When Covid scammers & influencers collide

With cries of "shut the f**k up you grub!" I promise this newsletter has a happy ending

Hey, friend.

Who’s ready for a new week of new horrors? Just kidding. It’ll be fine. Right? Right?!!

Back in July, I wrote a piece called “Influencer culture should be burnt to the ground”.

I looked at how New Zealand’s Reality TV darlings had decided to get celebrity chef Pete Evans (a raving QAnon conspiracy theorist) on their podcast, where he spouted of a bunch of trash about COVID-19 being a government conspiracy.

Since then, I’ve come across countless other examples of why influencer culture should be burnt to the ground. I’ve avoided writing about them because if I did, I would literally not have time for anything else.

But last week, I saw New Zealand’s biggest online star — Jimi Jackson — promoting a facemask.

A facemask people were paying for, and not receiving. Or eventually receiving only to find a rubbish product.

“My wife just been done out of $120” one man told me.

“They’ve replied instantly while chasing them up on ETA, however as soon as they arrived and we wanted a refund they’ve gone awol. Obviously straight off aliexpress. One made of just foam? You live and you learn.”

Another guy told me he’d lost $50.

During a pandemic when people are literally losing jobs, this is rough. Not to mention the fact people are ordering facemasks so they and their loved ones can, you know, survive.

For those of you that don’t know, Jimi Jackson is probably New Zealand’s largest broadcaster. He reaches more kiwis than our 6pm news.

I guess his sense of humour appeals to those who cry “things are too PC these days!” and kids who play a lot of Call of Duty and/or Fortnite.

He’s got 1.2 million followers on Tiktok, a million on Facebook and around the same on YouTube.

In 2018 he starred in a “movie” alongside Tom Sainsbury. Alien Addiction looks objectively terrible. But he has a fanbase, and they will pay for it.

My point is, he’s big. His fans adores him, and they will tend to be influenced by what he says. And if he says “buy this facemask”, chances are if they’re in the market for a mask, they will.

I also had Jimi Jackson on my radar for another reason.

Earlier this year, I noticed him posting stuff in his stories that was indicative of him circling the conspiracy rabbit hole.

I sent him a message imploring him, “No dude”:

I sent him a bunch of links, including to my writing about QAnon and what “Save Our Children” is really about.

He told me he followed celebrity chef Pete Evans, but only for the cooking.

Then Jimi asked what I thought about New Zealand going back into lockdown “with fuck all cases.”

This alarmed me, as all celebrity chef Pete Evans does is post memes about fake Covid numbers.

I was pretty reasonable, and banged on for ages, explaining things as best I could.

Jimi Jackson did not come back to me.

So over a month later when I saw Jimi hawking facemasks that weren’t arriving, I wrote to him again:

In frustration at a basic lack of accountability and in a fit of self-righteous annoyance, I posted on my instagram that Jimi Jackson was another reason influencer culture should be burnt to the ground.

Sick of thinking about Jimi Jackson, I was curious who was behind the product he was flogging.

I rang the 0800 number on Masks.co.nz and got a disconnected signal. So I did a quick who.is search to see who’d registered the domain.

There was nothing useful there — the registrant’s name, contact number and address were all hidden, because they’d signed up with a personal account.

The thing is, this information isn’t allowed to be hidden if the site is doing “significant trade” — in other words, if it’s a business.

“The Individual Registrant Privacy Option (IRPO) is an optional feature available for individuals who are not using the domain name it is applied to in significant trade.

“If you use your domain name for significant trade purposes you will not be eligible for the IRPO”

So instantly… things are dodgy.

Something’s up.

A search of the Domain Name Commission was a bit more helpful — and I finally had the details of who was behind it:

James Bryant was a name that stood out to me.

He was the same James who’d been avoiding giving his last name to reporters who’d been looking into him.

Call me untrusting, but I don’t tend to trust company spokespeople who refuse to give their surname.

James Bryant created a stir back in 2016, when he illegally live-streamed a pay-per-view boxing match over Facebook:

“The fight against live-streaming pay-per-view events is ramping up as private investigators hunt down and doorknock suspected online miscreants…”

Back then, James did kinda strike me a miscreant.

He was arrogant in the press — adopting the attitude of a young dude who’d spent a lot of time bro’ing down on forums and message boards.

He seemed like a teenage troll, despite being in his late 20s.

Bryant and his masks website were dodgy from the start — in early August they decided to pretend to selling be government-approved masks, by using all their branding.

Classy shit.

So I wasn’t surprised that bad quality masks were not arriving and people were out of pocket.

I rang Bryant’s cell and was sent straight to voicemail.

He emailed me (never signing off, the sender misspelled as “Maks.co.nz”) claiming that Jimi Jackson was the one ripping him off, by not leaving his influencer post up long enough.

I wish all these people would just get in the bin.

Look, the missing masks might arrive at some point — but hoo boy, people were paying a lot for them.

The lesson? Like Albi and David Whale before him, if you see James Bryant attached to anything, run.

By now, Jimi Jackson’s fanbase had found me.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of them were thankful I’d told them about the issues with the masks (that their hero had promoted).

Instead they expressed their thoughts about me.

They went on and on.

Shut up you grub” was my all time favourite, and I will probably use it myself at some point in the future.

As I read these DMs in my inbox, a few thoughts ran through my head:

  1. Imagine knowing this is the audience your work attracts

  2. Got to give it to them — they are loyal

  3. Isn’t this such a strange reaction towards the person who’s actively trying to warn you about an alleged mask scam?

  4. In saying that, I imagine they think the pandemic is fake

And that brings me to one of the messages I decided to reply to.

Roger, like those who had come before, sounded upset:

He’d sent this in reply to a photo I’d posted of a goose. I thought I’d enquire further, not by biting back — but by being curious and kind.

My usual, I guess.

This was progress. It wasn’t just Roger calling me a “complete fuckwit”, it was him providing a reason of sorts: I’d triggered him. This was progress. We were communicating. I suspected he wasn’t angry at the photo I’d posted, rather my ongoing posts rallying against conspiracy brainworms.

Okay: I can work with this. My intent is to be conversational and non-condescending.

I wait. Then this: another question.

I’d thrown in a “Haha” to keep things feeling light and breezy. Then, a surprise:

I’m over the moon. I excitedly type back.

I don’t know if Roger is an 85-year-old war vet, or a 14-year-old kid from Taradale. He might be Russian bot. But fuck it, I found this encouraging. Conversation is still possible.

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Have a great week. We’ll talk soon,