PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.
ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman.
PJ: And Phia Bennin is here.
PHIA: Hey guys!
ALEX: Hi Phia.
PHIA: How are you guys?
PJ: Doing great. What have you got?
PHIA: Ummm, as you might recall.. A couple weeks ago, we put a call out, or you, PJ, put a call out to our listeners?
PJ: Yeah, so we’ve been talking in the office about the things that existed on the internet that we found embarrassing about ourselves personally, that if we could just sort of take an eraser, we would erase. And we said that we wanted our listeners to tell us about the things that were like that for them. We also made it clear we did not have such an eraser, like we couldn’t get rid of it, we just wanted stories of embarrassment and humiliation online.
PHIA: Right and so, listeners wrote in, we actually got over 500 responses.
PJ: That’s a lot of shame.
PHIA: Yes. I talked to so many of our lovely, very embarrassed listeners. And um we got like responses from people of just like their ghosts, the like spooky thing that follows them around the world.
PJ: Did it make you feel like you know, how like when someone tells you something that's humiliating to them, either you're like, “Oh that's like no big deal at all.” (PHIA: Mhm.) Like you swapped pencil by accident and (PHIA: Mhm.) it's okay, or you're like, “Oh my God, the amount of shame a person can have. I would never want that to happen to me.” Like how much was one versus the other?
PHIA: It’s, it's like you just saw all the colors of shame possible in humanity.
PHIA: Like LOTS of people writing in about terrible projects they had to do in school.
YOUTUBE: (singing) In Calculus class with my TA-84. The teach kept talking. I was getting really bored. Chillin out. Maxin. Relaxin, all cool. And everyone was learning derivative rules ….
PHIA: We got people’s cheesy high school short films
HIGH SCHOOL FILM: What’s your real name? The one that’s on your birth certificate? I wanna call you by that one. I can’t remember now I’ve forgotten it..probably around the same time I lost mother.
PHIA: And then there were people who had posted embarrassing videos to YouTube for like contest submissions.
[BEGINNING OF POKEMON THEME SONG]
PHIA: Like this guy was competing with other Pokemon fans for a PT Cruiser that was decked out to look like a Pokemon character.
[POKEMON THEME SONG VIDEO]
MATT: It was me. A bunch of eight-year-olds and (PHIA laughs) one guy my age in New York.
[POKEMON THEME SONG VIDEO]
PHIA: So, guys.
PHIA: Today, what I wanted to do is... I have picked my five favorite stories of people's things that they want taken down from the internet that just will not come down.
PJ & ALEX: Mhm.
PHIA: And I want to tell you about those five and I want to start with this story that's an example of a problem that like a ton of our listeners had, which is usernames.
PJ: Like old, embarrassing ones?
PHIA: Just like usernames that you were young and you picked something really awful.
ALEX: Oh no.
PHIA: Ooh do you have one of these?
PJ: You don’t?
ALEX: Uh, no, not anymore. There was a—
PJ: Not anymore? If you were young and picked something awful, there’s no not anymore about it.
ALEX: Well, I mean, I mean it's not on the internet anymore, so it's not like—
PJ: What was your, what was it?
ALEX: I had an account on a local bulletin board where my username was just STD.
PJ: For a sexually transmitted disease?
ALEX: Sexually transmitted disease.
ALEX: Not great.
PJ: How old were you?
ALEX: 14 maybe, 14, 15.
PJ: What did you- why–what did you want to tell the world?
ALEX: So initially my first screen name was SDD, which was, there was a local band that I really like called “The Short Dead Dudes.”
ALEX: And then I wanted to rebrand, and I was like—
PJ: Following what catastrophe?
ALEX: Nothing really. I just decided I wanted a—
PJ: A fresh look.
ALEX: A new- a new–a new username, and I was like, what’s something that like, is close enough that people will still know that it's me, but still means something, and I was like, oh, sexually transmitted disease. That was my username for like four years (laughs). Yeah it was–
PJ: 14 to 18, you were STD?
PJ: And then at 18, what happened?
ALEX: That’s a good question. I know that one came after that, but I don't remember what it was. Oh, my, my username after that was “What the.”
PJ: That actually feels a very–like an accurate username for you. Were you like flirting with people online?
ALEX: Oh, yeah.
PHIA: With STD?
ALEX: Eh, whatever.
PHIA: Okay. So, my first story for you guys, it’s about a woman named Aliza (PJ: Mhm) And Aliza’s problem is that when you googled her name, what would show up in the google image search results was her old myspace profile picture. And at the bottom of the picture was her old Myspace username (PJ: Mhm). And, what you have to know is that Aliza had picked her username when she was 13 years old, she’d just come back from Jewish Summer Camp. And the username she picked was horney jew 666.
ALEX & PJ: Oooh (laughing)
PJ: That’s so bad. It comes back around and becomes very good (PHIA laughs). Like if you picked that right now as like your Instagram handle, it would be hilarious. (PHIA & ALEX laugh) It's just that she did it with a little less developed sense of irony.
PHIA: She did it with no irony because she had no idea what any part of it meant except for Jew.
PJ: Wait, she didn't know what horny or six six six meant?
ALEX: So it’s like–
PJ: What did she think it meant?
PHIA: It was all just a hodgepodge of words she’d heard older kids say.
ALEX: That’s so messed up.
PHIA: I mean, I don't actually think there's anything wrong with being horny.
ALIZA: Right, or Jewish–
PHIA: Or being Jewish. Or loving the number 666.
ALIZA: But then like, taken together?
PHIA: And so, it was haunting her because like she was applying for a bunch of jobs. And she was like, I’m really qualified. Why am I not hearing anything back?
ALIZA: You know every single person I meet I google. Right that’s what people do?
ALIZA: That’s not me being weird?
ALIZA: ok. I would just always wonder...Why didn't I get that call back? Is that because they googled me, and they found my screen name is HornyJew666? And like what kind of employee is that?
PHIA: So this problem just like would not go away. And year after year it was just the number one search result for her name.
ALIZA: Every year, I would spend probably an hour or three trying to get it taken down, and eventually a few years ago, I figured out that I was having trouble because there was some parental control. And my Myspace was connected to my parents’ email address that they also no longer had access to and Google wouldn't take it down because it didn't violate their community standards.
PHIA: Aliza felt just completely screwed, but then this wonderful thing happened and she’s the only person I talked to who had this kind of luck. But her whole problem, it just disappeared.
NEWS TAPE: Myspace has lost all users’ media that was uploaded during the first 12 years of Myspace’s existence, like those embarrassing bathroom mirror pictures, has been erased as a result of what the company calls, a service mitigation project. Now maybe...
PHIA: You guys already know this but, back in March, Myspace lost a ton of user data. And when they announced that, the first thing Aliza did was run to her computer, search her name, check the image search results, and like scream with joy because the image was gone.
PJ: HornyJew666 RIP.
PHIA: Is no more. Yeah.
PJ: That’s so good.
ALEX: That is really funny.
PHIA: So, that’s a very happy fact for Aliza.
PHIA: Okay. So, number two on the list is from a listener named Brian. And Brian has this very strange, like, mysterious problem.
BRIAN: I've had this weird, I don't know if I want to call it a curse.
BRIAN: Or a special power or something like that, but it's like this thing where it seems like my face ends up a lot of random places on the internet. I don't put it out with that intention and then somehow that happens.
PHIA: Brian, he’s kind of a Forrest Gump character.
PJ: Uh huh. Like he just shows up everywhere?
PHIA: In every picture. Basically his face, whenever it’s put on the internet, it just like spreads like wildfire.
PHIA: So the first time Brian’s curse struck was 12 years ago. And what happened was... he took this picture of himself where he’s kind of making like a confused like “uhuh” face.
PJ: Uh huh.
PHIA: Here let me show you guys
ALEX: That’s a good confused guy.
PJ: Yeah, he's not how I pictured him. He looks like a—
ALEX: I pictured a- like a–like a shot to the waist with him shrugging or like may–like being more confused in like a more obvious way. But it's actually just his face. And he's doing a–he’s expressing a lot.
PHIA: I think–
PJ: Frowny and wrinkly.
PHIA: I think he kind of smells something bad.
PJ: Yeah. It's a little bit more like that.
BRIAN: And then somehow over time, it was seen by people to the point where when you searched on Google Images for “confused guy,” my face showed up on the first row.
BRIAN: Yeah, it was really—
PHIA: You became just like, generic confused guy?
BRIAN: I became confused guy. Yeah, exactly, exa–I was stock confused guy.
PHIA: And this is just a hint of what’s coming for Brian.
PHIA: So, I have two other stories for you guys about times where this curse... Brian’s curse just really went nuts. The first one was in 2010, Brian moves to New York and he's a big fan of the MoMA. He goes there a bunch. He, uh, right when he moves to New York the Marina Abramovic Exhibit is going on. Where–
PJ: Where it was like you sat in a chair and just stared at Marina Abramovic in a museum for a long time.
BRIAN: And I was always like, “Should I go and sit?” And I was like, “No, I'm not going to do it.”
BRIAN: And eventually it got closer to the end of her show and I was like, “Shit, I need to do this. I really–I really want to try it.” So my biggest, my biggest fear of going and sitting with her was that occasionally, on, on, on rare occasion, she would start crying, like I noticed that from seeing her so many times, from going in there so many times, that she would start crying. And I was really concerned, because I wasn't like a crier, I was worried that I would sit with her, her stare at her, she might start crying and then I would just be this stone-faced asshole looking at her, and like just being awkward.
PHIA: Uh huh.
BRIAN: So I sat down, and it's insane. It's Saturday at the MoMA. It's her closing weekend. There are a shit ton of people there. There are so many people at the MoMa. And the first thing, I'm like, “Oh my God, I'm going to faint. Like this is so crazy. I can't believe I'm doing this. This is like, I’m–”
BRIAN: Like having almost like a little panic attack. But then I relax and calm down. And then it's like, “This is actually really nice. It's like this moment.” And like, we’re like making eye contact, obviously, and have this like nice connection. She's really nice. And then like a little tear started welling up in one of her eyes.
PHIA: Oh no.
BRIAN: And then another tear welled up in her other eye, and then one of the tears fell down her face and I'm like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” That’s what I'm thinking on the inside. And then she takes her hand and puts it up to her chest like, just this warm thing. And so I mimic that I'm like, “Okay, I’m doing the same thing,” and something about the act of doing that triggered something in me. Like, I don't know, some emotional thing, and I started crying, and we're just sitting there crying at each other.
PHIA: So you’re not the asshole!
BRIAN: So I'm not the asshole anymore.
BRIAN: And, and we're just like crying at each other. And, and she's like on the verge of bawling and then I end up putting my head down, which is the way you say that you're done, and she put her head down and I got up. But the internet part comes into play because there was a photographer there the entire time. And a film crew.
PHIA: Oh my God.
PHIA: So, somebody takes a picture of Brian's like red-eyed, like, weepy face and from there that picture ends up on the MoMa website. And then it just like fully takes off. It's like, it's on some like blog, it gets a full page in a book about the thing and then like also that film crew, they made a documentary and let me just show you where that footage ended up.
BARBARA WALTERS: It was a woman named Marina Abramovic.
PJ: Marina Abramovic on The View?
PHIA: The question on The View was: what is art?
BARBARA: She just sat for hours and looked at you and talked–the way I'm looking at you, and just stared at you, didn't say anything for hours. Why is that art?
[video continues underneath]
PJ: Oh no. They're going to him? (laughing) He’s just crying and projected on a giant screen behind all the ladies of The View.
BRIAN: I mean I don’t ‘cry very often. That was my fear going into And that emotion so rare for me is now being seen in this giant screen. It’s like I am now the poster boy of crying
PHIA: So that was 2010. But in 2014 Brian’s curse shows up again, and this time it’s actually very very scary to him. And this is the thing that Brian wants off the internet.
PHIA: So five years ago, Brian gets this text, and the text is like, “Is this Brian Moore?” And he was like, “yes,” and they were like, “Oh, do you still date Rachel Buethe?” And he was like, “What?” And they were like, “Is your birthday bubba bubba bubba?” And he was like, “What the fuck is going on?”
ALEX: Did he date Rachel Buethe?
PHIA: He did date Rachel Buethe.
ALEX: Is his birthday bubba bubba bubba?
BRIAN: And they kept on asking more questions about me as a person and like I was like, “How do you know all this information? Who are you?”
PHIA: That’s so creepy.
BRIAN: And they’ve–it was creepy and they eventually revealed that, “Oh, I saw your profile on Time magazine or something like that.” And I was like, “Wait, what?”
PHIA: So Brian’s like, why am I in Time magazine? So he goes online and he starts searching and what he discovers is that his old Facebook profile is on all these news sites.
PHIA: Brian had somehow become like the poster child for Facebook. So what he began to piece together was that it’s Facebook’s 10-year anniversary. And for their 10 year anniversary they put together some press materials. And they included in them a picture of what an early profile looked like. And out of all the profiles they could pick, they chose Brian’s.
BRIAN: And, and the kicker is it's complete with all my actual personal information. Not just my photo, my birthdate, (PHIA: Oh no!) my phone number. That's still the one that I use today.
ALEX: Why wouldn't they redact that? That’s so irresponsible.
PHIA: I know. They didn't redact anything.
BRIAN: My personal information’s on there! I mean my phone number….I’ve held on to it for so long, and here’s the thing is, uh, my phone number is my name. It’s 70BRIAN.
PHIA: Was that on purpose?
BRIAN: it was. I got it in like 7th grade.
PHIA: So you wanna keep that.
BRIAN: Yea It’s like..there’s one thing about it being my face or whatever..like that’s kind of funny but personal information like that..that’s going too far.
PHIA: He wrote Facebook and they were like, “We’re so sorry, we will not send your personal information out anymore, but there’s no way we can actually fix what’s already out there.”
ALEX: The horse had left the barn?
PHIA: Yeah ‘cuz like Facebook, one of the biggest websites on the planet, had taken Brian’s info, made it available to all these other outlets and they were like , “Here, publish this on your site.” Like, if you do a reverse image search on this picture and just see everywhere it's hosted on the internet now, let me just show you. Like–
PJ: Oh, wow. It's everywhere–
ALEX: It's everywhere.
BRIAN: I mean It’s overwhelming. It’s i’m looking at it right now just scrolling ... I’m just looking at the URLS that are underneath each one of these things. I mean.. NPR.org, gawker.com, linkedin, twitter, a bunch of ones i don’t know. WTF in the world.com which is—feels more related to how I feel.
BRIAN: Tech peel .com. PC Mag.com, I know that one. Klubik...i don’t even know how to pronounce some of these things….Geekissimo? I think that’s italian for geek. And then beta nerd.wordpress.com. Sorry I'm still reading some of these things.
PHIA: You’re still scrolling
BRiAN: Yea exactly i’m still scrolling..you’ll just leave me here scrolling forever, realizing just how far this has reached.
PHIA: I’m sorry.
PHIA: Okay. Next up, number three, is from a woman named Shubanghi.
PHIA: She lives in Helsinki. And the thing about Shubanghi's story is she's the supreme example of someone getting famous for like the exact opposite thing from what they want to be famous for. So, in like, I think it was 2005, Shubanghi was 20, living in Mumbai, which is where she grew up. And she was really into the metal scene. She was really hard working and she was trying to get into the film industry.
PJ: I’m just wondering where these facts are going.
PHIA: (laughs) They’re going somewhere.
PJ: Yeah, just like Mumbai, metal scene, film industry.
PJ: Uh huh.
PHIA: So she gets a job assisting the cinematographers on a music video.
SHUBHANGI: The music video for an Indian Idol who had just come out, and he'd just won and he was doing one of his first few music videos.
PHIA: That’s fun.
SHUBHANGI: Ugh, well, so his, yeah, maybe, good for him, I suppose.
PHIA: Did you like his music?
SHUBHANGI: Oh gosh, not at all. The kind of music that I would never understand on why or how it made it anywhere.
PHIA: And the day the shoot’s supposed to start, she's like starting her job, and the assistant director comes up to her and he's like, “Can you ride a scooter?” And she's like, “Yeah.”
PJ: Like a kick scooter or like a moped?
PHIA: No, like a moped. And she's like, “Uh-huh, why?” And he’s like, “Okay, so the woman we cast as the best friend of the love interest is a no-show, and we just had a scene where she was supposed to ride the love interest in on a bike. Can you just do this one scene?” And everything about this just made Shubhangi want to scream.
SHUBHANGI: I would never want to be on camera and also, for a music video which I have completely no faith in, you know, so to say. Or–
PHIA: Right, you didn’t want to be like that closely associated with this musician.
SHUBHANGI: Oh gosh no, far from it. So I'm saying, “No, I don't want to do this.” But they said, “Well, you know what you have a helmet on, and the helmet, you know, your face is not really going to be seen.” And “I'm like, all right.” You know, I kind of like gauged the situation. I am like, all right, these guys need help. (PHIA: Mhm.) I can do this. It's just riding. It’s fine.
PHIA: So she does the scene, very begrudgingly. And as soon as that scene’s done, the assistant director’s like, “Okay, so we’ve established you as a character in the video.”
PJ: You’re a character now.
ALEX: That’s so messed up.
PHIA: Let me show you the video. Here we go.
[music video plays]
PJ: Oh, this is very cheesy. It's just like slow motion leaves blowing, and a silhouetted dude on a motorcycle and the worst sunglasses in the world.
PHIA: Yeah, that’s the singer.
[music video continues]
ALEX: I dunno, this song’s kind of a bop.
PHIA: Shubhangi does not agree.
PJ: So where’s she? He’s over here with a helicopter–
PHIA: I’m going to fast forward a little. Ok. So in this scene what’s gonna happen is that Shubanghi is riding the moped with the love interest behind her, and she’s gonna pull up next to the singer and the love interest makes these like dumb googly eyes at him. But just watch Shubanghi here.
PJ: This is her?
PHIA: That’s Shubhangi.
PJ & ALEX: (laugh)
PJ: (laughing) She looks so mad!
ALEX: She looks furious!
PJ: It’s like a full face frown.
PHIA: I know. And let me show you the concert scene. It's where the guy is performing on stage and she's supposed to be like this huge fan in the audience.
SHUBHANGI: I’m the audience right next to the love interest.
PHIA: Oh, there you are. You’re in pink. He’s being carried on a stage. Oh and there you’re waving to the music.
SHUBANGHI: Yeah (kind of laughing).
SHUBANGHI: And I hate it because now I have to dance, right? So the step that everyone’s doing I’m meant to do as well.
PHIA: She has to pretend to be very excited. That's her, very excited.
ALEX: It’s, it’s a, she has like, a disinterested smirk.
PJ: It’s also just funny, there's like so many people who want to be in a music video.
PHIA: I know. Do you feel like you've seen enough?
PJ: Yes, I hate this video.
PHIA: Yeah. Um so, it comes out. And it just blows up.
SHUBHANGI: The video was getting bombarded in the airwaves.
PHIA: and people started recognizing Shubhangi like anywhere she went
SHUBHANGI: So, I would walk and people would sing this song like really, you know, like boys trying to tease. They’re like, “Oh, yeah, this girl.”
PHIA: And as that happens Shubhangi’s just getting more and more upset because for her, that video, it’s a recording of the moment in her life where she feels like the most taken advantage of.
PHIA: So you were like 20. I mean and I think just like at 20 it’s really hard to say no.
PHIA: Like you’re trying to get into a field, you’re trying to please people. I mean to me, I think particularly as a 20-year-old woman that’s really hard to say no.
SHUBANGHI: I was just kind of figuring my way around this massive operation of this Bollywood industry and I didn’t know where my–what my limits were.
SHUBANGHI: I didn't know how to say no. I- but the good thing is, I smartened up so fast. I, I learnt from that one event and I never ever made the mistake again.
SHUBANGHI: I think there were like a couple more opportunities, where people would ask, like, “Oh, we just want you to stand there.” And I’m like, “No. Go away. Step back. Never ask me again.”
SHUBANGHI: So I tough–yeah I toughened up.
PHIA: Ok! Next up, a bunch of people wrote to us about newspaper articles that were either just like super super cringey or just like awful articles that had been written about them in local papers, and so I wanna tell you about one of them. It’s about this guy named Josh, and Josh had the worst luck of anyone that we heard from.
PJ: Uh huh.
PHIA: He's a teacher now, but in his 20s, he was pursuing stand-up comedy. And…
PJ: Oh man.
PHIA: There was a comedy festival happening in his hometown and Josh was actually going to host a portion of it.
JOSH: So I was, um, I was just promoting the, the competition aspect of the comedy festival and they asked me to do a newspaper interview with my local paper, which I was pretty excited because you know, my grandparents still read the paper.
JOSH: So I did, I did the interview and that year the branding of the comedy festival was they had people wearing clown noses. So they said, “Oh wouldn't it be funny for the picture in the newspaper, if you would wear a clown nose.”
JOSH: I mean, I don't necessarily agree that, that stand-up comedy should be compared to being a clown. But I was like, “Okay sure.” So I put on the clown nose and feeling a little awkward. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. So I just had kind of like this shrugging–
PHIA: Uh huh.
JOSH: And it’s a–yeah, and they took a picture and they thought, “You know what? That’s a great picture. We're going to put that on the front page of the newspaper.”
PHIA: So What you're going to see is a huge picture of Josh in his clown nose and you won’t see the headline for his article because it’s actually below the fold of the paper. Instead you’ll see a headline for a completely different article next to Josh. Here it is.
PJ: (laughing) Oh no!
ALEX: Directly to the right of him, it says, “Man Receives 90 Days for Child Porn.”
PJ: And then he's just in like a dimly lit room being, like, “Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?”
ALEX: That's rough.
PJ: That is so brutal. And how on the Internet is it?
PHIA: It was on Tosh.o. It was on–
PJ: Oh, it like went viral.
ALEX: (off mic) Oh no.
PHIA: Alex’s head is in his hands.
ALEX: Oh no.
PHIA: He–yeah. It was like, it was everywhere.
PJ: It's really, it wouldn't be good if it was a straight picture of him, but the clown nose and the “aw shucks” is really bad. That's the best.
PHIA: It gets better.
PHIA: Do you feel like the newspaper maybe had a sense of what they were doing?
JOSH: Okay, so there is another facet to this story that I didn't mention that you, you might find a little suspicious.
JOSH: So I know the person who does the layout for that newspaper.
PHIA: Uh huh.
JOSH: And I broke up with a good friend of his after a one-year relationship. The night before the picture was taken.
PHIA: (laughs) Oh my god!
JOSH: But I assure you, I am convinced it was an unfortunate accident because I have reason to believe that he got in a little bit of guff from his editor for that.
PHIA: Just ‘cuz he got guff doesn’t mean it was an accident.
JOSH: Listen, all right, it’s a small town.
PHIA: Uh huh.
JOSH: And, you know, everybody knows everybody and just because I broke up with his friend the night before (PHIA: Mhm.) doesn't mean necessarily that it was on purpose. So let’s just assume it was an accident.
PJ: Oh that is definitely related.
PJ: God, I can't believe he doesn't understand how bad he got set up.
PHIA: We actually got in touch with the guy who was friends with Josh’s ex. And he says he was part of a team putting together the layout and he maintains it was totally innocent like they were under too much pressure and moving too quickly. I still find it pretty weird.
PHIA: So Josh is resigned to the fact that this picture of him in the paper, like that...that’s staying there. But I got a little distracted with this idea that another listener told me about that is something that I think could help actually like a lot of the other people who have articles from local papers that they want to get taken off the internet. His name is Art.
PHIA: And Art had this idea that he just wanted to do an experiment. There was this article in local newspaper about a high school tennis match he’d played in.
PHIA: So, how did the game go?
ART: It went, it went quickly. There were, (PHIA & ART laugh) yeah. We lost terribly, my partner and I.
PHIA: You were playing doubles?
ART: Yeah, I mean not terribly, but we lost.
PHIA: So Art was like, “I wonder if there’s a way I could get these off the internet?” Do you guys have a way that you’d do it?
PJ: Huh. It's like a news story about a local tennis game?
PJ: I don't know that I could figure that out.
PHIA: So here’s what he did. He was like, “I just don't want people googling my name to find this thing.” So I- for–his first thought was, what if I just contact the newspaper and say they've misspelled my name?
ART: I figured if I could just get the spelling of my name changed, then eventually when Google crawls the site again, they'll re-index it with my new spelling, and then later on when somebody is actually Googling my real name that article won't be a hit anymore.
PHIA: And then he was like, “But it wouldn’t make sense that I’m googling the misspelling of my name to find the article.”
PHIA: So he was- he- what he–he was like, what if my doubles partner had found this article?
PJ: (laughing) Oh my god.
PHIA: Forwarded it to me and I then wrote and was like, “Hey, my partner sent me this article. You misspelled my name. Could you just correct that?” So he was like, “Hey you spelled my name wrong here.” And they wrote back within a day like, the next day, and they were like, “Thank you so much for letting us know. We identified two other places in the piece in, on our website that had your name misspelled. We've corrected all three of them.”
PJ: (laughs) That’s a really good plan though.
PHIA: Yeah, well, so that's what he did.
PJ: What a fact checker’s nightmare.
ALEX: Well, as a journalist, I really can't stand behind this.
ALEX: Because he's introducing, he’s introducing falsity into the factual record. So, Art, get it together bud.
PHIA: He’s aware of the ethical question of how this is ethically questionable, but I think it's quite clever.
PJ: I appreciate cleverness.
PHIA: Me too.
PHIA: This brings us to my final story about something that is on the internet that should be taken down. So a category of thing that we heard about a lot is old writing, like, opinions and ideas that people had many years ago that they would like to wipe out of existence. And this story is like the most brutal example of that. So Megan Conley is Mormon.
PHIA: And what's relevant about that is that she says one of the things you hear a lot growing up is “sex is bad” you grow up being told that sex is bad a lot.
MEGAN CONLEY: In Mormonism, chastity, so not having sex before marriage.
MEGAN: You start learning about that very very early on. And so what happens is that, um, especially Mormon women, they’ll wait and they'll get married and suddenly they literally go overnight, from sex is bad to like sex is good.
MEGAN: But that's, um, that's a real mindfuck (laughs).
PHIA: (laughs) Uh-huh, yeah.
MEGAN: Because- be–I mean, how do you, how do you paradigm shift that quickly, right? I mean, the only penis I'd ever seen before I got married was like in Schindler's List. I mean, like, you–and that’s not great.
PHIA: I haven't seen Schindler’s List, so I don't know the penis in that movie–
MEGAN: Oh, it’s horrible! They’re like in a concentration camp. I mean, it's like a really horrible introduction to the male anatomy.
PHIA: Oh god.
MEGAN: And so, it was devastating. Anyways, (PHIA LAUGHS) so you go from that, to, to your wedding night.
PHIA: So Megan’s just trying to like work through all of that. And like her big discovery was women can really like sex and that felt like very exciting to her. And then she and her husband, they have kids and after they have kids, she realizes like they're not connecting at all. They've stopped like holding hands. They're just like not finding time for them. And she decides to do this thing that felt like exciting and sort of provocative, which was to have sex with her husband every day for a month.
PHIA: And she and her husband feel reconnected, they’re enjoying each other’s company. And at the time, she had a blog, and so she’s like, “Okay, this is going to be a post.” So she writes up a blog post, and Huffington Post writes her and is like, “Hi, we’d like to feature you on our website.”
MEGAN: And, and it felt like a chance. I’ve, I've wanted to be a writer since I was in the second grade, and, and I dropped out of college, because I got married, and I thought “Well, what's the point of a degree? You're going to be a mom.” Which is so crazy because I did not marry a man who thought that. He was so upset when I dropped out.
MEGAN: And so I, I felt great regret over that. You know, it had been–I was 27 or–27, 28? And I felt like I had missed the opportunity to become what I'd always wanted to become, and then this editor reaches out and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, like I could be published online.”
PHIA: And then the post goes live, and she immediately like every human on the planet hates her.
ALEX & PJ: Why?
PHIA: Well what Megan now realizes is she had hit on something that was just like universally offensive to everyone.
MEGAN: So it was five reason–oh my gosh, Phia–it was five reasons you should have sex with your husband every night.
MEGAN: I know.
MEGAN: I'm so sorry.
PHIA: What were the five reasons?
MEGAN: Okay. So the first one is I talk about how motherhood is one of the ultimate expressions of womanhood. And I think now I’d just say like motherhood is like one of the ultimate expressions of love.
PHIA: Number two is the one that she feels really bad about.
MEGAN: Oh, my gosh. Okay. So in number two, I start it with, oh my gosh, “If you want your husband to act like a man, you need to treat him like a man. Hold the eye rolls. I'm not pushing for return to the 1950s.” But like wasn't I? Isn't that exactly what that is? And so then I say, “Women need any number of criteria met to feel loved.” I think that's true.
MEGAN: But then I say, “Men are far simpler. They need to be fed. They need to be appreciated and they need to have sex.” Okay. Well that's not accurate. Right?
MEGAN: Well, I mean like those three things might be part of a hundred for any given person. But um—
MEGAN: You know, I was raised, like, Dr. Laura was always on the radio growing up.
MEGAN: You know, I mean, and I can see echoes of that here.
PHIA: Letters started streaming in to Megan and people are mad on all sides. There are women who are like, “Are you trying to just throw away everything we’ve worked for?” And then there are misogynists actually who are like also really pissed and who start sending her death threats.
MEGAN: And the ones that like issued death threats were mad about me. They felt I had centered female sexuality too much. They said I didn't know my place, and that I was leading women astray, and I was going to go straight to hell, and that they were going to find me and kill me, and that my husband would be grateful because he'd be able to get a wife that knew her place.
PHIA: She could still see the comments on Huffington Post, and the comments included the um location of the commenter.
MEGAN: And so I started like obsessively staying up at night (PHIA: Mm.) and looking, trying to figure out where the comments were coming from and whether they were close to me or not.
PHIA: Ugh I'm so sorry.
MEGAN: Thank you. Well, I don't know. I still feel like I brought it on myself, which is the wrong way to feel probably, but I still feel like, well.
PHIA: I don't think you brought death threats on yourself–like I don't think anything about your blog said like, “Make me feel unsafe.” Like that’s not—
MEGAN: Make me feel like I'm gonna leave my children.
MEGAN: I think that that's right, but I think, I think I did not understand–I know I did not understand the internet, but I felt like, I felt like I was at the epicenter of it.
PHIA: And it was like a few years later that it started keeping her up at night. Like just–
PJ: It went from like the initial embarrassment to like, (PHIA: Yes.) I don't like the ideas I put in the world.
PHIA: Exactly, like a few years later, she was like, “This is harmful material to be out there. I really want it taken down.” But at this point, like, it’s translated into a bunch of different languages. She’s reached out to Huffington Post and they just don’t respond. So the article’s just stuck.
MEGAN: I just, I just hate that there are 18-year-old Mormon girls coming across this article, and that they see point two, you know, where I say, “Smile at your husband when he comes in the door from work.” Like, fuck that.
MEGAN: I mean if you feel like smiling, smile, but um, that is not, that’s not partnership. Like and that's not a requirement and, and if it feels like a requirement then that means that there's something to work on. And it's not your smile.
PHIA: One piece of good news: Michelle, our fact checker, heard from HuffPost yesterday and they said if Megan writes them, they will take down her old blog post. I wish I could give that kind of news to everybody else I talked to, and everybody who wrote in. I’m sorry I can’t. Thank you so much for sharing your story. After the break, scouring the internet for lost memories.
ALEX: Welcome back to the show. Hey Phia.
PHIA: Hey guys!
PHIA: So after I talked to all those people who immensely regretted this thing of theirs that was on the internet,
PHIA: I talked to this other guy who has a very different relationship with these types of things. To him, all of the embarrassing moments that you have, those are like precious gems that you should never get rid of.
PHIA: So, his name is Dan Donahoo. And he he was in our End of Year Extravaganza from 2018…. In the Unobtainium section.
PJ: Right. We asked people who were feeling isolated or just far away. Like I think the thing we might have said is the feeling of being on the moon.
PJ: We asked people - whoever felt that way, we wanted to hear from them, where they were.
PHIA: Right. And Dan sent us a message three weeks after his son Kolya had died of an aneurysm.
DAN DONAHOO CALL-IN TAPE: that place you were talking about, I’m calling from it now. My son was downstairs playing Fortnite probably, and he came upstairs and it was a Saturday morning and he said, “I’m feeling a bit dizzy.” And we looked into his eyes and his eyes were going all over the place and he said he started to feel numb and he was losing his balance. And he sat on the couch and I held him while my wife called the ambulance.
PHIA: So a couple weeks ago, Dan got back in touch.
PHIA: Hey, Dan!
DAN: Hey how are you going?
PHIA: I’m good how are you?
DAN: Not too bad.
PHIA: So, what Dan told me was that for the last seven months, he’s been performing this strange kind of detective work. And it all started because Dan was having these moments like multiple times a day where he would picture Kolya -- like blonde hair, handsome face with still a little bit of middle school chub. And Dan imagines him, playing the guitar, sitting on the couch — and he starts to feel so sad that he has like, a mini panic attack.
DAN: But it sort of- Like I like it on a level.
DAN: It's like sometimes I'll chase songs or things that remind me of Kolya or that are connected to us that all that I know will make me cry. Because that feels good, I know that sounds strange, But I want to be in that place.
PHIA: Dan said he wanted to be in that place and he wanted to stay there...because he didn’t want to wake up every morning just feeling mad at the world because his son had died. Instead, he wanted to picture Kolya and just feel sad. And so what Dan decides to do is to try to find every trace of Kolya on the internet.
DAN: When a person dies, the thing that’s become really clear for me is that there are no more memories of that person. That’s it. There’s this line. There’s at least other things that can elicit things that you can find. It probably started with the social media accounts. He was only 15 so he was only just on that precipice of starting his whole social media journey.
DAN: And there's just so little, you know? There's just such there's just not much of it.
PHIA: What Dan does - he starts by just googling his son’s name and like all the different iterations of his son’s name. And different accounts start popping up.
DAN: Oh he's got an Instagram account. Of course I don't know the password to that oh but I might know the password to something else. Oh I set up his e-mail for him when he was younger, maybe I'll be able to use that.
PHIA: Uh huh.
DAN: Like I've scraped everything and every technique I know to find, you know, just even just little things- and questions like why did you sign up for LinkedIn? You know (laughs)? Why- why have you got a LinkedIn account? Like what what possessed you to do that, you know?
PHIA: That's so weird.
DAN: I know, I know. I’ve worked out that a good mate of his also had one, so it’s almost like they must have set them up at the same time. I can’t think why, it could’ve been a school project or it could’ve been a jokey way for them to connect ‘cause they’re in class and the teachers - they’ve blocked out the usual way of communicating so they decided well let’s set up Linkedin, that’s not blocked by the school servers.
PHIA: Oh, that would be pretty clever.
DAN: But then other things other things that you know, are they are I can I can work that way signed up for Facebook.
DAN: It was so he could ask a guy a series of questions about- Kolya loved sneakers. He was shoe guy, you know, it was so he could ask a guy some questions about some shoes that he was selling.
DAN: And then I was like oh he’s on Snapchat. Oh no. Um… there was part of me going, actually that would be interesting. I would even just like to go in there and have a look and understand it. And then I was like well, but it’s a conversational space. And it’s a space that’s very much not of me and I don’t know what he has shared and wha- how that works. Um and I don’t know that I want to see that. I was like um I’ll- I’ll just delete it. That’s gone.
DAN: Get rid of it.
DAN: I was able to con-- connect with his friends.
DAN: They all grabbed stuff off their phones and different things and then just shot them through to me. You know, these little snapshots of um, you know, Kolya in a school classroom. You know, it’s almost like, there’s Kolya. It’s a memory that I can have from May 2019.
PHIA: Yeah it’s really- I hadn’t thought about the fact that it’s allowing you to create new memories of Kolya. And so it’s sort of like, he’s in the present a little bit.
DAN: Yeah exactly. There's not a time where as a parent you really often see your children in the school classroom.
DAN: But it's obviously like the teachers in the class, but they're supposed to be doing stuff but you know just and it's just like it's a five-second grab of someone going Kolya and him turning around and going and I’m not going to use her real name but he turns around and is like "Hey Katie Sanders," and that's it. That's all it is.
Dan: But- but in that five seconds, you get all this I get all this stuff or I invest all of this idea. I invest so I like, you know, I probably make up stories in my head about that five seconds and elaborate that into a school day um but it's just that the smile on his face, the tone of voice that he uses. The fact that there's friends and their mucking around in class and filming each other. Um, he seems really happy. He seems a bit cheeky.
DAN: Um, you know, the kid in class is going to be a bit of a joker- it all that stuff. So it initially it was just aw that's- that's what it was like to be 15 year old Kolya.
PHIA: Huh. Was it like you were putting on his shoes? Is that sort of--
PHIA: The feeling of it?
DAN: Yeah yeah, do you wanna know a thing too?
DAN: So I told you how he was really into shoes.
PHIA: Oh right.
DAN: I don't fully understand that but he's got these Sean Wotherspoon Nike shoes or something and he's got these Adidas shoes and the weird thing is like our feet are the same size.
DAN: And so we were on a run once- and he also has Orthotics and stuff- and we're on a run once and he was like, "these shoes are no good." And so we actually swapped running shoes in the middle of a run and I just said, "well you keep those ones I'll keep your ones."
DAN: But I've got a couple of these pairs of shoes now that when I want to feel- when I'm feeling nervous or like- his brother Felix and I went and saw Avengers End Game because one of the last movies we all saw together was Infinity War which blew Kolya’s mind and so that was a big thing. So I wore- I wore Kolya's shoes when we went and saw that so.
PHIA: Did it help?
DAN: Yeah it really- it does- it just -it just feels nice. It feels comforting. It's it's like I know when you're cold in your wrap a warm blanket around you.
DAN: And then of course, his laptop. I had to look for those laptops to find them. And I knew where one was but his other laptop I found underneath his bed. Which is obviously because he was contravening the rules we have around let’s not have screens in our bedroom at night.
PHIA: (laughs) Going on his computer, did a part of your brain think like, “I’m on his computer right now. What would Kolya think about me doing this?”
DAN: I think if he was alive, he’d be pissed off, like crazy. And I wouldn’t do it. And I wouldn’t do it if he was alive.
DAN: Like he obviously didn’t want to show me his song “Fuck Love” for whatever reason. And it’s quite personal.
DAN: Um, but I found that on his computer. I found filed away, in a series of you know, this little, very short thing.
[Kolya singing “Fuck Love”]
DAN: Your dad’s the last person you want to share things with this idea that you have romantic relationships or notions of love when you’re 15 with your parents.
DAN: But I really like it. I really like it. It speaks to me of my imagined reality of all the great songs he would’ve written. And it’s not that I was expecting him to become a famous musician but that maybe at some point as in I’d be the old bloke standing at the back of some dingy pub with a beer watching him onstage by himself, just doing -- putting himself out there at some point. And that would’ve been wonderful.
[Kolya singing “Fuck Love”]
PHIA: How close do you think you are to collecting every sort of scrap of Kolya that’s on the internet?
DAN: Pretty close to everything that’s publicly available on the internet, I think. Um, yeah. I’m scraping—I’m scraping the bottom of the you know, of the digital barrel so to speak. I think--
PHIA: It must be kind of scary to be close to the end of that.
DAN: Scary isn’t something—I’ve got a new idea of scary. Scary is-- scary is an ICU ward. Scary is the conversations that you have with neurosurgeons.
Um and even when I started the process of trying to collect all this stuff, I know it’s—I know it will end. So I’m okay with it ending. Um, it’s about doing the next bit of work to work out what- what’s—what’s the next part of the process.
PHIA: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. The show is produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, me, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our editor is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan, and fact checking this week by Michelle Harris. Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Our interns are Christina Djossa and Emily Rostek. Matt Lieber is pulling into a rest stop, and discovering that there are dippin’ dots sold there. You can listen to the show on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening, we’ll see you in two weeks.