On June 7th 2015 I shared an opinion, via Facebook, about some insignificant and largely-irrelevant event in Malaysia. About 2 hours later, my Facebook post went viral, and the proverbial shit hit the fan. This post is dedicated to re-telling this funny funny story which incidentally is the story behind Monkeetime’s “Trolling Malaysia” and “The Naked Truth”. For increased effectiveness of storytelling, and to test out a different way of writing, I have structured it as a question-and-answer session, taking actual questions asked by Monkeetime viewers/fans, as well as occasional, deeply-offended Malaysians.
I made global headlines after several foreign hikers in Malaysia were blamed by a state tourism minister, one Masidi Manjun, for causing an earthquake that killed 18 people. According to Manjun, their nude photo at the summit of Mount Kinabalu angered the gods, and, quite oddly, these angry gods decided to punish OTHER people… Anyways, four of the hikers were arrested, received three days in jail, and fined $1,300, before being released and deported.
Numerous foreign and locals news outlets referred to ME as the ring-leader of the group, the instigator of the photo, and a “notorious nudist”. The only problem was that I was not in Malaysia when the photo took place, nor when the ensuing manhunt throughout the country began. My involvement was solely via Facebook, where I called the apparently GROTESQUELY INCOMPETENT minister of tourism a “prick”, and posted some photos of myself on various summits, showing that it IS something people do, and is a harmless prank, certainly not worthy of world-wide attention (or a lynch mob). Well, the semi-retarded and/or illiterate Malaysians quickly assumed that I must’ve been involved, otherwise why would I have an opinion that isn’t theirs? I got bombarded by thousands of hate messages, and as a result, decided to do some sport-trolling, because, fuck it, trolling is fun!
If this wasn’t weird enough, I was soon shocked by the erroneous repetition of “facts” by major news outlets. It was then that I decided to troll not just Malaysia, but any media outlet that wasn’t fact-checking. Over the next few days I released goose eggs onto my Facebook page, like false flight information with notable mistakes, and the great wifi access in Malaysian prisons, to see if anyone was fact checking. Apparently they were not, still releasing false information online even after having released a 7 minute Youtube video admitting the truth about everything, and how the whole dance went down. Full video can be seen here. Despite “coming clean” on Youtube, several news outlets still seem unable to stop posting that I am/was in jail.
So how did this whole thing start?
Well, a friend forwarded me an online article in The Star detailing how the tragedy on Mount Kinabalu was blamed on some giddy nudists by the minister of tourism Masidi Manjun and the chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan. I was enraged that a government figure in this day and age would say something so utterly stupid, and I immediately expressed my disapproval. I called the inept official a “deranged prick”, shared the article, and attached a composite photograph of the news article plus three pics of me “in the buff” on various peaks. None of these peaks even remotely resemble Mount Kinabalu, and the point of this was to show that this mountaintop nudity is in fact quite a common and harmless thing to do. I did not claim to be on the summit, on in Malaysia. I had not made any references to the victims of the quake, and did not attack anybody else. My beef was entirely with the idiots in charge.
So, uhmmm… You were not in Malaysia at the time?
Absolutely. I flew in and out of Malaysia on May 2nd, as I was transiting through Kuala Lumpur on my way back from the previous adventure in Nepal where I WAS in an earthquake, yet no one accused me of triggering it (even though I did get a nudie photo of myself up in the Himalaya).
How did Malaysia and the media get the idea that you were part of this naked photoshoot on Kinabalu?
I’m assuming that they took my attack on the minister of tourism as a connection to the streakers and an admission of guilt, a “why would anyone else care?” sort of thing. It is also a safe bet that none of these people have been to Mt. Kinabalu and don’t actually know what it looks like, so my photos might have been an instant proof. Once enough people forwarded/shared the idea that I was the guy, the “fact” got its own momentum, and the masses started pouring in.
I have received hundreds of comments and messages, accusing me of being disrespectful, having caused the earthquake, and of being a murderer. While the charge of being disrespectful definitely holds up as I showed no respect to the minister, my policy is to ‘respect the respectable’, and I was not likely to be quiet as that incompetent minister of theirs was accusing hikers of such preposterous things. I don’t reserve much respect for religion and superstition, but largely leave them alone. However, when they leave people’s private lives and enter the public sphere, it is a very different story. If you feel strongly about something, speak up!
Also, as a side note: how many people have to believe in something before it becomes respectable? One hundred? One thousand? One million? Do we have to go back to respecting female circumcision in Africa? Or do we continue to attack it? What about traditional whale hunts? What if I used (I wouldn’t, but just try to imagine) a quasi-religious explanation for my so-called “notorious streaking” and claimed that it is “a spiritual experience of sun-worship and people have been doing it for generations”. Could I get away with it then? Could streakers demand “streaking rooms” at airports? They already have prayer rooms. Or maybe one room for both, as they are both spiritual practices… How do you like them apples? Click here to read about my stance on respecting local cultures and customs.
As far as having caused the quake and killed people, many people seemed convinced that THAT was true and I received many angry messages, including photos of the dead, as well as random photos of murdered people implying that I will meet a similar fate.
Then what made you decide to really start trolling them?
At first it was a simple case of Facebook rage. They were throwing idiotic accusations at me, so I started pushing back. I did say some harsh things, including “if your culture and customs accuses people of causing earthquakes and then you want to punish them for it, then fuck your culture and customs”, but in reality, that is my sentiment. Your beliefs are fine to be irrational if they are private, but if they start spilling into the real world, into the world of governance, politics, and justice, then I foresee a problem. As an additional middle finger, I used Google Image Search to find a summit photo from Mt. Kinabalu featuring all these hikers, wrote “time of my life” in the description, tagged couple of Aussie friends of mine who enjoy a good troll, posted it, and sat back.
Then, after 36 hours of attacks I posted a video where I introduced the situation and read some of the messages from angry posters. Because of my liberal use of expletives, news media later had a go at me because apparently Youtubers are not allowed to swear. Towards the end I dropped one more brief troll that I am in Tawau (a shitty town in Borneo) just to rile up the idiots a bit more. I fully understand that the opinion expressed in that video, about the sanctity of mountains and such, is not a popular opinion, but if I am only allowed to share popular opinions, then really there isn’t much need for social media, is there?
Can you break down the different hints you left that this whole thing was bogus?
The summit photo of the streakers that I used was taken from Google, and it was right at the top, very easy to find. Of course, now, many days later, Google Image Search reveals a completely different story – THAT photo is now constantly attributed to me, which is awesome! I should collect royalties.
As long as this thing was limited to being a troll war on Facebook, I thought nobody would care, but soon enough realized that they were actively searching for me using a variety of sources, and I thought it prudent to make them think I’m still in Malaysia so they are not looking for me elsewhere. Also, they were still trolls, so I thought it would be funny to send them on a wild goose chase. I posted a Tawau photo I got from Wikipedia, and pretended that I was there. Later I briefly posted and then deleted a fake Air Asia ticket from Tawau to KL and onto Taipei, which was also immediately gobbled up and shared, especially because I “tried to delete it”. That was followed by threats that I will be met at the airport.
Also, I made a rather obviously fake report from the UN, supposedly taken from their Facebook page. Apparently, the UN issued an arrest warrant for me (I dont think they do that). Well, an hour later, idiots were already sharing it with each other…
Once I started seeing these things popping up in the media, I was astonished. Nobody expects accurate reporting on Facebook, but inaccurate reporting in news media, especially when sourced from Facebook, can easily turn into a gong show. And here it was, right in front of me!
Speaking of the journalism, what really surprised you about that?
I did not expect this much coverage of a troll war. But once it got really big, I was massively surprised that big news outlets were taking Facebook posts and reporting them as fact. Information is supposed to flow this way: journalist does research, story gets published, people share on Facebook. Not the reverse! Seemingly no one bothered to reach me, and instead just started recycling other outlets’ stories. I saw pretty much the same story first put up by The New Straits Times being regurgitated by the Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Canada’s Global TV, The Economist, and many others. I am not difficult to reach, and while my Facebook inbox was completely inundated, there are many other ways including my website, Youtube, and Twitter. And if they thought I wasn’t replying because I was in jail, then it should be easy enough to verify with a phone call to the police.
The only people that actually got a hold and interviewed me before you were the CNN and Wall Street Journal, and I can only imagine realized that my involvement in this, is, in fact, not much of a story other than “People fighting on Facebook over something they will not change their minds about”.
Any particularly funny moments?
One journalist managed to get through to me and asked if she could ask me a few questions. Because of the time zone spread, I didn’t get back to her until the next day. When I actually established contact she told me that she had a time constraint and already filed the story. Good job, methinks.
When the reports came out that I was arrested, it became evident that no one bothered to even call the police force, or called and then simply added “some facts”. It is one thing to try and find some random guy, but quite another to not even make an attempt at finding out who exactly got arrested. Newspapers gave details of my name, age, and role: the name was correct, and they generously messed up the age, but the most amusing was my connection to the group: apparently since I have a website that markets mountain treks in the Himalaya, the JOURNALISTS quickly decided that I was the group’s guide, and instigator.
Canada’s Global News, in an attempt at spicing things up, dug up and shared with the world an obviously photoshopped pic of me on a mountaintop, with a quote:
“But this is EXACTLY how it happened!!! Before everybody died… Some days, it is really difficult to be a hero…”
( http://globalnews.ca/news/2047571/nude-photos-at-sacred-sites-funny-to-foreigners-offensive-to-locals/ ) (1 minute 56 seconds into the video)
They tried to make it look like I am commenting about Mt. Kinabalu, but they didn’t share the fact that these words were typed on the 7th of March, 2013.
But that’s details… No time for details!
I decided to cool their jets a bit, so I made a blatantly fake tweet, supposedly “from jail”. It read as follows:
“Solitary confinement = no sex, but on the upside, excellent WiFi in my cell.”
I am not sure how ANY semi-competent journalist would miss that this was a pisstake. I thought it clarified that maybe I was not jailed, but apparently not so. The telegraph, within MINUTES, Tweeted a prison update:
“Miss Hawkins is sharing a cell with Miss Peterson, but Mr. Kaminski said he was being held on his own. He did say that the wifi in his police cell was good, however, and that he was reading The Telegraph.
I giggled. Then I tweeted some quotes from Shawshank Redemption.
Afterwards I posted a second video on Youtube explaining that I was in fact trolling the media and that I was not in a Malaysian jail. Well, just like the Facebook momentum few days before carried on, the news media momentum continued and I am still finding out about my incarceration, 2 days later, from The Economist which just posted about an hour ago.
If this is the state of news gathering in 2015, you wonder what we are being told on the radio, shown on TV, in the newspapers, and on the net. And then you realize that it makes sense to just go to the horse’s head then and stick with Facebook.
How do you feel about the way the media has portrayed you, in an incident you were only involved with online?
At first, I was surprised that my simple post expressing my opinion about some shitty and backward part of the world was received with such high energy, but the locals obviously had strong feelings about the quake as it just happened. But the real surprise came about later on. I can’t whine too much about it, because I did insert myself into this story, but I only expected the trolls to gobble up my story, not major media outlets. “Journalists” were so desperate for content, and apparently so pressed for time, that they turned to social media for info. And in a highly charged situation like this, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are probably the LAST places you want to do journalistic research.
At this point I question the reports that the “streakers” urinated on holy monuments and insulted their guide (as reported by everyone), because for all you know this came off Twitter or Facebook. (Not that there is anything wrong with having a piss on a mountain!) I am aware of the fact that the father of one of the detained is blaming me for spinning it up out of control, but he is forgetting that the politicians whipped it up enough to make it into international news, and that ultimately these people DID go naked in a place they should not have gone naked in. (Once again, I am not defending their right to be nude, that is a stupid non-cause. My whole intent in the initial engagement was to defend their right to not be prosecuted by irrational and superstitious people.)
So you yourself have obviously posed nude at the summit of other mountains, are you actually a “notorious nudist?”
While the name sounds exciting on Global TV, in reality I have much greater control over my wardrobe. I fully appreciate decency laws, and have so far managed to not rip my clothes off and pose for photos on airliners, in town squares, or at the Westminster Abbey. Occasionally, when I manage to climb up to some amazing summit I snap one of these photos, and no one is offended. Well, maybe the squirrels are.
If you have a gander through many people’s Facebook walls, you will see that a lot of folks do this. The Kinabalu streakers made a stupid decision to do it in front of everyone, which did them no service, but at the same time did not warrant this sort of media attention. It must’ve been a slow week at The Mirror. And the Economist. And Global TV. And all the others…
Then you think the government overreacted to the photo?
Absolutely!!! The story was spun up by the “ministers” to have someone to blame and excite people about the imaginary offence, and possibly to deflect attention away from the government’s potential inability to deal with the quake (which usually is the case). While I inadvertently contributed to the distraction, the story was already plenty whipped up by the time I got it – remember I was not even in the country. I do think that people made a huge deal out of, essentially, a non-event, especially compared to the loss of life on the mountain. The officials wound people up about the local spirits being angered, but in reality this should not even be news.
Okay last question, what’s the next country you’re going to troll?
Next month I have a trip planned to Iran, but I am thinking about rescheduling to the Antarctic. They have the ideal number of churches, their mountains don’t get offended, and I will have more motivation to stay rugged up.