January 16, 2020

#155 Friendship Village

by Reply All

A scandal at Teen Vogue, a mysteriously disappeared TikTok star, and the competing viral dances of Mayor Pete and Mayor Bloomberg. Yes Yes No is back.


Tweet Number One

Tweet Number Two

Transcript

PJ VOGT: Happy new year.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Thank you. Happy new year to you. 


PJ VOGT: We're back.


ALEX GOLDMAN: We are.


PJ VOGT: Do you have new year's resolutions?


ALEX GOLDMAN: You know, I -- last year I said I wanted to get knocked out. I didn't end up getting knocked out.


PJ VOGT: (laughs) Yeah, your -- you had an exercise plan which was to take up boxing so somebody would deck you.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean, I did do boxing for a while, then I kind of fell off.


PJ VOGT: And nobody knocked you out?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Nobody knocked me out. Mostly, it was like ...


PJ VOGT: Nobody smacked you in the kisser?


ALEX GOLDMAN: It wasn't really sparring. It was more just like getting the technique.


PJ VOGT: That's the thing. All the things that seem like they'd be cool, like when I was a kid, I really liked Star Wars and I took, like, three fencing classes in Philadelphia. And they're like, "Okay, so you're gonna do six months of footwork and then we'll give you a glove."


ALEX GOLDMAN: Why couldn’t I have just walked into the gym and then just someone immediately punches me in the face? 


PJ VOGT: (laughs) That’s a better gym. Ok you really--- you have no New Year’s resolutions? 


ALEX GOLDMAN: No. I don’t want to do a resolution this year because I feel like I failed so badly at getting knocked out. What about you? Do you have a New Years resolution?


PJ VOGT: (sigh) Last year, I think my resolution was to be more confrontational?


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) Oh, right. How'd it go?


PJ VOGT: Uh, let me think for a second if I confronted more people in the last year. What I remember is, like, a couple weeks ago I was driving and this guy took my parking spot. Like, I was backing into it and he swooped in and took it. And I was like, "Dude!" And he was like, "Oh, I was looking out my window and I saw this parking spot. I really wanted it." And I was like, "Okay, that makes sense." And then I was driving away and I was like, “that made no sense.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: That's great. Great. (PJ laughs) You've gotten way more confrontational.


PJ VOGT: Okay. So I guess this year my -- my new year's resolution is to stand up for myself again.


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Wait, actually I just realized that my last year’s new year’s resolution, that was actually--that was actually an old resolution. My last year’s one was to engage in less feuds.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, right!


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And? H-


PJ VOGT: Didn’t work out.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Who are you feuding with?


PJ VOGT: (laughs) I don’t think I should say.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I think you should.


PJ VOGT: No. Ok so no resolutions? Nothing. There’s not one thing you want to happen this year, that’s not even a self improvement thing? Zip zero?


ALEX GOLDMAN: (deep breath) Alright I have a...this feels. I feel like every time. I just feel like you don’t realize it but you’re setting me up. I don’t-- (laughs)


PJ VOGT: I don’t think I’m setting you up. Of all the times, I think sometimes I’m setting you up. I don’t think this time I’m setting you--


ALEX GOLDMAN: I know, that’s the thing that’s so frustrating about it is that if I answer this honestly, it’s going to be hard for you to resist like making fun of me.


PJ VOGT: Well let’s try.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright. Ok. (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Is it to make like an album of synthesizer music?


ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s, it’s on that track.


PJ VOGT: Ok.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I really want to be able to automate several parameters on many synthesizers simultaneously from one central digital audio workstation so that I can make them all m- all play autonomously and I can edit the parameters so that the filter moves at a specific time or like the decay changes—


PJ VOGT: Did you steal your resolution from a robot? (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: MIDI CC is really difficult and I’m trying to learn it.


PJ VOGT: If it makes you happy I support you.


ALEX GOLDMAN: See? I knew it. Like I—


PJ VOGT: If it makes you happy I support you!


ALEX GOLDMAN: You said that after the thing about the robot.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) But that is the thing I’m focused on learning this year.


PJ VOGT: If it makes you happy I support you!


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Honestly, I feel like you have a better chance learning this obscure nerdy thing than I do changing my personality even one degree, so probably next year we’ll, we can open the show with some weird synthesizer music and I’ll still be feuding non-confrontationally with the world.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Fair enough. And it’s not that, it’s not that obscure.


PJ VOGT: Uh huh.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright. 


PJ VOGT: Uh before we start the show—


ALEX GOLDMAN: Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: One bit of housekeeping because we've heard from people about this.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.


PJ VOGT: We didn't do our year-end extravaganza this year. Past, Present, Future.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Past, Present, Future for anybody who's listening is the end of the year show where we sort of go over updates of episodes that have happened in the past year or several past years, and um, I didn't realize how beloved it was until we didn't do it.


PJ VOGT: Me neither. And as we've said in the past, we don't do it on years that are the beginning of a new decade but we do it every other year.


ALEX GOLDMAN: This is a very convenient lie you've just made up.


PJ VOGT: (laughs) No, we just got busy with the big end of year series. But we're gonna do it again next year, and in the next few months there are some stories that we've reported that have had really interesting developments in them. So we're gonna do some updates even though it won't be in one big end of year extravaganza. We will be looking back a little bit.


ALEX GOLDMAN: But we've learned our lesson. We'll do it at the end of the year.


PJ VOGT: Yeah. We're sorry for disappointing you. Ok. Enjoy the show. 


ALEX: Enjoy the show.


[Reply All THEME SONG]


PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman.


PJ VOGT: Alex—


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes.


PJ VOGT: Blumberg.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes.


PJ VOGT: Welcome to the studio.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Thank you. (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ahhhh… Welcome once again to Yes Yes No, the segment on the show where our boss Alex Blumberg comes to us with something he doesn't understand from the internet. We do our best to explain it to him, and sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Man, that was the best one you've ever done.


PJ VOGT: Yeah, that was a concise -- I find no fault in that explanation.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  That was amazing.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Thanks, guys.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Five years in.


PJ VOGT: (laughs) Five years in.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  You nailed it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You can't just let it be, huh?


ALEX BLUMBERG: All right. So yeah -- so I, after five years of doing this with you guys, I now understand the internet perfectly so I no longer have any questions. But sometimes what I do is I send out a tweet to my legions and legions and legions of followers.


PJ VOGT: Confused followers.


ALEX BLUMBERG: And -- confused followers. And I ask them. "Hey, can I help you (laughing) with -- with some answers to some of your questions?" And people respond by sending me -- sending me tweets that are confusing. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Can we just burst this fiction right now that you understand what's going on on the internet?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes. We can.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. Thank you.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I don't understand what's going on on the internet still. Less now than in the beginning somehow.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You know, I feel like there was like a -- there was like a steady increase in your understanding of things, and then -- and it, like, crested and then dropped off really sharply because you, like -- I don't know, because life got in the way.


PJ VOGT: Wait, really?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. I feel like he started understanding stuff more for a minute.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And then it went away.


PJ VOGT: I feel like you're talking about Alex Blumberg like he's a child in a developmental phase or something.


ALEX GOLDMAN: He was in a developmental phase.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I was.


ALEX GOLDMAN: A developmental phase of understanding the internet.


[CROSSTALK]


ALEX BLUMBERG: I think that’s an accurate metaphor.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You know what he's like? He's like Flowers for Algernon. He got really smart there for a minute.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Now he's -- now he's worse off than when he started.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  The -- okay. So here's the tweet. Are you ready?


PJ VOGT: Yep.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  All right. It's from Twitter user Dave Jorgenson, verified, and it says, "The Teen Vogue article is gonna come back as Troy Becker."


PJ VOGT: Oh man, this one’s really good. Alex, Goldman, do you understand this tweet?


ALEX GOLDMAN: I'm at exactly 50 percent comprehension.


PJ VOGT: Alex Blumberg, do you understand this tweet?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  No.


ALEX GOLDMAN: PJ Vogt, do you understand this tweet?


PJ VOGT: Yes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So we're at yes, 50 percent, no.


PJ VOGT: Yeah. We're at yes uhhh no.


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) So this is one of the ones that I sort of like where, like, I understand every word individually, but together they make no sense. Well, I don't actually understand every word. I understand almost all the words except for the words "Troy Becker."


PJ VOGT: Okay. Okay.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I don't know who that is. And ...


ALEX GOLDMAN: I assumed that was a football player for some reason. I was like, "That sounds like a ..."


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Sounds like -- it does sounds like a -- it sounds like a sports man of some kind.


PJ VOGT: It sounds like a quarterback or it sounds like -- like a weird code for Tribeca, or ...


ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Or the kid who beat you up in high school.


PJ VOGT: Yes, it does sound like the kid who beat me up in high school.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: (whispers) His name was Phil.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Xandy -- Xandy Crabb.


PJ VOGT: Xandy Crabb was your bully?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Wow, Xandy Crabb was somebody else's bully.


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And then he -- that's how low you were on the food chain.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, I was very low.


[CROSSTALK]


PJ VOGT: I was also a nerd who got bullied by slightly more cool nerds. It was so bad. One time I was, like, standing up to this kid who had been messing with me, and I was like -- I was like finally standing up for myself, and then a much cooler kid was there and he just -- he pulled up a chair and was like, "Nerd fight."


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) That's so mean!


PJ VOGT: It was so mean.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, God. It's like you can't even be -- like, even when you're standing up for yourself, when you're taking a stand, you're -- you're immediately delegitimized by some third-party spectator. That sucks!


PJ VOGT: I know. That's so brutal.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  That's awful. All right.


PJ VOGT: The tweet.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  The tweet.


PJ VOGT: Okay, so Goldman I'm -- what -- what is your -- where -- where is your 50 percent in this tweet?


ALEX GOLDMAN: My 50 percent is the Teen -- Teen Vogue article.


PJ VOGT: Okay, let's start there. Alex Blumberg are you familiar with, like -- do you know the whole thing that, like, happened to Teen Vogue in the past couple years?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I interviewed, for this other podcast that I -- that I host called Without Fail, I interviewed Elaine Welteroth.


PJ VOGT: Oh, cool!


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Who was the editor of Teen Vogue, and sort of like oversaw its sort of like somewhat surprising to many people transition from, like, you know, beauty tips and secrets for teens to sort of like cogent political analysis of our current moment.


PJ VOGT: I didn't know you interviewed her. That's so funny.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Yeah, that was like -- that was like the big sort of like post-Trump thing was like ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Teen Vogue became sort of like politically progressive and woke. I think a lot of people at first were like, this is sort of funny. And then they were like, yeah, you're kinda doing a good job. All right, welcome Teen Vogue to, like, thoughtful progressive internet.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right. And then the magazine version got shut down.


PJ VOGT: And they just became a website.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And they became a website.


PJ VOGT: Okay. So, you know that.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So this week, Teen Vogue posted an article that had a title like, "These Women Are Securing Facebook for the 2020 Election."


PJ VOGT: "How Facebook Is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Elections."


ALEX BLUMBERG:  "How Facebook is Helping Ensure the Integrity of the 2020 Elections."


PJ VOGT: Subhead: "With the Company's Huge Platform Comes Huge Responsibility."


ALEX GOLDMAN: And everybody read it and immediate was like -- immediately was like, this is very fishy. This is very puff piece-y. It feels like sponsored content.


ALEX BLUMBERG: It does. And it sounds like a press release.


PJ VOGT: It felt like a press release. It was, like, a glowing profile of, like, five women who work at Facebook, and it was just like, you know, in an environment where most people at this point don't feel good about Facebook, particularly when it comes to, like, safeguarding elections, it was just an article that was just like, Facebook they're doing a great job, everybody knows that. Let's talk to them about what a great job they're doing and the great people who are doing a great job there. Who would ever feel a different way? What else would you say in an article like this?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And was there any reference to the fact that, like, Facebook was implicated in a lot of, like, sort of like trolling and Russian botting and, like, sort of like problems in 2016, any of that stuff?


PJ VOGT: No. It was like the article that Facebook would have written about itself in a world where people had access to no other news sources.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And it also came ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  (laughs) And had 90 day memories.


PJ VOGT: Yes. Yes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And it also came in a week when a memo was leaked...that was written by someone who is pretty high up at Facebook. What is his name?  Bosworth?


PJ VOGT: Bosworth.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Bosworth.


ALEX GOLDMAN: His name is something ...


[CROSSTALK]


ALEX GOLDMAN: It's Andrew Bosworth?


PJ VOGT: Yeah. Andrew Bosworth.


[CROSSTALK]


PJ VOGT: You wanted him to just be like, 


ALEX BLUBERG: Bosworth! (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Bosworth, fetch my Facebook memo, please. (laughs)


PJ VOGT: A butler who probably did the murder.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So Andrew Bosworth wrote a memo that was meant to be internal and got leaked. It, like, just was very mealy-mouthed but essentially said, like, “we're not -- we're not gonna change anything really. We're not going to disallow politicians from lying on our platform. We're not going to stop accepting political ads. And like the really sort of spectacular admission he made in the memo was like, “Do I think that Donald Trump won his election because of Facebook ads? Yes I do.” 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Whoa.


ALEX GOLDMAN: But not because he like cheated, not because of Cambridge Analytica, but “yes, I think he won because he ran an incredible ad campaign on Facebook.”


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh, so not because he was lying but because he was, it was just—


ALEX GOLDMAN: I think the lying probably helped.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right, but like what Bosworth is saying is that like—


ALEX GOLDMAN: He’s like, “they ran an incredible ad campaign, we’re not going to do anything about politicians lying on our platform.”


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right right, we’re not going to do the thing that they do on the airwaves and they do everywhere else like where, you know, which is like, you have to, you can say things but you have to say the truth.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Right.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Got it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And so, it felt weird, like, one day after that happened for this article to come out about, like, how great they are at securing the election.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And so it went up, right?


PJ VOGT: It went up, and immediately a lot of people were like, “this looks like sponsored content, but it's not labeled as sponsored content. Like, it looks like an ad but you guys are acting like it's an article. What's going on?” Also, the article didn't have a byline on it. Like, there's no author attached to it.


ALEX BLUMBERG: (gasps)


PJ VOGT: So what happened was, it goes up, Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook she posts about it, she's like, "What a lovely article that was written about us by Teen Vogue. I'm so happy with it." This New York Times reporter asks Facebook like, “what is the deal with this” and Facebook says something like, "This isn't sponsored content. This is just a great article that happened be written about us." The problem was Teen Vogue had already put up a thing saying that this was actually sponsored content.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. They, like, slapped a sponsored content tag on the article.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh...


PJ VOGT: Then ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  How long after the article went up?


 PJ VOGT: Maybe a few hours?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, a couple of hours.


PJ VOGT: Then they took it off. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: (gasps) 


PJ VOGT: Then, I think they added a byline and took the byline off. And the bylined person was like, "I didn't write this. I don't know what you're talking about."


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh my God!


ALEX GOLDMAN: And then finally by the end of the day ...like the article, like they just took the article down. The article was just deleted.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Wow.


PJ VOGT: And so ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  That is crazy!


PJ VOGT: Oh, the other thing that happened that was great is somebody tweeted at Teen Vogue and was like, "Guys, what is this?" And the Teen Vogue Twitter account tweeted back at this Twitter user ...


ALEX GOLDMAN: Didn't it say “literally IDK”?


PJ VOGT: “Literally IDK”. Literally I don't know. I don't know what's going on.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  (laughing) Wow! So the -- the Teen Vogue, the -- the Twitter presence of Teen Vogue was like, "What the fuck is happening on Teen Vogue?"


PJ VOGT: Exactly. And like ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uhhhhh!


PJ VOGT: ... their former editors were like, "Whatever. Like, advertising has done to editorial, like, is messed up. Like, editorial does great work. This is horrible. This is horrible. This is horrible." But like, nobody knew what had happened.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


PJ VOGT: So what happened was , and this is according to Peter Kafka from Recode, he has a source who gave him this story umm...what happened was I guess, like, a year ago, Facebook had done -- sponsored some event for Teen Vogue and there was supposed to be sponsored content associated with that event. But then Facebook had said, "Actually we don't want you to do this." Because, like, usually it creeps people out. Like, it doesn't persuade anybody. Everyone's just like, "Why are you hijacking my news source?" So they were like, forget it. But then somebody in the advertising side at Teen Vogue had the piece written anyway, and then they put it into their CMS, like the tool that publishes their articles on the internet, and then just like left it there as a draft. And then months later by accident apparently, somebody was just like, "Oh, nobody published this article." And they hit it. And ... (laughs) sent it out.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Get out of here!


PJ VOGT: Yes! It's so bad!


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh no!


PJ VOGT: Yeah. So that's what they say happened.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  What do you think of that?


PJ VOGT: It feels dumb enough to be true to me.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I know.


PJ VOGT: Anytime there's, like, a thing happens and it's like okay, either this is an organized conspiracy or somebody hit the wrong button, I always believe they hit the wrong button thing. I just ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: That's been my experience of life on Earth.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Hitting the wrong button is ...


PJ VOGT: Hitting the wrong button. Yeah, people just make stupid mistakes and, like, this felt like a stupid mistake. I don't know. Do you Alex, do you buy it?


ALEX GOLDMAN: As a person who's accidentally published an episode of our show ...


PJ VOGT and ALEX BLUMBERG: (laugh)


ALEX GOLDMAN: ... that was a test episode.


PJ VOGT: Friendship Village?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Friendship Village. I was making -- I was running a test on the CMS and so I made a fake episode of the show that was called I “Friendship Village.” It was just a copy of another episode we already had. Published. Thousands of people downloaded it and were like, "What the hell is Friendship Village?"


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So I believe that pressing the wrong button feels very much within the realm of possibility.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah. Okay. Human error.


PJ VOGT: Human error. So that's the -- that's, like, the first half. Like, a story of weird ham-fisted screw-ups that look like conspiracy, but are in fact not conspiracy. Possibly. We think. Maybe.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Got it. 


PJ VOGT: Also, one thing to say is, I’m pretty sure this tweet was posted as you know Teen Vogue was like in the midst of publishing and unpublishing and messing with this article.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay.


PJ VOGT: Part two, part two is very enjoyable.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Just to remind people, the tweet again reads, "The Teen Vogue article is gonna come back as Troy Becker." So we've -- we've established what the Teen Vogue article is. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah. 15 minutes in, we're four words into the tweet. (Blumberg: (laughs)) Oh, Troy Becker. Okay. So Goldman, have you ever used Musical.ly?


ALEX GOLDMAN: You mean TikTok?


PJ VOGT: Yes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: But you never used it before it was TikTok?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, I knew about it before it was TikTok because there were like 13-year-old influencers who basically would just, like, lip sync to a song and then they'd get, like, 15,000 comments of people being like, "He's so beautiful. I can't believe it. I love him so much!" What was the name of the -- there's one in particular whose name I'm trying to remember who for like a second was like the hottest -- it's like the same name as every influencer. It's like Sebastian Shaw.


PJ VOGT: So Alex, so just to make sure you understand this. A few years ago there was this app that became very popular among, like, young teenagers called Musical.ly. And the whole point of the app was just you take a video of yourself lip-syncing to a song.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: And that's it. You don't sing the song. It's just -- you just lip sync.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: That makes sense to you? It doesn't make sense to me.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  No, it makes so much sense to me because -- so okay … (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Yes?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  How old I am. I am so old that I remember a time in the west before karaoke. And I remember when karaoke first came to our shores.


PJ VOGT: Really?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes.


PJ VOGT: I thought karaoke was always with us.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I remember it too.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  No. And -- and I remember people explaining karaoke to me, and I remember the explanation like “yeah, they play the song but, like, the words are taken out and so you sing the song.” And I was like, “oh that person's got it backwards. Like, why would I want to hear myself singing the song? It must just be that you lip-sync the song.” Because I would never want to hear myself singing somebody else's song, but it would be fun to sort of lip-sync the song. And so for a long time before I had done karaoke, I thought people were just like telling it to me wrong. And then I went to my first karaoke bar and then I saw people singing the words themselves.


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And I was, like, so mad.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I could not believe -- I was like, why do I want to listen to you mangle this song? And then I got really into it and started singing myself and thought it was really fun.


[CROSSTALK]


ALEX GOLDMAN: As a person who's done karaoke with you, can I just say how glad I am that it's not just lip syncing because of your beautiful singing voice?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Thank you. Thank you.


PJ VOGT: Okay, so Musical.ly comes out. It doesn't make sense to me, it makes a lot of sense to you. It's the thing that you thought karaoke was.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  (laughs) What it should have been. Finally.


PJ VOGT: It's real karaoke.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  The karaoke we all wanted is here.


PJ VOGT: And there's this guy named Paul Zimmer, he’s in his 20s, who becomes kind of like instantly like a huge star on Musical.ly. Like, he amasses -- he starts in 2015. Within two years, he has seven million followers.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh! Woah.


PJ VOGT: And his videos are, like, very much like -- let me just show you one.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


[VIDEO CLIP: music plays]


ALEX BLUMBERG: Ok so he’s like standing in front of a like a blank white wall like probably in a bedroom or something like that.  And he’s like dancing and lip-syncing and doing sort of sexy moves, prancing back and forth. He’s got like these like frosted--- (laughs) 


[VIDEO CLIP LOOPS]


ALEX BLUMBERG: -- frosted tips. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: He has a big coif of hair.


PJ VOGT: He has the highest hair of anyone I've ever seen in my life.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah, now he’s like showing his abs. He does a little shoulder shimmy.


[VIDEO CLIP 2 plays]


PJ VOGT: He looks like a cute boy who works at the mall and, like, combs his hair a lot. In my opinion.


Also, he doesn't have a lot of moves. It's like he chews his hoodie string, he puts his hand to his mouth like he's singing and then he touches his hair, and then sometimes he kind of like mimes the words a little bit and that's it. That's the whole thing. 


[VIDEO CLIP 2 loops]


PJ VOGT: And it's all in the same bedroom. Okay..


[VIDEO CLIP 2 cuts out]


PJ VOGT: So that -- that is Paul Zimmer. That is what eight million people got really excited about.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  They got -- eight million people got excited about that -- that kid.


PJ VOGT: That kid. Yes. Wait. Actually, sorry 7 million people.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  That is wild. That is -- that's so interesting. That's sort of like -- that is like -- it's like -- literally, it's a vehicle for eighth grade popularity to go viral.


PJ VOGT: Yes, Alex?  


ALEX GOLDMAN: Nothing. I'm just feeling my bubbling resentment for popular kids in eighth grade coming back.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  You were just back in eighth grade for a second?


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: I hate you Paul Zimmer! 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I've always been -- I've always been like this, and they've always been like that. And I'll never forgive them for it.


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: So he becomes, like, huge on Musical.ly. Musical.ly actually got bought and renamed  TikTok. So then he became immediately -- like, as soon as TikTok launched, he was like one of the biggest people on TikTok. He had a big Instagram channel, he had a big YouTube channel.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And how old is he?


PJ VOGT: He’s 24 now.


PJ VOGT: He looks younger, right?


ALEX GOLDMAN: He looks a lot younger.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh, interesting. Okay.


PJ VOGT: So something that sort of surprised me about Paul Zimmer, because he’s like, he comes across as like literally just a pretty face, like he doesn’t seem to have a lot of personality, but apparently he does these comedy videos. They’re really bad though. So like, this is from, the clips is actually from another YouTuber making fun of him. But it’s Paul Zimmer, the clip starts with him just like talking on the phone with a friend of his, walking through what looks like a school.


[VIDEO CLIP: “Yeah, no for breakfast I just had some beans.” (fart sound) “Seriously?”]


ALEX BLUMBERG:  So wait, the video was him saying on the phone, "I just had some beans" and then a fart sound?


PJ VOGT: Yeah. There’s a fart sound, some passerby goes, “Seriously?” And that’s the whole video.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You know, in addition to always having resented popular people, I've always found farts very funny. So I was totally fine with it.


[CROSSTALK]


ALEX BLUMBERG:  So he's winning -- he's winning you back with that one.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You know Paul Zimmer, you're all right.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I think we're not that different after all. (laughs) 


PJ VOGT: (laughs) Yeah, but his farts comes out of a beautiful, popular butt, Alex.


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) Now I’m mad again. 


PJ VOGT: My theory about him up to this point is he's just like one of those people who is very good-looking, who kind of maybe on one hand understands that they're very good-looking because, like, he's taking videos of his face every day. But in another way is like, doesn't understand that, like, some of the privileges and ease of life that he's accrued has to do with his face. Like, he posts these, like, completely unfunny comedy videos, but they get tons of views because people are like, "Oh, it's another Paul Zimmer thing. Whatever."


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right. Got it.


PJ VOGT: So in 20 -- 2016, Musical.ly had launched this other app called Live.ly where -- because the problem with having, like, seven million followers on Musical.ly is there's no way to make money off of that really.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


PJ VOGT: But Live.ly came out and it was like you could -- your fans could buy these stickers for money. They could give you the stickers, then you got proceeds from the money. So it was a way to, like, hit up your fans.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Gotcha.


PJ VOGT: And Paul Zimmer started just charging people for, like, whatever he could think of. He was like, if you send me stickers I'll, like, share your videos. I'll send you a DM. Just like any micro social interaction on the internet he would monetize.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right.


PJ VOGT: The problem is, when people paid him to do those things, those people said that oftentimes he would just not do them. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh.


PJ VOGT: Like, hundreds of people were saying this.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uh-huh?


PJ VOGT: And so his fans started getting very angry. There's like this whole, like, Ban Paul Zimmer movement. Like, he kind of like couldn't say anything without getting screamed at by, like, a horde of disappointed teenage girls.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Got it.


PJ VOGT: So like any reasonable adult he did the only thing that made sense, which was to completely flee the internet and stop posting completely, never to be heard from again.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Really?


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  So he's gone?


PJ VOGT: He's gone. Didn't apologize. Just, like, left.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Wow.


PJ VOGT: Yes.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  That's actually sort of an unusual ending to that story.


PJ VOGT: More unusual things will happen. ([Blumberg laughs]) So ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  When was this?


PJ VOGT: This was 2017. Spring 2017.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  So, like, he is like a 21st-century flim-flam man (laughs) who's like basically...


ALEX GOLDMAN: He breezed into town, sold a bunch of people snake oil.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Sold a bunch of people his, like, photo shares and DMs and then ...


ALEX GOLDMAN: Picked up his stakes and ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Moved on.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: Moved on.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


PJ VOGT: And then, two years later ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: He makes another post.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Okay.


PJ VOGT: On Instagram.


PJ VOGT: I find this part very enjoyable. So -- so October 2019 he says -- he posts a picture of himself and a picture of this actor?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: And the whole post is just like, “doesn't this actor kinda look like me?” Like, he says, like -- he says, like, "Hey this actor Troy -- @ Troy Becker IG kid literally looks like a younger, sexier version of me. Crying smiley face emoji. I don't even use social media anymore, but had to post this ha ha ha." And then he posts a side-by-side of them. This is Paul. This is the guy Troy. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) They’re the-- they’re the same person. 


PJ VOGT: They’re exactly the same person.


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) I mean Paul-- he tried to make it look as different as possible because the quote unquote Paul photo is sort of like dimly lit and it’s very like it’s a very candid photo like he’s just on a cell phone and he’s got like a lot of stubble and he’s sort of like not as um 


PJ VOGT: Polished?


ALEX BLUMBERG: Clean. Polished! And then the Troy photo, the quote unquote Troy photo is like very. It’s like a headshot. It’s got glam and that sort of like spherical gray thing that they do in the background of like school photos. And he’s definitely got makeup on and he’s just had a facial.   


[CROSS TALK]


PJ VOGT: But they’re not even different enough. Like if Paul went into work one day and Troy went in the next, nobody would be like, “Did you get a haircut?”


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah. Yeah. 


PJ VOGT: Like they’re-- its not different enough for: “Did you get a haircut?”


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) well because they didn’t. It’s the same haircut.


PJ VOGT:  And then he, he, he makes another post, where he says, "Hey it's Paul Zimmer. This is prolly gonna be my last social post ever. I've just come to a place in my life where being in the spotlight and being an entertainer is no longer my passion. Although it deeply saddens me to leave so bluntly, especially that so many of you have watched me for so many years, I didn't want my social media pages just sitting to die. So I've decided to give my social media accounts to Troy Becker."


ALEX BLUMBERG/ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: I don't know what you guys are laughing at.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Subtle. This was in October?


PJ VOGT: Yeah. "Because he's one of the dopest people I know. And he's literally my younger twin, my much younger twin. I believe Troy's 15 or 16 years old. Ha ha ha ha." So this is a 24 year old man, trying to convince people he’s a 16 year old boy.


ALEX GOLDMAN: There's a certain kind of like -- 


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: --there's a certain kind of internet scam where like it's so brazen that like I really, really -- there was a -- I feel like there was this heavy metal musician who was, like, doing a solo tour across Europe, and basically I feel like made a bunch of fake accounts and, like, made up a fake agent. There was like this ...


PJ VOGT: He convinced people that he was in a real band that had tons of -- of listeners. And then he would show up at these dates, and he had like a face -- like, fake, like, fan accounts and all this stuff, and he would get himself booked and he would show up at venues and nobody would show up because his band didn’t actually have any fans. Like it was just him and some musicians he hired who didn’t realize like what he was actually up to.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Right.


PJ VOGT: It is that level of audacity.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Like, it just -- there's some people who really shoot the moon. They're just like, you know what? 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Wow.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I'm gonna figure it out when I get there. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: That is wild.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And like, that's what this feels like to me.


PJ VOGT: Do you guys want to meet Troy Becker?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes.


PJ VOGT: Do you want to see his introduction video?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes!


[VIDEO CLIP: “Hey! What’s up? My name is Troy Becker. I’m an actor. Paul Zimmer reached out to me and asked to record a video because he says he really really looks like me and he wanted to post it onto something called TikTok, so, here you go Paul Zimmer.”]


PJ VOGT: Doesn’t know what TikTok is.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Wait, he -- he's 15 or 16.


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: It's October of 2019 and he doesn't know what TikTok is.


PJ VOGT: He doesn't know what TikTok is. There's also a lot of videos where he'll be like -- he'll be like “Paul Zimmer says we really look alike -- but I don't know. I don't really see it.” (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG:  (laughs) Wow!


PJ VOGT: So everyone notices. Like, everyone notices.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Well, yeah. We're a very visual species. I love that he made the -- the plot problem of every -- of everything from, like, Shakespeare to Superman to Three's Company the fact that you -- that you can easily disguise yourself, which in reality you can't do. He took that problem and made it his, like -- that was his plan.


PJ VOGT: Yes! The other thing I want to say about this scam is that, I kind of fell for a version of this, like, in my lifetime, which is like, when I was, like, a kid, I was, like, an extremely, extremely gullible child. Like -- like, really, really the most. Like, one time at camp, a bunch of kids told me there was a rumor going around that I wore diapers to camp.


[CROSSTALK]


PJ VOGT: And the only way I could disprove the rumor was by, like, pulling down my pants in front of everybody.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Super simple!


[CROSSTALK]


PJ VOGT: So I was like, "well I'm not stupid. I'll do that." But when I was, like, 10, my -- my aunt and my cousin moved to Philly and they, like, stayed with us for a while while they were getting on their feet. And my cousin just like loved to tell me elaborate lies because I believed every single one of them.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right.


PJ VOGT: And one day he came downstairs and I was like, "Hey, how's it going?" And I said his name and he's like, "That's not my name." I was like, "What? What?" And he was like, "My name's Jack the bulldog." And he told me that he was a man named Jack the bulldog who looked exactly my cousin but had flushed my cousin down the drain. And the only difference between my cousin and Jack was that Jack talked in a artificially gravelly voice and he wore sunglasses all the time. And I was like, "But those are my sunglasses."


ALEX GOLDMAN: You really would have benefited from having an older sibling.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG:  But you were like, "But I guess it's true?"


PJ VOGT: I guess it's true. You know, I totally thought -- I thought that a murderer lived in my house and that I couldn't tell anybody.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  How old -- how old were you?


PJ VOGT: 10. Too old.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh my God. That is so funny, but you know what? My son who's nine and a half would totally be the same way.


PJ VOGT: Really?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh, yeah. I think there's something about -- it's funny because I think you've overcompensated and now you're, like, shifty and skeptical. ([Vogt laughs]) But probably there's something about, like, when you're young and you -- and you have no instinct towards guile at all. 


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Like my son. It's baffling, like, why anybody would ever do that.


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  And I wonder if you were that kind of kid.


PJ VOGT: I think so. Also it's just like if you love stories, you'll believe bullshit stories for a long time. And then ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: ... when you realize people make up bullshit stories, you're like, "Oh. Well that seems fun, too."


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah, yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I convinced my next door neighbor that there was a boy living in the walls of her house. So ...


PJ VOGT: Really?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. When I was a kid, I was probably -- couldn't have been older than nine because I moved when I was nine, but ...


PJ VOGT: It's like the only two kinds of kids are liars and chumps.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  I know! Totally.


PJ VOGT: Uh, getting back to Paul Zimmer, so basically, as soon as he posted that second quote unquote “Troy Becker” post, everybody just started making fun of him.


ALEX BLUMBERG: So ok, so ok, so, so people, this does not go unnoticed. 


PJ VOGT: This does not go unnoticed.


ALEX BLUMBERG: The uncanny resemblance. 


PJ VOGT: Every single time he tries to post anything as Troy, all these fans show up, just like thousands of comments. Every single comment either being like, "Dude." Somebody was like, what was it? Like, “you -- you're like the CEO of pretending to be somebody else.” Or the other thing they'll do is they'll be like, they'll just quote back Paul Zimmer lines. So they'll be like, "Man, Troy. You really look a lot like Paul Zimmer. Like a younger, sexier Paul Zimmer."


PJ VOGT: So like ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Wow!


PJ VOGT: ... does not work remotely. And I don't know how it was supposed to work in his head. Like, I don't know what -- I don't know what the plan even was.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Oh, I thought the plan was like, “I will just be able to carry on” ...


ALEX GOLDMAN: He wanted to ...


ALEX BLUMBERG:  “Collecting money from the internet.”


[CROSSTALK]


ALEX GOLDMAN: He wanted a Dick Whitman-Don Draper scenario where he was going to take over that -- his life and just, like, he would have all of that person's accolades and needs and desires and be able to exploit their platform to get more money.


PJ VOGT: Right.


ALEX GOLDMAN: He no longer has the baggage.


PJ VOGT: It's a rebrand.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  It's a rebrand.


ALEX GOLDMAN: He no longer has the baggage of having not fulfilled all of those things that he got paid for.


PJ VOGT: Companies get to do it all the time. Like, they're like, “we're not Cigarette Death Company anymore, we're Fresh Air Company now.”


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right.


PJ VOGT: But we still sell cigarettes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: “We're not Blackwater, we're XE.”


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Right. There was GE Financial that became Ally Bank.


PJ VOGT: Oh, I thought Ally Bank was a new bank. I didn’t realize that.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So did I.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Ally Bank was -- that was the rebrand. They did a good job. They were one of the most bailed-out banks of the -- of the financial crisis.


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: Really? Ally Bank is no … It sounds friendly.


[CROSSTALK]


PJ VOGT: They're your allies. I'm like, what kind of idiot would fall for this thing that I definitely fell for?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Also, the rebrand is like ...


PJ VOGT: I also wondered why -- I was like, I've never heard of this bank. Why do they buy so much advertising on everything?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  On NPR.


PJ VOGT: Yeah!


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes, exactly.


ALEX G: Also the rebrand's like, visually it's like purple. It's got, like, this sort of like modern-y look to it.


PJ VOGT: They're like a younger version ...


ALEX G: They're like a younger, sexier version of GE Financial.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  No, it's G -- wait, hold on one second. Is it GE or GM? Hold on. Yeah, Ally Bank was like the GMAC, which was the -- the financial arm of GM, General Motors.


PJ VOGT: God!


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yeah.


PJ VOGT: So, in Troy Becker's case, he was -- I think he was just trying to, like, just smile through all this. And then this journalist for the New Statesman wrote just like a huge piece. That's the reason I know about this.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: And after that, he shut down everything. Like, Troy Becker seems to have disappeared as thoroughly as Paul Zimmer did before him.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Got it.


PJ VOGT: I mean, that'll probably be it until Troy Becker notices that there's a musician who looks a lot like him, who's a little bit younger and sexier. And decides out of the goodness of his heart to hand over his accounts to him.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  (laughs) That's amazing.


PJ VOGT: Alex Blumberg, do you want to try to go back and explain this tweet to us?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes, I do. Okay, so this tweet -- the tweet again. Dave Jorgensen tweeted this: "The Teen Vogue article is gonna come back as Troy Becker." Okay. So the idea is basically, there was an article posted on Teen Vogue that looked suspiciously like sponsored content. They took it down, and it was -- caused a little bit of a brouhaha. That's the Teen Vogue part. And then there's this -- the Troy Becker part is there was this TikTok star named Paul Zimmer who made a bunch of promises that he didn't deliver on. His fans got really, really mad at him. He disappeared then came back months later?


PJ VOGT: Years later.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Years later?


PJ VOGT: Years later.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Years later. It took him years to hatch this plan. (PJ laughs) Good God! Anyway, and then he came back years later saying like, "I found this guy who looks a lot like me except he's just younger and handsomer, and he's gonna take over my account. See you guys later." And then the new guy was named Troy Becker. The new guy -- air quotes -- new guy was named Troy Becker, and then he looked exactly like the old guy Paul Zimmer and everybody on the internet noticed and -- and was like, "You're the same person."


PJ VOGT: Yes.


PJ VOGT: All right. Are we at Yes Yes Yes?


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Yes. I understand.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I also understand, 100 percent.


PJ VOGT: All right. 


[MUSIC] 


PJ VOGT: I think we're at Yes Yes Yes. Coming up after the break, more Yes Yes No


[BREAK] 


PJ VOGT: Uh, Alex, you have another tweet for us?


ALEX BLUMBERG: I do. I have another tweet. It’s from a Twitter user named John Cardillo, and um, the tweet goes like this: “#MovesLikeBloombergGate whistleblower @NickCiarelli deserves our support (best controversy I’ve seen in awhile). #MovesLikeBloomberg. #DropOutBloomberg. (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Do you feel implicated by this?


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) No.


ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s a different spelling of ‘Blumberg,’ I think.


ALEX BLUMBERG: But it’s got a bunch of retweets, a bunch of likes, and I’m- I don’t know  — I don’t know what’s going on here?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, so, PJ Vogt, do you understand this tweet?


PJ VOGT: I do.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Alex Blumberg, do you understand this tweet?


ALEX BLUMBERG: No. 


PJ VOGT: Alex Goldman, do you understand this tweet?


ALEX GOLDMAN: I do.


PJ VOGT: Alright. We’re back where we’re supposed to be. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Okay. I think this starts with Pete Buttigieg, right?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, well, yeah. Do you know about the Mayor Pete dance?


ALEX BLUMBERG: The Mayor Pete dance?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know about Pete Buttigieg, right?


ALEX BLUMBERG: I know about Pete Buttigieg.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Mayor Pete?


ALEX BLUMBERG: I did not know he had a dance though.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, he does.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh.


PJ VOGT: Okay. (laughs) Let’s do the Mayor Pete dance.


ALEX BLUMBERG: This is exciting.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Can I do it? Do you- it’s like —  it’s like this. Wait, can you put on the song “High Hopes?”


PJ VOGT: Yeah, so the dance is to the Panic! At the Disco song “High Hopes.”


ALEX GOLDMAN: Which I’d never heard before the Mayor Pete dance.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh yeah, I know this because my kids like it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: What, the song?


ALEX BLUMBERG: (singing) Gotta have high high hopes for the living.


ALEX GOLDMAN: So just so you know, like, this is a thing that the Mayor Pete campaign thought would be like a great motivator for Mayor Pete — 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh huh.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Campaign volunteers, right?


PJ VOGT: Yeah, like when they’re like, out in the field. They’re feeling bored or like when they need to get fired up before a meeting like, they play this song and they do the dance that Alex is about to do for you. You know how to do the dance fully?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, I’ve watched the videos of this so many times.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Wait, it’s like a line dance? It’s like the cha cha slide or something?


ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s a dance that’s simple enough that you can pick it up after watching it once or twice.


PJ VOGT: I would call it a sub-macarena macarena.


ALEX GOLDMAN: You ready?


PJ VOGT: Okay. Okay. Okay. I’ve got Panic at the Disco.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Can I just preface by saying, that like my mom, her entire life, has done a dance that is specifically designed to embarrass me in public


PJ VOGT: Mmm.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And it is remarkably close to Mayor Pete dance.


PJ VOGT: Okay, you’re going to do it. Blumberg can describe what’s happening.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Alright.


PJ VOGT: Alright. [clapping] In one, two, three.


PJ VOGT: (whispers) Showtime.


[“High Hopes” plays]


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: So it’s just like —  oh my! So it’s just like — so it’s just like in a quadrant. The hands move [clapping] in the four quadrants. High, high, low, low, and they do - sometimes they point, sometimes they do the like, we’re moving wheelie motion. Sometimes they clap. It’s just like, going—


PJ VOGT: You push your hands up.


ALEX BLUMBERG:  high, high, high, high, down, down, down, down. Up right, up right. It’s like YMCA a little bit.


PJ VOGT: It’s like YMCA.


ALEX GOLDMAN: But there are videos of, of Mayor Pete volunteers in — 


PJ VOGT: Here, I can show you.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Great big lines, in great big groups--


PJ VOGT: Yeah, yeah, yeah, check this out.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, what?


ALEX GOLDMAN: --Doing it.


PJ VOGT: Hold on. This is them  — this is them doing it at a lunch break at the #Pete Summit.


[“High Hopes” plays]


PJ VOGT: In just like a drab hotel conference room.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh my God. Oh my God! Everybody - there’s - it’s like literally like  — just like picture the drabbest conference room with like the chairs and the raised podium and like, the lanyards and all the people sitting there, and then all of a sudden, they’re standing up and doing this dance.


ALEX BLUMBERG: That’s wild


PJ VOGT: It looks like an EST meeting or something.


ALEX BLUMBERG: It does. It looks really creepy. It looks like, um (laughs) when I took Calvin to the basketball game, and they, they saw the, the cheerleaders come out and do the routines. He was looking at it and he was just like, “Daddy, it’s pleasing to the eye to see people doing the same thing all at the same time.”


PJ VOGT: (laughs)


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: I was like, “Uh, yeah. Yeah, you nailed that.” But uh, but it is pleasing in some situations, but then it’s also creepy in some situations, and so like, that and North Korean political rallies. It’s like really creepy—


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG: To see people doing — to see people doing the same people doing the same thing in unison.


PJ VOGT: It feels like forced fun.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I wonder what the political calculus of that sort of thing is. It feels to me a little bit like there’s so much grassroots support to this that everybody knows that they can spontaneously break out into a, into a choreographed dance?


PJ VOGT: I was listening to Pod Save America, and they were talking about it, and they were like  — it was funny because I think they’re trying not to side with any of the Democractic candidates in the primary season. So they’re like, “We’re not trying to say anything bad about Mayor Pete. The dance is really nerdy,” and then one dude was like, “Well, if you’ve ever like, door knocked or you’ve ever done grassroots stuff, it’s just really really boring and soul sucking.”


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: “And so like, anything you can do to just like, here’s the fun thing we do. Like you’re just constantly trying to make people more energetic,” and so he saw it as just like that. That it’s not —  it’s not for Twitter, even though they’re putting it out on Twitter, but it’s like — it’s just like a ra ra let’s go get them.


ALEX GOLDMAN: I don’t know man. If I were doing that, I just wouldn’t let it end up on —  the internet


ALEX BLUMBERG: But also like, I’m coming across snarkier about this than I want to actually because like I’m glad that they- those people are dancing in that conference room.


PJ VOGT: Yeah, so, but people made fun of this. And I think also part of the reason people made fun of this is like, Mayor Pete - he  — he doesn’t do well on Twitter. Like the world of Twitter, at least the Twitter that I see is like conservatives who obviously aren’t going to like a Democratic presidential candidate, but then people, if they’re on the left, they tend to be like r- far on the left.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: And he’s kind of seen as like insufficiently progressive and insincere and dweeby.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: And so the dweeby dance kind of plays into that.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: And so people were like, there were lots of videos of people just doing the dance, um, but they were like, pretending that they thought it was cool, but they didn’t think it was cool.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: There was a lot of people doing the dance to just like different songs. Um, and it’s just sort of funny un- under any song. But it works under almost any song.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: Um but it was —  it was a cycle. It was like  — I think they started posting the dance online in September, and like, it felt like September through the winter there was a lot of making fun of this.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay.


PJ VOGT: And then...Michael Bloomberg enters the presidential race.


ALEX BLUMBERG: No relation.


PJ VOGT: No relation. Different spelling. Um, and he is kind of disliked actually in a similar way to Mayor Pete on like, progressive Twitter.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: You know, he’s a billionaire. He was really into stop and frisk. Like this is not —  this is not who a lot of people want. Um, and so this — this comedian Nick Ciarelli posts the following tweet. Uh, a tweet that has 2,721 retweets. Um, “Look out #TeamPete because us Bloomberg heads have our own dance. Taken at the Mike Bloomberg rally in Beverly Hills. #Bloomberg 2020 #MovesLikeBloomberg.”


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: One important thing to know before you see this video is at the time he made this tweet, he had changed his Twitter avatar to look like a young political aide and changed his Twitter bio to say that he worked for the Bloomberg campaign.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay.


PJ VOGT: So he tweets this out. Okay, you ready?


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.


[“Moves Like Jagger” plays]


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


[VIDEO CLIP: Bloomberg. Bloomberg. [clapping]]


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


[VIDEO CLIP: Bloomberg. [cheering]]


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs)


PJ VOGT: Okay, do you want to describe what you’ve seen?


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) So it was like- it looked like —  it looked like sort of like a studio audience, like when they like pan the camera and you’re looking at a —  it’s like a bunch of people in sort of a narrow or darker room. It’s not like a conference room.


ALEX GOLDMAN: But they’re on —  they’re on bleachers.


ALEX BLUMBERG: They’re on bleachers, like yeah, they’re on bleachers in a smaller room. There’s a whole bunch of them, and they’re like the song’s playing, and the first move —  and it’s like the same thing. It’s like move to the right. Move to the left. Down low, down low. Up high, up high. Same sort of like — the same sort of thing except they stop what they’re doing  — 


ALEX GOLDMAN: They end with — 


ALEX BLUMBERG: They’re doing this sort of finger wagging thing?


PJ VOGT: It’s kind of a disco point.


ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s like a disco point, but it also seems like, uh, shame, shame, shame, shame. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: Those fingers just like and you, and you, and you, and you in sort of a finger wagging way.


PJ VOGT: Yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And then at the end, they do that thing where they hold your nose and pretend to go underwater.


PJ VOGT: Go underwater.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh, yeah.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Can I just, can I just say that when I first saw this I was completely taken in, and I went into the group chat that I’m in and was like, “Guys, you will not believe this,” and posted it, and they were like, “Yeah, but it’s a joke,” and I was like, “Oh, I’m, I’m an idiot.”


PJ VOGT: I would —  the only reason I didn’t fall for it, honestly, is because the place where they recorded it is Upright Citizens Brigade LA theatre, and I’ve been there.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: I just recognized the room. 


PJ VOGT : It was fully on — It’s that uncanny valley satire line.


ALEX: yeah


PJ VOGT: The other thing that sort of makes it convincing is that the demographics of the people at this comedy show which are like, young, pretty male, pretty white


ALEX BLUMBERG: Mm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: Look like how you would imagine people working on the Bloomberg campaign.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: But everybody, everybody, everybody fell for it. Like — 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, really?


PJ VOGT: Like everybody fell for it. Like uh, besides Alex Goldman, just like all these journalists and writers who work on the internet and are like good at reading the internet, like Jeet Heer, Hunter Walker. Just said quote “Bloomberg-heads.” Cause they refer to themselves as Bloomberg-heads “in Beverly Hills.” Um even Maggie Haberman tweeted it. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Whoa.


PJ VOGT: She put a question mark on it, but she tweeted it.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh huh.


PJ VOGT: So just like everybody — 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Everybody fell for it.


PJ VOGT: But so, the next thing that happens…


ALEX BLUMBERG: Ok.


PJ VOGT: Team Bloomberg campaign—


ALEX BLUMBERG:  Uh-huh. 


PJ VOGT: Has to do something.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes.


PJ VOGT: And they try to do something in like, a good spirited, “we’re not mad” way.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: So they tweet, “To clarify, @NickCiarelli is not an intern for our campaign, and he does not have moves like Bloomberg. Nick, apply to work for us here.” And then there’s a link to where you can work for the campaign.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Got it. Fine.


ALEX GOLDBERG: And then Nick does—


ALEX BLUMBERG: Little—


ALEX GOLDBERG: Nick does an incredible, just like a tiny bit of world-building.


PJ VOGT: Yes, do you remember the tweet?


ALEX GOLDBERG: That makes it so much better. I don’t.


PJ VOGT: He says, “Wait, are you firing me?”


ALEX GOLDBERG: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) Uh-huh?


PJ VOGT: So then Nick tweets, “As the creator of #MovesLikeBloomberg, I disavow it and the Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign. Read the truth about the dance here. #DropOutBloomberg.” And then there’s a tweet where he says, “I have plenty more to share, but what people are saying is true. The Moves Like Bloomberg dance was orchestrated. Drop Out Bloomberg.” And then he has a note, like a fake email, that says, “budget to pay dancing actors.”


ALEX GOLDBERG: (laughs)


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) 


PJ VOGT: “Hey Nick, I’ve just received approval from on high for you to hire 50-60 actors to pose as supporters during the Moves Like Bloomberg dance you choreographed. We want to create the impression that enthusiastic young people are excited about Mike, and they came up with the infectious dance spontaneously. We blocked out eight hours for you to rehearse with actors next week, and we can allot $20 an actor. They must all sign NDAs. Also, unrelated, we are discontinuing your gas stipend as part of the all around crunch that’s been happening. Brad Evans, Social Media Coordinator, Bloomberg 2020.”


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) Okay.


PJ VOGT: So like, I think at this point, like most journalists realized they’d been trolled except for the right. Like Breitbart writes a story about it. They’re like, “The Bloomberg campaign made this super embarrassing video, and then they fired the guy who made it.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh my God.


PJ VOGT: There’s certain corners of like alt-right internet that love the idea that —  or they, they like, often whenever there’s signs of like, progressive grassroots support, they’re like, “they’re paid. They’re crisis actors.” Whatever.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right, right, right.


PJ VOGT: And it’s just like so served right at their existing beliefs.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh-huh.


PJ VOGT: So Seb Gorka tweets, “Apparently not a parody.” Donald Trump Jr. favorites the tweet with like the crisis actor email in it. 


PJ VOGT: So, okay, so that’s the full. That’s like the full troll of it. Um….


ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay.


PJ VOGT: John Cardillo, who did the tweet, he’s sort of like a fixture on conservative-- on like alt right internet. He used to be in the NYPD which he talks about constantly. And the thing he’s kind of famous for is, in response to this like protest in the city, he posted a picture of himself on Twitter pointing a gun at the camera. Essentially threatening any protestors who came near him. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Got it. Ok.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Charmer. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Umm-hmm.


PJ VOGT: Um, he was one of, I think, the early wave people, like —  like at the point he’s tweeting about this, he believes that the Bloomberg team has fired their crisis actors and their crisis actors have fully gotten rogue.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh. So the John Cardillo tweet is uh, he’s in the midst of—  this is during the action and he believes that the Moves Like Bloomberg thing is real.


PJ VOGT: Yes, and that the “Drop Out Bloomberg” thing is real. I mean it’s like, what would be more fun than someone you politically disagree with being so unpopular they hired actors to pretend to support them, but then were so cheap that they didn’t pay the actors enough, and like, the thing backfires, and the actors are like going public because they don’t care about $20 an hour and telling everybody what happened?


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right.


PJ VOGT: It’s like a very enjoyable fiction.


ALEX BLUMBERG: That would be. Yes. Yes. That would be. Um, got it. I think we are at Yes Yes Yes. So, alright, so this tweet again. “#MovesLikeBloomberggate whistleblower @NickCiarelli deserves our support (best controversy I’ve seen in awhile). #MovesLikeBloomberg #DropOutBloomberg.” 


I now know that this tweet is not a joke, but a sincere expression of feeling on Twitter by this guy, John Cardillo, who is a conservative right-wing person, um, who’s rooting against the Democrats generally and rooting against Mayor Bloomberg in this particular instance, um, because he believes this uh, controversy that this guy, Nick, ginned up about Mike Bloomberg and his awkward dance. But it was just a joke.


PJ VOGT: Okay. I think we’re at Yes Yes Yes.


ALEX GOLDMAN: yes we are. 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah.


PJ VOGT: One last thing before we go. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok.


PJ VOGT: Alex?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Ugh. What?


PJ VOGT: You want to dance us out?


ALEX GOLDMAN: No! 


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Come on buddy.


ALEX GOLDMAN: Na. What? 


ALEX BLUMBERG: I’ll do it with you.


PJ VOGT: I’ll play a song you might like. 


[MUSIC PLAYS]


ALEX GOLDMAN: ooh yeah.


ALEX BLUMBERG: (laughs) 


PJ VOGT: (laughs) He can’t resist the music. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: (signing along to synth music) Don chi chi ca du du don chi ca 


ALEX BLUMBERG: Wow. Those are some moves.


PJ VOGT: Also this is a synthesizer song that Alex Goldman wrote. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah I made this song. 


ALEX BLUMBERG & PJ VOGT: (Laughs)


PJ VOGT: Wonderful.


[ALEX’S SONG CONTINUES TO PLAY]


[REPLY ALL END MUSIC]


PJ VOGT: Reply All is hosted by me PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Rachel Cohn. 


Oh one final announcement: Next Tuesday we are going to be taking phone calls again. If you have a technical problem that you would like solved, or a technical question you would like answered, give us a call. The phone number is 862 367 9356. We’re gonna be there from 2 oclock to 4 oclock Pm Eastern Time. The theme song to our show is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. 


Matt Lieber is the part of the year where the days finally start getting longer again. 


You can listen to the show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.