We need better hoaxes

Aw now NPR is scolding people for not being skeptical of Elan Gale’s story. Aw now I feel bad.

This was reported as fact in all sorts of places, including the New York Daily News, as well as Buzzfeed, which opined that even with all the families gathering happily around their tables, even with the parades and football games, it was Elan Gale telling this woman in “mom jeans” to “eat [not turkey]” that “won Thanksgiving.”

And then, somebody claimed to be a member of her family and claimed she had cancer.

And then Gale disappeared from Twitter.

And then he came back and now seems, kind of, to be acknowledging that — as people had begun to expect — this was … well, a “hoax” is really too flattering for a dude taking camera phone pictures of a coaster with writing on it. As writer Dave Holmes (no relation) said to me last night: “Shouldn’t we demand higher quality hoaxes?”

I say to you, my friends: we should. And we can, and it’s not that hard. There were lots and lots of reasons to be skeptical of Gale’s story from the beginning. The behavior of the flight attendants didn’t make any sense, the fact that he would single-handedly get to decide whether she was arrested didn’t make any sense, the part about sending her vodka bottles didn’t make any sense, and it didn’t particularly make any sense that if Gale was playing Manly Defender Of Flight Attendants And Other Working People, he would tweet a story that would so obviously, if it were true, get the flight attendants who participated in his on-board harassment in so much trouble.

Sure; true enough. A lot of it didn’t make much sense, but a lot of that had to do with Elan’s goonish behavior, and I have very little reason to find goonish behavior incredible. The opposite, in fact. The more goonish it is, these days, the more drearily familiar it is. “Oh, yet another guy thinking he has some kind of obligation to be an asshole to a woman he takes a dislike to? Surprise surprise.”

Anyway what I was reacting to wasn’t his story so much as the reaction to it – the laughter and high fives and attaboys. So I took five minutes and reacted to it. I had no idea it was going to go viral.

This is before we discuss the fact that he’s a producer on The Bachelor, which may not make him a liar, but certainly makes him capable of concluding that the most entertaining and irresistible stories are the ones where women are emotional, infantile dummies who need a talking-to and perhaps could stand to be told not to limit their Thanksgiving feasts to the traditional dishes.

Exactly. That’s why I posted about it. The reaction was real even if Elan’s story was fake.

Still. Obviously it was very bad of me. I wasted posts, and everything.


Sara E. Mayhew @saramayhew

Benson wasted multiple posts on a pretty obvious hoax. More lack of skepticism from #FTBullies http://pulse.me/s/H7GEg  #Diane

How many tweets has Mayhew wasted tweeting about oh never mind.


  1. screechymonkey says

    Ophelia, in the interests of finding real things to talk about, have you seen this Slate post by Amanda Hess on sexual harassment in journalism?

    This bit sounded sadly familiar to me:

    That doesn’t mean that female journalists are not forthcoming about the issue. We talk among ourselves, naming names in private email threads, drinks outings, and anonymous blogs. This is our “sad coping mechanism,”

    No doubt D.J. Grothe will be along shortly to dismiss it all as “locker room talk.”

  2. tuibguy says

    Economists warn that the world is headed to “peak post” status in only 200 years if we continue to accelerate our usage of posts at the current exponential rate. Please conserve, and before you hit ‘publish,’ ask yourself, is this something that could be conserved? Is it something that would meet Sarah’s stamp of approval? If not, consider and conserve. Until scientists find a useful alternative source of posts, please think of the future of the internet, and of the world we wish to leave behind for generations to come.

    As a sidenote, I read through those tweets trying to find the humor. Other people found it hilarious, but perhaps there is something missing in me.

  3. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Uh-oh. I guess someone wasn’t recognised as a ‘super-duper-famous TED fellow’ while standing around hoping to be noticed.

  4. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    I must have missed the post where you (Ophelia) posted with all the rabid vitriol of a birther stating that this incident was real and there is no evidence to the contrary and we should all just accept everything Elan says. I mean, yeah, that would have indicated a complete lack of skepticism.

    Also, what the fuck is she doing using the words “obvious hoax” when there was nothing but circumstantial evidence that such was the case? That’s also not fucking skepticism, it’s jumping to conclusions and plausibility denial.

  5. throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

    Oh, that weasel word “pretty” was in there. I forgot, that mitigates any effects of being called out on misrepresentations of truth. How close to “obvious” was this hoax? Oh, it was “pretty” obvious. How close to “obvious” it was was just enough to make anyone who fell for it some kind of uncritical dolt, but not close enough to obvious to where she’s actually liable for providing evidence of its obviousness. Sara is just posturing to be on top of the only label that she feels sets her above other people. It’s kind of sad, kind of pathetic, kind of embarrassing.

  6. musubk says

    Here you are wasting posts like it’s nothing when there are kids in China who don’t even have one post.

  7. says

    That it was a hoax seemed plausible but not firmly established to me. Now that it’s firmly established, it seems there’s so post facto rewriting of the whole thing going on. “We knew it all along! And if you didn’t you’re stupid because it was obvious!”

    Either way, the real story is that there are a TON of people who absolutely LOVE witnessing cruelty and bullying, so long as they can justify it to themselves by assuming the victim is deserving.

    Not that we didn’t know that already.

  8. Brian E says

    Do wasted posts go to heaven, or do they get stuck in limbo until the server is rebooted? Perhaps the Pope knows?

  9. spiralling says

    Even as a hoax, the fact remains that the behaviour he exhibited in the fantasy was reprehensible, he defended it, it was certainyl worthy of condemnation and needed to be pointed out as such. That it was a hoax is just secondary to what he was defending. So posts, definitely not wasted. 🙂

  10. brucegorton says

    I don’t think whether it was true or not was really the point to the backlash he got.

    The story was essentially self-aggrandisement, without quite getting that what he was describing wasn’t exactly grand.

  11. says

    Hey, Sara Mayhew (I am assuming you’re running a 24/7 CTRL+F for your name across the entire internet via custom-made script – or just sitting there in the dark watching your FtB feed in real-time): good on you for noticing that it was a hoax after the hoaxer revealed that it was a hoax and then bashing Ophelia with the knowledge as soon as it became available to the entire world at the same time.

    [/obvious sarcasm!!!11 Don’t waste posts!!111]

    Seriously, there’s opportunistic hindsight sniping and there’s looking like, well, you.

    Can someone please fill me in on what Ophelia (and the #FtBullies in general) did to #bravehero Sara “otaku-hime” Mayhew to make her wake up every morning look for ammunition? I’m aware that she’s in some way opposed to women being treated like human beings, or to atheist feminists, or the sky being blue, or something, but a specific post or statement would be really illuminating. I’ve been around since before FtB was even founded and even my pretty decent recall of the whole “”guys, don’t do that”/Slymepit/con policies/Thunderfail flounce n’ flail/Vacula/every other douchebag” timeline doesn’t register many blips for Mayhew (for all I know her marginal relevancy to anything is why she’s PO’d).

  12. Stacy says

    @ Hankstar [Antipodean Antagony Aunt] #15

    Can someone please fill me in on what Ophelia (and the #FtBullies in general) did to #bravehero Sara “otaku-hime” Mayhew to make her wake up every morning look for ammunition?

    As near as I can recall, it all began when Sara participated in Emery Emery’s video, the one where he joked that Rebecca Watson wasn’t too ugly to be raped, the one where he referred to Stephanie Zvan as a “girl,” and said of people wanting harassment policies/better responses to reports of harassment at conferences “people like that can suck my fucking cock!”


    Fast forward to when Ophelia got those odd “I hope nothing happens to you at TAM, you better be careful” emails and, being understandably unnerved, dropped out. She blogged about it, and Sara Mayhew showed up on the ensuing comment thread and tried to make things all about her:


  13. Axxyaan says

    I find whether this story was true or a hoax to be of little consequence. Don’t we talk about the behaviour of characters in stories? Can’t we think some character behaved awful even when knowing it is fiction. Can’t we disagree with others about whether a character was behaving ethical or the opposite even when we know it is a story.

    IMO this was a debate about what is moral behaviour and what is not in a particular kind of situation. Whether the situation used to illustrate what we are talking about was real or fiction is mostly irrelevant.

  14. says

    You shouldn’t waste posts, Ophelia. What happens when you run out? Then you’ll have to run to the store to buy more posts, and then you’ll forget whether you bought milk and eggs the last time, so you’ll buy them anyway, and when you get home you’ll find a three-quarters full gallon of milk and 8 eggs already in your fridge so then you’ll have way too much milk and way too many eggs.

  15. says

    Benson wasted multiple posts on a pretty obvious hoax.

    Uh, yeah, and several people questioned the truth of the story in those multiple posts. How does that show “lack of skepticism” again?

    I hate to have any role in repeating sexist stereotypes, but this Sara Mayhew person really sounds like a middle-school mean-girl whose sole purpose in life is to insult just about everyone she notices. Until she chooses to act like a grownup, she doesn’t deserve any more attention or respect than any other immature or childish person gets here.

  16. Anthony K says

    Uh, yeah, and several people questioned the truth of the story in those multiple posts. How does that show “lack of skepticism” again?

    Mayhew’s an essentialist. A ‘skeptic’ is something she’s defined herself as, and so her actions are to her, those of a ‘skeptic’. It’s tautological yes, but she doesn’t really understand thinking.

  17. noxiousnan says

    I recall Ophelia herself expressing disbelief (Is this a parody?). As to whether or not the posts are a waste of time I will add that I read every one of them including most comments and found the discussions compelling.

    As a mostly silent observer, Mayhew does stand out to me in her single minded pursuit of Benson. It’s so obviously an issue for her, that I almost feel guilty for being occasionally fascinated by her antics (train wreck).


    /slinks away to follow Stacy’s links

  18. thetalkingstove says

    Oh no Mayhew, not a lack of skepticism! The worst of all crimes!

    Good grief. Skepticism, or rather hyperskepticism, really is a religion to some of these people, with about the same levels of critical thinking behind it.

  19. freemage says

    A Tweet has a maximum of 140 characters.

    There are 26 letters in the English language; this can be doubled with capitalization. Add in the digits 0-9 and other miscellaneous symbols on the standard computer keyboard, as well as the space bar, and you end up with just under 100 characters; we’ll round up to keep the math simple, and to allow for at least a few special characters like umlauts.

    According to a permutations calculator I found online, this means that we have a maximum of 1.34909900e+69 Tweets, the vast majority of which are unintelligible gibberish. Still, we’ll count those in, because otherwise we’d also have to eliminate much of Sara’s screeds and snipes.

    Currently, we’re posting about 500 million Tweets per day. We have 1.35 e69 tweets to get through; at our current pace, we’re looking at 2.7 e59 days before we run out of possible Tweets.

    Why is Sara Mayhew trying to hasten the end of Tweeting?

  20. says

    Piece by Hadley Freeman.


    “It is one of the weird ironies of the internet that just as it can expand one’s knowledge infinitely, it frequently encourages an arrested adolescence. That no news organisation bothered to fact-check Gale’s story before reporting it illustrates the sort of immature overexcitement that engulfs some people when dealing with the web. Snarkiness, cruelty and public shaming are online’s default modes of discourse and there are now apps for grown ups that would have seemed weird to me when I was 13”

    There’s that movement Things Get Better which tells gay teenagers who were bullied at high school that grown up life won’t be so bad.

    There should be a similar movement that tells those who were brought up on the internet that in real life you won’t get as much rudeness, obnoxiousness, cruelty and meanness in a single year as you can get in a day on the ‘net.

  21. Deoridhe says

    I’ve been thinking about this whole sad saga, and I think at the end what disturbs me the most is that out of all of the holiday “entertainment” fantasies this man could conceive of, the one which seemed like the most fun to him was coming up with a situation where he felt a woman he invented deserved verbal abuse and harassment.

    It was all his own creation, from stem to stern. It could have been anything – any kind of fun thing, any kind of fantasy about the holiday, and his go-to fun activity was insulting and harassing women.

    It makes me sad, but it also makes me scared.

  22. says

    Deoridhe – exactly. That’s why it’s still worth discussing even though/if it’s fake.

    What “fun” fantasy does Elan Gale come up with to brighten up a Thanksgiving day plane trip? A “justified” opportunity to harass and bully a woman. Surprise surprise surprise.

  23. says

    Not only that, but a “justified” opportunity to harass and bully a woman who has a TERMINAL ILLNESS! That just makes a sick fantasy even sicker. I have revenge fantasies too, but they generally involve mercilessly punishing HEALTHY people, and for far worse things than whining about flight delays.

    What’s the point of wanting to hurt someone who’s already dying? Does Elan Gale not have enough guts to pick on a healthy person even in his own fantasies?

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