Before QAnon, before COVID, fake news as we know it was born during the 2016 election. The following is my story, a whistleblowers account on how I was able to manipulate a reach of tens of millions of targeted Americans weekly during the 2016 election cycle after building/overseeing a fully funded one-of-a-kind syndication machine consisting of a couple hundred targeted websites. Some people will be disappointed that there was no connection to Trump’s campaign. He did benefit greatly from it though.
I will dive into how I learned from not just analytics, but also Macedonians and others, how I was hired for side work with my skills (RealClearPolitics ‘secret’ site), how employees were across the globe — and how what seemed like a joke to me and others under me ended up being believed by millions — to our shock. I cut all ties with the organization a few years ago, thinking the audience would “smarten up”, but from the outside I have seen that they only became worse, and have become very dangerous. I was involved with fake news during the 2016 election era, prior to the rise of QAnon, Anti-COVID people, and I have taken it upon myself to fight these dangerous people.
Fake News has become more dangerous than I could have ever imagined. This is why I am coming forward, and why I am taking up the fight against the fake news problem that the world continues to face.
It was May of 2015, and I had already accepted a new job in a new city, but I still had another in-person interview lined up with a different company.
I was thinking of not showing up to the interview, I had after all just committed to another company. Sitting at my friend’s house, who I was staying with (as I finished job hunting before getting my own place), I looked at the clock and realized that if I was going to the interview I had to leave. I got up and thought ‘why not’.
I showed up at the location, which was a large corporate building. I was given directions to wait downstairs until I was collected. The secretiveness was intriguing, it may have turned some people off, but I love an adventure. I had not been given any information on the job, other than they were very excited because to find someone like me was very rare — I had tons of random overlapping highly technical skills from years of wearing multiple hats at smaller private companies.
From networking, web applications, hacking and security, to top level SEO, graphic design, management, and building companies — I was an individual that looked more like an advanced dream team on paper. I say this without being cocky, it’s just the truth. In ‘white hat’ ways I knew how to take advantage of search engine algorithms, even once getting a random phrase said to me on a dare from a large organization — to number one within 24 hours. Many will say this is/was impossible, but I have the receipts, and so do other credible people.
A man I had never seen before or recognized collected me and we got into the elevator together. We got out of the elevator and walked to the office suite. There was a woman waiting inside of a completely empty office (large enough for multiple cubicles/people), with just three chairs — for us to sit down on.
As I sat down, I wasn’t scared, but excited at how crazy this was already turning out. I listened. I was told that there were big plans for the office I was sitting in, and that they had already hired the initial writers, editor for the new operation. What they were missing was someone who could oversee the whole thing, manage it, grow it, while working with software developers to finalize the secret sauce. I was told everything was to be built with security in mind — at extreme levels.
I was told that they had a single very popular website, and they were looking to expand their readership greatly but needed someone with my skills to help them.
My takeaway in that moment was that this was a media company looking to grow. They told me that they were against big companies and big government, because they are basically the same thing. I was and am very punk rock, borderline anarchist even, so this fit greatly with me — a social liberal and fiscal conservative. Gay rights and balancing a budget, that’s how I grew up. As far as politics, I have always been very anti-establishment, which is why the last thing they said was very interesting to me. “If you work for us, you can help stop Hillary Clinton.”
Note: When reading this, you have to understand that what was known as FAKE NEWS at this period in time was something that was put in the national enquirer, the weekly world news — think batboy. Other news that would become known as fake news — like infowars — was just considered weird conspiracy-based stuff with harmless fans who were into the conspiracy genre.
I hated the establishment, Republicans and Democrats, and Hillary was the target because she was as establishment as it got, and was the only candidate that was all but guaranteed to be running on the main ticket in the future 2016 cycle. If I were to choose a lesser evil at the time, it would have without a doubt been the Republican party, since I had moved to the new city due to the Democrats literally destroying my previous home state. It felt like good revenge. I was never given an impression that they were extreme, or would become extreme, just that the company was investigative.
To be offered a job where they wanted me in the center of a highly funded, fast growing operation with insane security in mind sounded amazing (I was told it was because you end up with enemies in high places when you publish news against large organizations, especially with investigative journalism).
I likened the secretiveness aspect to the investigative journalism aspect, having never read anything the company had put out, and knowing nothing of the individuals. They seemed like very nice and honest people who wanted to expand their readership. I told them that I had just taken a job, and that if they wanted me they had to make an offer immediately because I was going to start the other job within (2) weeks, I also told them that what they are doing sounds amazing.
After I left I got a phone call that they wanted me and were putting the offer together. They were very scared of losing me, and I told them that once they sent me an offer I would tell the other company that I changed my mind. That’s exactly what happened. I took the job, and was excited to begin building out this secretive company.
The First Days
On my first day in the office I met a young man in his early twenties who was the Editor for the current website. His job was to write headlines, assign them — and he also edited — although I would eventually learn that there were other editors outsourced as well.
He had a thick southern accent and I remember being shocked at how young he was to have a job at a website that had a large viewership. He was very nice, and aside from obvious ADHD or aspergers, he seemed normal. Heck, I have had severe medically diagnosed ADHD for over two decades, and recently took tests that said I have aspergers — so it was good company.
The cubicles were up and began filling with journalists. I had an office that shouted authority — large with a view, multiple monitors, an executive desk, and a big wooden door I could close when I wanted privacy.
The first few days I got access to their tools to begin to understand how the operation was currently running, to look at the current development cycle and understand not just where they were, but where they wanted to be. I was told that my strongest feature was my decision making ability when it came to the mission. The mission to grow the hell out of this new network that didn’t look like a network at all, just many independently running sites.
Where Were They, Where Did They Want to Be?
Using their one popular site, they wanted to create a massive syndication network of many specialty websites that they could exploit their current readership, building many websites that looked legitimate where they could blast news out to. A webring, where the websites didn’t look like they had any real associations with each other from a technical standpoint and couldn’t be traced.
They were currently making tons of money selling products and very expensive ad space direct to companies. As an example, a tiny front page ad was fetching upwards of $xx,xxx/a month. The big money was in the mailing list, getting highly targeted individuals to signup was huge for financial gain. They would advertise products directly to individuals and sell thousands of them at a time. There were (2) emails sent out a week with one promoting a sale and the other a new product. Outside of that, another stream of income was promoting virtual summits with an affiliate link, which I saw take in hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single one.
First Project: Facebook
My first job was to go into their Facebook page and to analyze their posts — and how to have a bigger impact. They were currently reaching roughly (3) Million people a week.
I looked over numbers, times of day, reactions and began breaking stories down. I would use information warfare tactics to understand the emotional connection readers had on Facebook with these articles, headlines. When the owners came in, I surprised them by holding up a large poster board with what became the schedule, and deep explanations from a psychological standpoint on what articles to put at what times. Early morning was positive articles — people will interact with positive things when they first wake up, they had the big story of the day at 11am already which they previously noticed was the most powerful slot of the day, afternoon prior to 2pm was articles to really push hard, late night (11pm – to the early morning) was fringe content.
It was important to get into the audience’s heads and see why they were interacting with articles from having an emotional reaction to what was in front of their face. This made them not just share, but comment, and talk to their friends about it offline.
The new schedule began to have a positive impact on the reach. Seeing numbers creep up by millions was like playing a video game and getting new high scores to me. I did not think of the readers as people, but more like background characters in a video game. I am neuro-diverse, and have major issues with understanding empathy due to my condition. Crunching numbers is something I love to do; these were numbers I wanted to go up, and I would do it with no emotional attachment to the material or people.
I noticed that there were some previously viral articles that did real well after looking through the site and had an ‘ah-ha’ moment: If it went viral before, it has to go viral again — especially since the audience is so massive already. I put in a request to have a software engineer spider the entire website and make a portal that ranked the most popular stories that the company ever put out, some going back years. I began going over the articles, mentally figuring the emotions they would provide in people and when they should go out. If you saw articles being shared on Facebook a few years ago that were viral, and when you clicked on them the date was old, this was most likely because of me. Although it’s understood as a thing now, nobody in the media was doing this at that point in time.
The numbers continued to grow, eventually reaching over (30) million people a week from this single Facebook page alone. And there were other pages as well…
To create a webring, each site needed to have servers with completely unrelated IPs, the unique syndication software system had to non internet facing and behind multiple layers of security through multiple VPNs, with scripts created for the data to automatically transfer updated files from these locked down systems to others, then eventually get uploaded to public/internet servers after already being cycled across multiple/synching.
The building of this was based around WordPress Multisite, but with tons of custom code, enough to handle an incredible amount of sites without crashing. Remember, this is 2015. One other custom plugin was created to make all of the files spit out as HTML — non-dynamic. All the sites were to be static. Everything had redundancy.
We had individuals in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Taiwan and plenty of Americans working with us on sites. Although I had people at my office under me, I even had my own virtual assistant who lived in Mexico that I would give random web work to.
Creating sites was like an assembly line. We had people working all day long on unique logos, modifying themes, dumping initial content from previous sites, setting up on the backend to be synced and have the content dumped, then go live.
I oversaw everything, and even had stacks of SIM cards purchased with cash to activate different sites on Facebook since it was needed at that point in time.
Every website had a fake identity I made up. I had them in a sheet where I put the name, address, and the SIM card phone number. When I accessed their account I created on Facebook, I would VPN into the city I put them in as living in. Everything attached to a website followed these procedures because you needed to have a ‘real’ person to create a Facebook page for the websites. We wanted no attachment, no trace of the original source. If anyone were to investigate who owned a page, they would be investigating a fake person.
Eventually the SIM card company wanted a social security number attached to it to activate. They took anything resembling an SSN, even ones from dead people. I once put in Elvis Presley’s SSN I found on google images, and it took.
After a while the younger editor was let go due to showing up very late to work and being disheveled. In retrospect, I can’t blame him. When I eventually left I couldn’t look at another news article without feeling nauseous. It was at this point that I began writing news headlines to be very hard hitting.
To function I would create a process, learn the most potent way to do things, then delegate it and approve it once it was done. For a while I would write all the headlines, and assign them in a portal where writers could grab them and write where I wanted them to go with the story. Different categories had to be checked off to be able to syndicate to multiple sites and keep fresh content. At this point there were some more fringe articles being written but nothing that signaled anything dangerous. The evolution of the news to get people to vote for Trump and against Hillary would eventually take over all of the information warfare tactics that were perfected through my tests with other diversified content.
The Ongoing Joke
At the office I was quiet in terms of my views with the material. The office was made up of many different people, with many different backgrounds — especially politically. There was a ton of material people agreed with going out, and even though there were some more fringe things going out, I saw them as just late night national enquirer type stuff. There were also some true believers in the fringe stuff surrounding things like ChemTrails and other things within this genre.
Being a numbers person and a lover of economics (since I am a bigtime nerd) I was very fond of news pushing alignment with the views of greats like Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, who was very libertarian in my opinion. I viewed some of the articles just as very Chicago-school/Austrian-school of Economics based. I thought this was a needed answer to NBC, CNN, and other mainstream news outlets that were pushing their own agendas, and I felt that it was harmless.
For the most part, the articles at one point were pretty solid ‘other takes’ on things. A good example is that I hired a local writer who enjoyed the job for the first week, but by Friday, he saw an article that the owner wrote, and quit.
That was the problem: We are trying to build a more legitimate network and are reaching more and more millions weekly, but then the owner — who contributed a story once a day, during the best time for reach — would write crazy stuff. In two years, I only remember Facebook banning one of these crazy posts.
It would start to drive me crazy, but what saved me was a couple employees. One came into my office and closed the door and looked at me and said ‘You don’t actually believe this stuff do you?’ and I let out a sigh of relief when I said ‘god no’ and laughed.
It became an ongoing joke. From that point forward him, another employee, and I would get into my office and laugh at some of the crazy stuff, thinking that only a small ultra-crazy percentage of readers actually believed the stuff. We were wrong.
Trump Takes Over
At one point everything changed, and that was when our occasional ‘Screw Hillary’ and ‘Trump is great’ story completely took over the network. It came down from the owner. He began assigning stories non-stop within the system himself at higher rates than previously before. It took me years to look back and understand that he did exactly what he told me during the job interview, but I never expected anything like it. I was completely caught off guard while pushing non-stop Trump news; through the election cycle, one of our websites was the number one Google search result for the term ‘Trump News’!
The sites that lured people in by their specific interests now began specifically pushing Trump as their savior for each of these interests. Was there a reason why Hillary was bad for Tech, Health, (place subject here)? Yes! There was! There was also a reason why Trump was so perfect. This was fed to tens of millions of people.
As the stories got crazier, we were laughing harder. Trump was the anti-establishment candidate, Republicans and Democrats hated him. I enjoyed the anarchy, but never thought he would actually win the election. Don’t forget, the mainstream news had him losing by so many points that people didn’t even know why he didn’t stop his campaign — especially after the ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ comment.
I have been asked if the election was hacked, and I say not how people would think, because these were real people that voted. Trump won the election for many reasons, and this included information warfare campaigns that the mainstream media didn’t expect to compete with. The mainstream media themselves were taking part in anti-Trump campaigns that were overwhelmingly pro-Hillary. They weren’t putting out trustable news either — just pure opinion pieces that always were created to destroy Donald Trump.
People lost their trust in mainstream media due to mainstream media pushing their own campaigns, with many being against basic things that Americans agreed with. Where did these people have to look? An alternative news source.
The problem I would come to find is that these people would believe anything. They would bet their lives on complete made-up bullshit being put out by organizations whose main goal was profit. Especially from the Macedonians.
I saw some crazy things being put out with insane traffic, I was on the web and Facebook 24/7 during this period, after all. I saw InfoWars going crazy, I saw the fast rise of Breitbart as well. The most ridiculous things I saw come out, and go very viral, was from what I found to be a couple sites run by Macedonians.
I went out of my way to actively engage with who was responsible for the Macedonian sites. My lead in was that I wanted to write for them, and they took the bait. I ended up learning about their entire organization, directly from them.
A Macedonian lawyer was the financier of their operation. They had a very easy business model: they tracked clicks and gave all writers a percentage of ad traffic. They were only paying their writers on commission. Many of their writers were Americans. The writers had one thing in common: They made up almost everything. There were no standards, many times they would just write a crazy headline and write maybe one or two sentences as the full article, then take it to Facebook.
The Macedonians told me that they didn’t like or dislike Trump, he just created the most traffic and brought them the most money. If Hillary were as popular as Trump, they would have been pro-Hillary. Trump got their backing because his audience clicked on every crazy thing they could come up with.
Through the Macedonians I learned about Facebook Groups, which I couldn’t believe. Facebook enabled it. All of it. And recently with the Facebook Whistleblower — it seems like they knew all about it.
My work with Facebook Groups was completely outside of what I was doing with the network I was running. I worked non-stop — and this including testing, building on new theories, even outside of working hours. It was to get deeper into understanding how to reach millions more. I didn’t care about the content when I worked with my network, not only did I think very few actually believed the crazy stuff, but I would regularly think how few individuals on earth had access to the analytics and information I had from active live tests on tens of millions of people in real-time. It was god-level marketing, and the information became an addiction for me.
I played with Facebook groups after the election. Facebook Groups enabled you to join and post on what looked like a Facebook page — and reach everyone. Some of these groups had over 100k people. I began adding myself to dozens of groups, mostly with ten of thousands of people in each, all in preparation to post to them.
I decided to test the Macedonian’s way of doing things with Facebook Groups, in tandem with what I knew of running a massive network. I decided to start a website with many of the pro-Trump news styled stuff I was bombarded with every waking moment of my life. I spent a week or two? writing articles that were targeted for this audience. I got my Mexican assistant from work to do things after hours as far as posting back content (I would eventually just give him the website as he continued to post to it.)
We became close friends throughout my time at the organization. He lived in Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous places on earth at the time. I regularly told him that I would meet him at the border and that he could live with me, but he had deep Mexican pride and didn’t want to come to America. Yes, someone overseeing a pro-Trump network was trying to sneak an illegal alien into the United States for a better life.
My Branding, Testing Site
At this point in time I didn’t care if my real name was attached to the ‘test site’ I created on my own, outside of the company for testing traffic theories. I thought the right was just a bunch of random people and they did checks on people, so I was like ‘whatever’. I decided to say I was the founder of the ‘Punk Right’ movement (which was just a one page website, I literally did nothing with it), and people let me right in. As things heated up, I decided to eventually use a fake name, after previously using a real one, since I started to see how more and more people believed literally everything and anything. I thought that these hordes of people could eventually become an issue, even if it wasn’t at that point in time.
It may have been a pro-Trump national enquirer type site to me, but I was quickly realizing that I could say that Trump was the next coming of Jesus and people would believe me. Although I would laugh at such things, the severity of it began to hit me. It was only later on when I was far removed from the fake news scene that QAnon showed up, an individual who wielded their power over these confused individuals for malicious purposes.
I decided to launch my site, and began to post articles. I did this for a couple weeks or so as a test actively, and the traffic was astonishing. I saw the numbers rise from this website with no real financial backing. The first articles would hit 2k, 3k, I had some that were hitting 5k, 6k. As there were multiple floating around, I was quickly reaching 20k-30k unique visitors to this site I just created. One day I hit 60k I remember. It was incredible.
Prior to this I once decided that I wanted to target Trump for a retweet. And it worked. I got Trump to retweet me, I didn’t even use Twitter and had barely any followers. The psyop worked, on the future President of the United States.
After the tests I would give the site to my friend in Mexico to post and update as he wanted. He never promoted it like I did at the beginning, and I don’t think the site ever broke 1Million views, although he was active with social media and twitter (now that I look back on it). The traffic all came during the testing period, before I gave it over to him.
The only reason Facebook Groups worked with the spread of misinformation was due to the lack of controls in place. Facebook was not practicing any responsibility at all. I would literally post to 30-40 Facebook groups without getting blocked and rarely ever getting a warning. It was a free-for-all. I could spread fake news direct to people on Facebook without even the backing of my major network. Working in tech and being active with sites and networks, at the time it stood out to me as something Facebook could have done on purpose for more traffic and interactions. A company this large could not have an oversight this critical.
Actively tracing the environment around the news and Facebook specifically I randomly came into contact with a website called Conservative Country. They were new on my radar, and they were posting weird things outside of pro-Trump content, like random ads.
The owner was looking to share news articles from other sites, creating a social media post ring of other sites, basically what I was doing only without them owning the other sites. They wanted to get ingrained within the territory of these random news outlets. The company’s feeling was that these people were a segment they did not reach, and there was much opportunity.
I had Conservative Country post one of my articles (since I wasn’t willing to involve the network, we had our own massive ring!) and I told him what to post as far as a blurb (blurb as in what you say when sharing the post). It skyrocketed his page’s traffic and went viral. He was in shock. I laughed and told him I was an expert, then gave him another. He posted it, and it went viral. I would come to find that they were owned by a major news publisher – RealClear Media, known for RealClearPolitics. Before I knew it, I was on their payroll as a writer, while also functioning as an unofficial advisor.
I got checks for $2,000.00 a month, directly from RealClear Media into my mailbox for this side work which took no time at all. The Conservative Country page was eventually getting real extreme with their memes to the point where I spoke up like ‘wow, cool down.’. But they liked what went viral, even if it was complete crap. I helped create a monster, and it got away from me. I couldn’t control the page, and eventually it would be outed as RealClearPolitics secret far-right page from the daily beast. As a proof you can see a nice photo of me on archive.org.
After the election many of us were in shock that Trump had won. It wasn’t a shock like ‘the whole world is going to be set on fire’, the shock was around the power of the machine. We knew, without any doubt at that point, that the tens of millions of people a week we were blasting pro-Trump/anti-Hillary news out to were real people who actually showed up to vote. There were other pro-Trump news organizations, but nothing was built a extreme as ours. We had without a doubt contributed to Donald Trump winning the Presidency.
After Trump won I had begun to see a quick change in the country. It went from people saying ‘screw Hillary’ and pumping Trump to ‘this is our country now’. People who were vocally against Trump were now bowing to him — which makes sense, I mean politicians are all scum.
Trump winning the Presidency began lending credibility to alternative news media. Everyone collectively believed that alternative news was the only news to believe at this point. Even the President was supporting sites like InfoWars openly.
The democrats, shocked and confused about their loss, quickly began trying to dissect what had happened, and began to blame fake news ..and Russia. Russia played such a minor role that they weren’t even a blip on the radar. I was very angry at the obvious lies from the democrats in an attempt to try to push a false narrative of what actually happened. This was normal for politicians though; put out bullshit — and stick to it. If you say a lie enough times, everyone will believe it.
Praying for Truth
I had constantly hoped that we would be outed. But, the dots weren’t connected. There were some news outlets, years later, that began publishing some fragments of truth, and I believe it may be because they read Manipulated, a book I will go into more details with.
It’s been almost (5) years and people still are trying to figure out what happened. Well, here’s a nice big piece to the puzzle.
Leaving the Organization
I stayed with the organization for a total of (2) years from 2015. By the end of it I was offered a lucrative deal with the owner that could have amounted to millions of dollars, but I had to walk. I couldn’t stand politics, I couldn’t stand news, I just wanted to work in tech and be left alone.
I had a soul searching moment and money in the bank and decided what I liked doing most was hacking and I wanted to get back to it, so I decided to get a job in the security industry as a hacker.
As fake news sites continued to manipulate people, I couldn’t just stand by. I knew I helped contribute to the monster of fake news. I knew I had a responsibility to be a whistleblower on what exactly went down — even though the network I helped build looks like a shell of its former self, especially after they’ve been banned from basically every platform along with other ‘alternative’ news outlets.
Fake news as a whole continues to be truth for millions of Americans.
I told a trusted friend, Matt Stephenson, about what I had done. I didn’t want my identity to be known, but the information had to get out there. He is well connected in the security space, and when he heard that Theresa Payton, former Whitehouse CIO, was writing a book about manipulation, he acted as a handler to get us in touch.
Through a series of checks and interviews I told Theresa the story of what had gone down, using the name ‘Hacker X’. The story was summed up and mentioned in a chapter of her book, Manipulated. After the release I was hoping that it would hit hard, but that’s when COVID popped up and the book was buried. The news cycle was on the pandemic 24/7 — as it should have been.
Ahead of release I made a twitter account for timestamps to prove my identity, hoping that the book would start a conversation around fake news and wake people up.
But after COVID, like I said, nothing mattered at that point in time.
When COVID hit, I went into lockdown in March of 2020. I didn’t leave my house so over a year — only to get vaccinated. It is October, 2021, and since March of 2021 I only went out in public once, prior to Delta spreading. I have now been in lockdown for one year, seven months, waiting for a booster shot so I can comfortably go back outside to join the ‘new normal’ of masking everywhere.
I’ve been busy while locked down, especially with the hacker group Sakura Samurai, which I am a part of. We had been getting into the news on a regular basis for hacking, and because of this I was forced to make a personal blog.
COVID has shown me the deadly side of fake news and anti-vaccination people. After multiple conversations with my father, who refuses to wear a mask or get vaccinated, I was getting very concerned. I asked him what sites he would read the conspiracy-based things on, and he mentioned the website that ran the network I had built the machine on.
I told him that I worked for the company previously and literally chose the stories and wrote the headlines and not to trust it. He wouldn’t listen to me. He has been too manipulated.
I decided to come forward with my identity after this. I was never involved in QAnon or these COVID conspiracies, and I fully support those who are in active campaigns against them, but they are from the seeds of what I created. I believed in anarchy, was paid to build a manipulation machine, and I ran it like a video game while not thinking about the humans that were actually believing in the articles.
Some truths I would like to get out to the world is that the birth of fake news came from an analysis of human behavior at large scale in real time using information warfare tactics on the general public. Facebook enabled it to thrive, without a doubt impacting the 2016 election.
The new war is to wake up those who have been manipulated, while actively taking out the fake news campaigns. These people will only wake up when the mainstream media puts out news again, instead of opinion pieces they disagree with.
I want to thank my friends in Sakura Samurai, John Jackson, and Aubrey Cottle (Kirtaner), who taught me how to properly disclose. I felt that this was the best way to come out and blow the whistle on fake news. Things like the Epik hack are needed to give the world a view on the continuing operations of lies against the American people, and who is behind them.
Robert “rej_ex” Willis
“I’ve known Robert as a friend and fellow hacker for some time now. We’ve hacked governments together, sometimes to comical effect, and share a love for anarchy and truth. I understand the obsessive need to finish a mission with nothing but tunnel vision, and how sometimes the fallout can turn into something else altogether.
Like Robert, I am steadfast that the mission at this point in time is to take out QAnon, neo-Nazis, and the far-right, to bring an end to their existing machinations and destroy their disinformation campaigns.
15 years ago, like-minded chaotic youth came together in a joyful, thoughtless outburst that spread throughout the reaches of the Internet. This loosely formed collective had no limits, no rules, except for one – “Do it for the lulz”.
That collective soon became known to the world as “Anonymous”.
Rapidly growing in influence and strength, fundamental tenets of modern day information operations sprouted forth. Memetic warfare. Weaponized disinformation. The essence of psychological operations and thought control distilled into catchy phrases, jokes, and viral imagery. Beyond what Anonymous became famous for, the hacking, it is this that had the furthest reaching, damaging, and lasting effects that persist to this very day.
It was a nuclear bomb of the psyche borne of my own youthful irresponsibility. One gigantic accident. Not one of us ever considered the repercussions of what we created. Many of us hid after the beginning, not just terrified for our own safety, but wracked with guilt and shame witnessing in horror as events played out over the coming years, evolving, distilling, and adapting the frameworks and techniques we had pioneered. GamerGate. The birth of the Alt-Right. The rise of Donald Trump. QAnon.
I don’t know what made me start fighting back. Even now, most that were there in my time are broken, wounded souls that are able to do nothing but continue to watch this nightmare play out. It nearly broke me too. Until it didn’t.
My actions now are in the best interest in restoring sanity to the world, after we left nothing but destruction and broken minds in our wake. I do so at great risk to myself. My safety. My family. My freedom. My life. And I will continue to do so, until I feel my job is done.
Current-day hacktivism is one of an innate understanding of political theatre and narrative. It exists to serve as the checks and balances that can effectively neutralize threats to democratic and societal stability when the State lags behind or does not fulfil their role expeditiously. It is the Internet’s immune system.
It exists as an ally of the greater whole. As do I.
“If not you, who? If not now, when?” – Phineas Fisher “
Aubrey “Kirtaner” Cottle
Founding member of Anonymous