Webworm's Top 10 of 2020
For you, a selection of Webworm highlights, in case you want some holiday reading
Thanks for your eyeballs this year, it’s meant heaps. Thanks for making this so fun to write! (well, mostly fun as I dodged a fair amount of stress with some of the characters I’ve written about).
I thought I’d look at the newsletters that were the most well read this year, and do a little run-down for you — updating some of them, too. I came to this list by looking at the “views” they got, combined with the amount of feedback I received from readers.
You might have missed some of these entirely, or maybe you want to revisit them. Maybe you want to forward this “best of” onto a friend, or print it and turn it into a paper plane you use to annoy your family or cat.
If you haven’t and want to, you can always support Webworm by signing up below for $6.99 a month, or $69.69 (USD) a year. That way, you’ll get extra Webworm — and know that you’re helping me do what I do. Only do this if it doesn’t put your under financial strain.
Thanks for being here. I feel really proud of what Webworm has become this year. And that’s all thanks to you reading it, and supporting it. I’m looking forward to what’s in store for 2021.
Webworm’s Top 10!
1) Why “Save Our Children” is a bunch of bullshit
This piece looked at the “Save Our Children” movement that became so popular this year, and explains why it had 0% to do with actually helping kids, and 100% to do with dangerous, deranged ideas. I also chatted to Travis View of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, and something he said about QAnon believers has stuck with me since:
Despite the fact they fancy themselves “researchers” and defenders of children, they’re useless.
The person who helped uncover the facts about Jeffery Epstein that led to his second arrest wasn’t the collective of QAnon followers on Twitter and the chans. It was Julie K. Brown, a traditional investigative journalist for the Miami Herald.
Despite their fantasy of being “citizen journalists,” a single MSM reporter did better work than every QAnon follower combined when it comes to uncovering high powered corruption and child abuse.
2) This open letter to the Manukau Christian School
I wrote an open letter to Manukau Christian school, after one of their teachers attended a Black Lives Matter protest in a MAGA hat. You can read that letter — and the flood of comments under it — here.
In that open letter, I went and looked at the teacher’s contribution to school newsletters, where he talked of the “LGBT revolution” and quoted Ben Shapiro, without saying he was quoting Ben Shapiro.
But mainly I marvelled at the fact he turned up at a BML protest in a MAGA hat — what I would call “a truly a-hole move”.
I ended my letter with this:
I’m writing this letter, because I wonder where you stand on your teacher.
I wonder where you stand on who’s educating the kids in your care.
I know you’re a Christian school — and that kinda pains me, too — because it’s so expected. It’s so boring. It’s so dumb.
The reason I walked away on Christianity as it exists today is because of stuff like this. It was getting embarrassing. I couldn’t be a part of a thing that increasingly seemed to be turning its back on some of the most vulnerable people in society.
It’s annoying because I know Jesus would look at this stuff and hurl motherfucking chunks.
If I had kids, I wouldn't let them be educated by this man. Or at your school, judging by your silence.
Say something, say something, say something.
The school never replied.
Complaints were made the Teaching Council earlier this year, and last week the Teaching Council made their ruling.
I got a copy — clearly headlined with “Outcome - Confidential” — but that didn’t stop Ethan publicly posting the findings on his Facebook page (tagging me in, of course):
The findings are no surprise — the school Ethan teaches at is a Christian school, so it’s fair to say the LGBTTQIA+ community is seen as “less than” by them anyway. The MAGA hat would be the least of their worries. Or the Teaching Council’s worries. Totally normal.
And it’s no surprise to see who is commenting under Ethan’s victorious post — people like Mike Allen.
Who is Mike Allen? In the past he’s been condemned by the Holocaust centre, and last weekend he posted a link to a video of the Christchurch terror attack on one of his Facebook pages. This is a crime. It was noticed by Byron Clark, who’s written about Mike on Webworm before:
Meanwhile, on his Facebook page, Allan posted a picture of an acid attack victim with the comment “if this happens to my daughter I’m destroying mosque after mosque until I am taken out.”
So yeah, that’s who Mike Allen is — a guy I’m not entirely surprised to see weighing in on the teacher’s post.
As you can see, Mike’s post that “Farrier should pay some sort of price” was “loved” by the MAGA hat wearing teacher. And while I’m sure Ethan doesn’t agree with Mike’s illegal activity over the weekend, I’m not exactly surprised to learn that Mike sells MAGA hats online. So, I dunno, maybe stop wearing MAGA hats?
As for “pay some sort of price”… I’ve lost count of the weird veiled threats I’ve received this year.
3) Talking to the Reddit User who started a Covid Conspiracy
My colleague Dylan Reeve tracked down the New Zealand reddit user who accidentally started a horrible racist Covid rumour down under. And he was shitting himself.
“It’s inexcusable. And what I did was inexcusable. And this is what I struggle with, and maybe if I was to get in front of a court with name suppression I could maybe get diversion, and I could pay the family some reparation and I would absolutely do that because it makes more sense for me to, if it was to go there, to just plead guilty, not pay a bunch of lawyer fees, and just pay as much as I could afford for the distress of the family, just because of this baseless rumour.”
We also wrote another piece for Webworm members reflecting on that story, and the context around it — being critical of our own approach in how we framed the victims in this story. You can read that here. And further to that, I spoke to Tina Ngata about why conspiracy theories are dripping in racism. You can find that here.
These are a lot of fun — and I need to do more of them. But once a month I do a Reddit-esque “Ask-Me-Anything” here on Webworm, for paying Webworm members. It’s a fun thing to do with the community that keeps things ticking along.
It was in this newsletter I introduced you to Colette, one of my favourite people. She wrote to me, concerned at the concept of signing up, in case she died soon.
In case you’re wondering, I gave her a free membership. And I just wrote to her, and she’s alive and well. And yes, I will renew her membership for another year! Thanks Colette.
5) The real-time red-pilling of a political hopeful
This piece was a fun one, in a depressing sort of way. I tracked NZ political hopeful (and QAnon adherent) Billy TK Jnr as he went down the rabbit hole.
It started like this:
And ended like this (less than two months later):
6) The Lonely descent into QAnon
I am still waiting to see where this story ends, as the founders of cult New Zealand lingerie fashion line Lonely kinda turn into an actual cult, as they waited for the Starseed revolution on Dec 21st (spoiler alert: nothing happened).
Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California, Mt Shasta is synonymous with the Star Seed movement. And it’s become a big focus for Steve and Helene.
“It is widely believed that there are civilizations of highly evolved beings residing within the mountain. Some are believed to be in another dimension that are not not currently visible” explains the Star Seed Gatherings website.
Talking to those around Steve, he is allegedly focussed on the date of December 21st. For Starseeds, this date not only marks the start of the Winter Solstice, but the beginning of the “Age of Light”, a time to reunite with both creatures hidden inside the hollow earth, and galactic alien forces in outer space.
You can read the story here. And I look at the fallout to the piece for Webworm members here: “You're a wormy piece of shit Farrier. You don’t do any investigating”
With that quote in mind — I’ll take Kim Hill’s endorsement over anything else (let me gloat about this one — she’s a hero of mine):
7) Meeting my twin, Marko - the fake gynaecologist.
In this newsletter, I tracked down the stock model twin that has been haunting me for years.
I found him not in a generic office, but in Serbia. Marko was a total delight to talk to, and he fully appreciated his face popping up all around the globe — including in New Zealand:
“I like being everywhere, because being everywhere is good for being everywhere in the future! So, everywhere, here I come!”
8) How to talk to people stuck in a conspiracy theory hellscape
As with all my conspiracy theory coverage this year, I’ve kept it all free (thanks members, this wouldn’t be possible without you) — because stuff like this I want to be shared and read by as many people as possible.
I talked with Mick West, the guy who created Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series — and who now debunks conspiracy theories full time. He’s full of great advice, and you can read all of it here. I particularly liked his advice around steel-manning:
Another thing you mentioned is that it’s a super good idea to state back the conspiracy theory to the believer, but in an even better, sharper way. To basically show them that you fully grasp the argument even better than they do. Can you explain this a little, and why it’s so important?
It shows that you are not trying to dismiss or diminish their argument. It’s a technique known as “steel-manning,” and it’s the honest version of “straw-manning”, where you deceptively present a bad version of an argument so you can shoot it down.
It’s important to be honest. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and often just clearly stating the argument in the most accurate way possible will reveal any flaws it has.
It’s always best if you can get the other person to discover for themselves what the flaws are.
9) Isaac Butterfield & punching down in comedy
The curious case of an Australian “comedian” who consistently punched down in 2020. It’s a sad, frustrating and amusing read which ended in me telling Butterfield to get lost (well, in slightly stronger words):
10) The mystery of Clementoni Toys' missing puzzle pieces
And finally, am Italian puzzle manufacturer kept making puzzles with missing puzzle pieces. Why? Well, the answer was puzzling, to say the least — as Clementoni Toys told me “We regret to inform you that we are not allowed to divulge information about our production process.”
This is the first Webworm I sent out, way back in April. A lifetime ago. It’s a story where zero answers were found, but hopefully the journey made it all worthwhile.
Those were the most read Webworm stories this year. Members also seemed to like The Pretender, the story of serial fantasist Anna Wilding who’s been haunting the New Zealand film scene for decades… who managed to get a press pass for the White House and take a bunch of photos of Barack Obama. Totally normal.
We all like a good scammer, so “Meet Andrew Thorn, the man behind New Zealand’s worst stunt: “Hi David, f**k you too” and “We do a lot, per se, in the shadows” seemed well received. Andrew Thorn wasn’t too keen on it. The Instagram account of his company Silverback Events often sends me sarcastic messages, the last being “Hi David, we have work drinks tomorrow — would you like to attend.” No thanks, I’d rather stab my eyes out with a fork. Andrew continues to have a rough time of it, recently being fined $30,000 for sending 4,800 unsolicited text messages over lockdown trying to flog his safety gear.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to Paul Wilson, the psychotherapist whose pieces really helped a lot of people this year. I’m saying that primarily because of the feedback I’ve gotten, including tweets like “David, where is that therapist piece about conspiracy theories?”
“Shame is arguably the most powerful human emotion and we seldom talk about it in the West. We’re ashamed of shame and we pretend it doesn’t exist.
In English, the word shame tends to imply serious disgrace but as an emotion, shame exists on a continuum that ranges from slight discomfort and awkwardness up through embarrassment to profound humiliation. Shame remains the only emotion we associate with death — mortification — and that’s no accident.
Humans are born so dependent (we can’t feed ourselves, or move away from danger) that the loss of a loving bond with our caregivers literally means death. That emotional intensity never leaves us, even as adults, despite all our praising of independence and rationality. So when an important relationship or social bond is threatened, whether it’s by action or neglect, shame is what we feel.
It’s the painful warning signal that flares up to make us pay attention to something deeply important and to motivate us to protect and repair that social bond. It’s just how we’re wired. I think it helps to be aware of the emotional forces at work when someone close goes down the rabbit hole.”
With that in mind, stay safe out there. Thanks for reading this year, and I hope you get a rest over the holidays, or whatever the hell you call this time of the year!
PS I am taking my own advice now and getting in the sea!