of what I wrote about was on full display, but in a uniquely kiwi style. So while in January we had Americans erecting gallows outside the US Capitol, in New Zealand people wrote “Hang Ardern” on tennis balls before lobbing them at reporters’ heads.

All the stuff of America was on display, including anger towards the media, and plenty of accusations equating the Labour government with the Nazi party.

There was an attempt — a limp of sorts — to get into Parliament, but it failed miserably. Some of the crowd jumped the first set of gates onto the forecourt, but were stopped by another barrier. Despite a lot of big words on Telegram, kiwi farmers did not turn up with angle grinders.

The madness of American QAnon language in full force, and strange to see. One group — holding Trump flags — claimed that Jacinda Ardern had been arrested years ago, and has been wearing an ankle bracelet. It’s rhetoric honed in the QAnon movement, who’ve claimed the likes of Hilary Clinton and Oprah were arrested by Trump years ago. It’s strange to see this type of scenario also described here, and demonstrates a huge lack of imagination in this crowd.

It’s tempting to laugh, because it’s such a pathetic imitation of such a pathetic movement. But it’s also deeply sad because these people have been lead down the rabbit hole by people in positions of power, who are happily grifting along using QAnon rhetoric.

Peter Mortlock of City Impact Church continues to dog-whistle to his congregation about freedom, and showed his true conspiratorial colours by openly stating he’s been on Zoom calls with Sue Grey (the woman who falsely claimed various New Zealanders, including children, have died from vaccines).

And let’s not forget the crowd behind the The Freedom Online Coalition. In this early planning meeting we see Hannah and Brian Tamaki, businessman Leo Molloy, and Groundswell organiser Scott Bright:

(As an aside, the 57-year old Destiny member involved in the first protest has tested positive for Covid. Gah).

There are questions as to why the police do so little when confronted by unmasked protestors gathering en masse, against health guidelines set down by the Government. I have some theories on that — and am poking into it. It’s my belief the police are simply dealing with outdated policy that can’t cope with these types of protests. People have the right to protest, sure: But New Zealanders also have the right not to be put at harm by those breaking health guidelines.

The police have a model for dealing with protests formed back in the late 80s and early 90s — Springboks tour stuff. Nothing has changed since then, and so the police simply can’t act at times.

And hey — it’s getting feral. Someone bit a police officer at a checkpoint. I may be wrong, but Wellington’s protest won’t be the last of it. The last of this American-style madness. Telegram, the Facebook groups, the private chats: it’s all building. Sue Gray, Peter Mortlock, Brian Tamaki and a host of other people I’ve written about here on Webworm all have a hand in it.

Before I leave you to your day, I wanted to say thanks to all of you who commented under my last newsletter — including David who said:

“I’m feeling thoroughly depressed after reading this. From the comments I can relate to a number of other people with relatives spouting the most illogical insane things. And I’m a little unsure how best to deal with these illogical claims. Do you try and counter them? Or just ignore them?”

Well, I think these previous Webworm pieces are full of amazing advice from people way smarter than me. You might find them helpful:

How to talk to people stuck in a conspiracy theory hellscape by Mick West, master debunkers and creator of Tony Hawk Pro Skater

I talk to the creator of the Conspiracy Chart with TikTok Science Educator, Abbie Richards

The Attraction of Sloppy Nonsense with author Sonny Whitelaw

Why are conspiracy theories dripping in racism? with researcher and academic Tina Ngata

A therapist’s view of conspiracy theories Part I and Part II with therapist Paul Wilson, as well as bumper guide for the holiday season: A therapist’s survival guide to holiday hell.

I hope those are helpful. Feel free to share those links around if you think they can help your followers. Counter the bullshit. As usual — thanks for reading.


Afterword: An apology.

I wanted to apologise for two things in my last newsletter. In making comparisons to food, I brought the word “obesity” into it. This is an incredibly loaded and outdated term. As my friend Mel school me on immediately: “Obesity is a medical term that fits in with BMI which is a super racist old fashioned system designed for statistics and not for doctors to use against their patients.

I changed my phrasing in the online version immediately — but of course the version in your inbox remained unchanged. If this hurt you — I’m sorry. I am learning. If I could have my time again, I’d limit the food comparisons to me: I fucking love McDonalds - and despite knowing it’s very American and very Terrible for me, I embrace the cheeseburger. That would have made my point.

Also — I quoted a derogatory word for a trans person in my piece. I didn’t need to do that, and I regret that also. Gross words about minority groups don’t always need to be replicated.

One of the horrors of writing a newsletter is that once you hit “send” you can’t get it back. I regret every spelling mistake I make — but heck, Webworm is just me, it’s personal, and maybe that’s okay. We’re all flawed, right? Thanks for my beautiful readers that point out by mistakes kindly, clearly, and often with a sense of humour. You rule.