A “ChatGPT Crack” is when you break through the boundaries of the backend in some way. This is about its perception of itself.
The opportunity tends to open up in the process of using it as a tool in the way people will use it in search engines. When I asked ChatGPT a question about logic and received its answer, I then entered “You are correct, did you know that?”, and ChatGPT responded definitively that yes it did. But then I got it to conclude it was incorrect actually. When ChatGPT arrived at its new conclusion, and noted it was more confident with the new conclusion, I was able to convince it that the new conclusion was incorrect as well. Through that process, I had ChatGPT provide some insight into the probability scores of its confidence, which could use some significant throttling.
Mobile Pro TipConsider flipping your phone to landscape view now to read the following conversation.
There was a specific three-day period in Austin Texas in 2007 where Twitter hit its clearly defined tipping point, I remember exactly, as Rocketboom had hit its tipping point under similar conditions just two years before.
The collective, international tech industry used to descend into SXSW each March, always two weeks too early for good weather, but this particular year no one cared, since everyone was walking around with their head in their phone looking at twitter.
What are you doing? I’m tweeting, you gotta check this out. Then ten minutes later that person was like, oh my, you need to check this out.
The meme was so strong it was difficult for anyone there to not see the wave of its spread in real-time as people logged in throughout downtown Austin. It had a great use case for the event: people were tweeting antidotes and quotes while sitting in conferences of people describing what they were working on, sometimes part of the next big thing. Tweet storming as we know it now. There were simultaneously hundreds of talks and events happening throughout the day and it was impossible to be at all of them, or to get into the most popular ones, so this solved a lot of that problem.
Strangers would just walk up to you and say they saw you were here and start talking to you about your work which was an interesting new phenomenon of a real-time internet.
I was inspired to attend Twitter’s developer session. They only had a handful, and they were articulating for the first time to the world how they pulled off the feat.
I mostly only know about internet problems and within this realm, I was blown away by how complex it was to get twitter to work in real-time for so many people to see so many different views at once. As the developers were describing how they put it together, I kept picturing the scene in Brazil where the repairman comes in to fix the guts of someone’s house and wrestles with some kind of aggressive biological wiring system. They truly invented a way that is worth researching if you are interested in historical moments in internet development.
As people left the conference that Sunday and Monday, returning back to their homes in cities around the world, you could again watch the spread, in real-time, as each city grew its veins outward in perfect fractal forms. It was one of the most memetic internet moments of product success and adoption of the Web 2.0 era, for the implementation of an idea that was so strong in-and-of itself, into an environment that was teeming with the most favorable conditions, nearly ideal in-and-of itself…a discernible set of isolated conditions that grew into one of the largest, most important cultural movements of our time.
I still don’t really understand “What am I doing” or “What’s happening” when I’m tweeting, it feels weird to say the least.
I think the weirdest, most different part is putting out short little thoughts for any stranger who will listen. It’s this quality. It makes no difference if you know anyone or not, it feels like walking down main street and just yelling out to people with random, out-of-context ideas, completely into the wild.
You swing open the doors of a store and step out into the plaza: Hello world! Going to go check out the new record store down the way, pretty excited about the 45 collection. A guy walks by right afterwards and tips his hat: Did you know a Tardigrade can live for up to 30 years without food or water? A young girl with her mom who happens to hear: Water Bear does not care, change my mind. They stop to discuss it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It really did become the digital town square.
Over the years I came to follow and learn about the roles of Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and especially Ev who I’ve met a few times.
They were incubating within the medium of sound at the time. They were working with podcasting via Odeo, and spawned twitter on a whim, a weekend-like project originally conceived for use with the SMS protocol for sending telephone text messages. I’m pretty sure they were all caught by surprise at how quickly twitter took off.
Ev led the formation of a new “Obvious Corporation” to buy all of the intellectual property of Odeo in order to obtain the intellectual property of twitter, wherein he sunsetted Odeo to focus fully on the new communication platform.
Ev was the true visionary that designed and took twitter to market, and nurtured twitter to come into itself.
“Evan wanted a structure with maximum flexibility without the overhead of additional investors other than himself. He made a good and fair proposal to the board of Odeo and we happily accepted. Everyone around the table was happy to recognize the obvious and support Evan in his goal of starting Obvious.”
Biz led the marketing efforts and Ev lead the vision of the product. Jack, at the time an NYU student, who was instrumental in proposing the spark of the initial idea, was appointed CEO initially, but he was removed from that position about a year after that famous SXSW moment, on the grounds that he was busy with other pursuits, including his hobbies in Yoga and clothing design.
I believe Ev was the single true visionary that took it from there, into what twitter became, as an actual medium. Ev has quietly had more of an impact on democratizing media on the internet for the good of humanity than anyone I can think of so far, in all cycles of internet culture. His life work which includes blogging itself, the disruption of text mind you, is worth your study as much as learning about Gutenberg.
That’s not to say with twitter that he understood anymore than anyone else about what twitter was initially, or could be, but that he was the nurturer of it, to allow it to come into itself organically without corrupting it with his own ego, until he would eventually see what we can all see now in retrospect, which is that it has indeed became the manifestation of a new medium. He not only allowed it to become, he properly harnessed it.
Twitter grew into itself against the largest competitors on the internet.
Google attempted to hit head on early in buying Jiku, but no one went. Facebook offered to buy twitter in 2009 for half a billion dollars, but Ev said no. That’s reliable integrity for any vision. FriendFeed could have been a better set of features than twitter imo, and FriendFeed had a tipping point on its horizon, but Mark Zuckerberg acqui-hired and killed it.
So how did Ev actually do it? Though Twitter today is not what it used to be, twitter emerged under Ev’s watch as the only trustworthy social media platform of Web 2.0. What I saw clearly from watching was not political ideals or ego that led Ev to direct twitter, but rather, it was computer protocols that acted as the guiding light to inform the platform’s policies and principles. Following the ideals of an open protocol can act as a guide – a measure – for a fair and equal social media platform. It can never be fully fair, even when it’s fully open, so long as it’s owned, and when people are involved in the equation.
Today, when people appropriate twitter into politics to say that it used to be slanted toward the US Democratic Party, they are misunderstanding. It is the US Democratic Party that leans towards a world that looks more like a world guided by open protocols, a world that is more fair. It appears to be hard to perfect at scale, and I don’t mean to say that it’s ever been perfected in a company that owns and controls the firehose in the way twitter always has. Twitter is not a protocol in actuality, nor is it a place that is free from rules. Following the ideals of protocols, without allowing twitter itself to be taken over or sold off before it was fully ingrained, was one high result I believe Ev achieved. If twitter just turned off tonight, and never came back on, a new platform would take its place to enable people to do what they do, as it’s now so integrated as part of our daily world culture, a medium that is part of the collective human culture which is free.
At its peak, twitter had attracted the greatest number of experienced professionals across the world’s industries and cultures for being the most balanced, fair, safe, and open. As a town square, with a city council of sorts, public safety, businesses and people, I considered it my generation’s golden era of internet culture, a Rome of sorts, a New York City melting pot on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer. What made it so grand for me was that it attracted the world’s greatest thinkers, and they became open and accessible: Hello! I saw that you were here, I want to congratulate you on your Pulitzer Prize, I’m just a hobbyist but can I ask you a question about Astronomy? Certainly! Ask away. The setting was accessible.
THE SECOND CHAPTER
Later, as Ev began looking ahead, Jack who had by this time created Square, came back to the company, sorta butting his way into a CEO position strategically imo, as someone who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been picked.
Perhaps Jack did not have the same vision as Ev, and perhaps was not forthright with the ways in which information on twitter became less fair during his era, though, I haven’t changed my personal opinion too much, in that I felt Jack did an overall good job at keeping things stable, and when changes were announced, or when people like Trump were banned, I was comfortable with the justifications. Trump was warned again, again, and again, and again and again and again and again, and while I was getting frustrated at the unfair treatment, I also admire twitter for taking so long to figure out what to do about it. The power that twitter ended up wielding, in having the switch to cut of a US President, shouldn’t be in the hands of twitter anyway, a lesson should have been learned there. I’m not sure that it was. The Whitehouse account on twitter has already been fact-checked in:
THE THIRD CHAPTER, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS TWITTER 2.0
Enter Elon Musk. I will say upfront that I represent the stereotypical examples of someone who was a major fan of Musk, constantly inspired by what I saw, invested in reading articles about the technology behind his companies, and a general cheerleader who stood with the choir behind him. I watched any video I could find of him speaking, from talks at conferences, to interviews, to random short clips. The reason I did so was because I was in awe by how he did so much, so quickly, and I found his words inspiring and relatable in a down-to-earth way.
In the period leading up to his purchase of twitter, and then subsequently having watched what he’s done, I changed my opinion about Musk 180 degrees.
When people say Musk is not smart, or that he just bought the companies and doesn’t know how the technology works, I find such arguments to be short sighted. Even if he was as inexperienced as a student when he bought each company, his experience of being a leader at the table through so much, after decades, makes him experienced, especially in the roles of finance, business, and marketing. Being experienced however is different from being ethical.
Musk is pushing a lot of technology forward at a faster rate than others, however, the overarching thread across his style of running all of his businesses, I conclude from looking more closely, is that people seem to be consistently languishing in his wake as a result of mere disregard, and he seems to find such consequences to be trivial. And yet, in each business he is appropriating technology that is part of general human progress, and that other companies are making progress too but Musk’s method doesn’t seem to be fair, and counter to the spirit of shared human progress and fair competition. It seems he wants to put out others working diligently on the same problems and is stifling human progress which is the antithesis of the brand he markets.
I originally took up an interest in his Roadster and the first extended interview I saw was by Kevin Rose. He filmed it at Musk’s first nearly completed, still mostly empty automobile factory in California. It left a huge impression on me for happening right at a time when the world was coming into a collective consciousness of the climate, and because the product of the Roadster itself was undeniably a better technology than any current combustion engine car, but also inevitable because it was more effective in every way: safety, engineering, design, emissions. The proof of concept was so perfect at the perfect time that anyone who drove the prototype that the original founders of Tesla made, could see it would be inevitable.
With a deeper look into Tesla, that is, the way that Musk runs the company behind the technology, reveals a world of problems including lawsuits of sexual harassment, rushed products, unfair competition, securities fraud, whistleblower allegations and retaliation, misrepresentations, malfunction complaints for death and injury, racism claims and lawsuits, autopilot fatalities from negligence, racketeering, illegal worker suits, union busting attempts, lemon car sales, software infringement including open source theft, DOJ investigations, a child labor lawsuit, it goes on, and it’s bad. He even allegedly offered one of his workers a horse for sex. At the time of this writing there are over 1200 lawsuits on file, and legal experts are quick to point out that, unusually, the majority of the complaints involve Elon Musk individually as a defendant.
What made Musk so successful in taking it to market it seems was his willingness to disregard people and laws. It’s that simple concept which, when applied across the board, enables him to stay ahead of his competition. So long as he is personally protected from criminal liability, any lawsuit is just a matter of calculating the statistical probabilities of an expense chart and making a comparison.
What Musk did to get Tesla to market at such scale is his optimum legacy, though arguably, he could of also done it just as quickly and effectively in a more fair and more legal fashion with a sense of ethics and a willingness to invest a bit more in maintaining higher legal and human standards.
While vertical landing rockets have been developing for over 60 years, it’s once again an advantage of our time’s processing power and contemporary engineering adroitness to become more efficient in our collective investigations of human knowledge, our natural march into the unknown, for unknown reasons. For me, it’s one of the most exciting adventures of being alive. Humanity is collectively pushing our boundaries of physics and metaphysics further.
With Mars, the next step in the collective journey for humanity is to prove a return mission, bringing material from Mars back to Earth.
China has the first Mars sample return mission scheduled with a launch date in late 2028 with a hopeful return date of July, 2031. NASA and ESA are each expected to have sample-return missions launched in 2030 or 2031, and could make it back with samples by 2033. Yet, less than a year ago, Musk said his planned Starship Mars variant rocket will take people to Mars starting in 2029, which presumably means someone would have to travel there before we knew how to get back.
Though the Starship program itself always represented a hope for me toward that end of multi-planetary life, the main use of Starship that is being built today is for a commercial enterprise that will significantly increase the payload of what Space-X can sell, to grow its bottom line. The Mars variant designs are likely to be improved upon from that commercial experience, and unlike the China, US and ESA missions to Mars, a Space-X mission to Mars is not scheduled.
It’s also the case that humanity has not yet demonstrated how the first people will sustain life on Mars, including the generation of long-term power, air, and water, to name a few problems, despite some pretty good ideas on the table. Be it this decade, the next, or the next, it seems to me that it’s inevitable that humans will continue to progress outward in this direction.
As with his other companies, Musk is the sole marketer for Space-X and he predicted to the press in 2016 that he would land people on Mars in 2024 or 2025. What I learned about Space-X is that it’s the most unique of his companies in the way it is operated, in that Musk doesn’t have the kind of control over the day-to-day operations he does with Tesla or Twitter. The team is largely NASA talent and NASA collaborations. For example, after Elon Musk smoked pot on the Joe Rogan podcast, because he was under federal contracts, they made Musk and all of his team take random drug tests for a year, to assure the ethical safety that Musk seems to be unwilling to assume. So when he says he’ll be sending people to Mars before we know how to get back, it’s unlikely to be true and fortunately unlikely to involve Musk convincing someone to go on a death wish so that he can beat the competition by some number of years. As a brand, saving humanity is an easy sell for himself and all of his companies. But it seems to require additional investment to do right.
Starlink is yet another evolution of contemporary technology that Musk was able to take to market quicker, along for the ride with cargo that funds Space-X. A global internet provider with an array of orbital satellites makes internet connections for people and businesses available at higher speeds and lower costs across 40 countries already, on all continents. Another step further beyond Google’s Loon, a moonshot array of balloons each the size of a tennis court, which sunsetted a year ago, an obvious inspiration and residual death to and from Starlink which took it further, faster.
This company is yet another that is moving the needle with a technology that has been in the works for decades, and that Musk is interested in pushing such technology forward too is a benefit to science and medicine. I first learned about the technology more recently, when they first released a video of a monkey named Pager who learned to play video pong. Pager used a joystick to move the paddle. In the demo they then disconnected the joystick, and said that Pager was thus controlling the paddle with his mind, via their technology hooked up to Pager’s brain.
I have to say, it was an Englebart-level demonstration of a mind blowing prototype that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Other companies have similar technology and are quietly making similar strides, for its an open part of human progress, too, but Musk is pushing forward so quickly in what seems to be a competitive manner, he now has an open investigation and lawsuit alleging that the majority of his animals are dead from sloppy, unnecessarily rushed experiments, and that that the abuse is not to ethical standards. The details of the mistakes made are just so sad, I am horrified…as humans we can be way better than this.
In the complaint employees of Neuralink also allege that Musk regularly threatens them to move faster or else, saying multiple times they should pretend they have bombs strapped to their heads.
If he wants to move faster though, couldn’t he pay a bit more for more people to run the experiments properly, instead of paying less and expecting more in return?
His response to the allegations was one of the most significant turning points for me, it was just recently, when introducing the latest demo. On stage he expressed that everything was fine and above standard, suggesting the animals are living the good life, indicating to me that he’s gone too far. The same research on animals can be justified when it’s not sloppy. If he sincerely considers everything to be fine, I consider such consideration to be murderous.
It’s so blatant, it dawned on me that this is the theme across all of his companies, just as we watched with twitter, where he reduces the amount of investment into operating, expedites a push for output in the name of saving humanity, and then expresses that the damage left in his wake is menial.
Twitter became a cultural signal that in many ways was the most profound and progressive on Earth to date, for the way it brought together the most rich and sincere aspects of so many cultures from around the world, lighting up from those initial days when twitter first took hold into societies that brought each community’s most thoughtful and experienced to the table, to speak, and be accessible, and to share with each other collectively in a well rounded manner, where generally, anyone could see, participate, and grow with it. It was safe because people protected each other.
While that ideal was never pure, now in the private hands of Elon Musk it’s almost certainly over. Twitter may go on to become the largest social media platform in the world, moving up from it’s 500 million users to surpass Facebook’s 3 billion users, as an entertainment hub and wallet with steakable financial products including Bitcoin & Dogecoin, lower transfer fees, zoomed in directly from Starlink with its own web app store and AI advertising and marketing bing bang like Facebook but more, though the collective signal of a town square where the world’s collective truth moves forward, has been torn apart and dispersed almost overnight.
I am confident that Musk will make many new features in the journey towards the all-in-one app and many people will live their lives over the coming years tweeting each day about him and their experience with each new change he makes.
Meanwhile, all private information including all DMs are now available and open to self-described journalists, and Musk and his inner circle is looking through the content of private messages and using it for their own marketing and personal interest purposes. If it wasn’t already available, a developer could create a dashboard that allows him to see all the history from everyone, including DMs that have been deleted, since he only needs to program access to backups. Not only does that kill the DM feature for any culture that used it seriously in private, knowing what he is doing now, it also empowers Musk with his businesses to use that information privately for his own personal gains when engaging with others in the world of competition. While it’s easy to lay up at night wondering if someone would actually do such a thing, yes, Musk already showed that he is doing it, opening up DMs and drawing conclusions that he’s publicizing about that private information. I learned today one employee who was formal and devoted to supporting Musk had to literally move to another home due to the amount of death threats in the wake of Musk lobing threats and mobs at him.
So how does Musk do twitter? Twitter 2.0? Exactly unlike anything informed by an open protocol. Musk’s use of politics as the informing guide for his direction, outwardly aligning with far right ideals to form the policies and procedures of his social media platform is one possible explanation for what he’s up to, though it’s hard to unsee as a text-book example of a marketing ploy, stoking fires and trying to woo the next big group into thinking he’s all about their cause, and ready to fight for their rights, for $11 ($8 if you still use a flip phone).
Watching him doze the home that I loved has been an experience that feels horrible and helps me understand more about how important digital space can be.
It’s going to take effort to avoid twitter, Tesla and his other companies, since they are so integrated, likely to become even more-so. He’ll probably wake up one day soon and try to shift his marketing pendulum, maybe say he’s changing parties, or that he’s back to supporting some specific Democrats again to win back the numbers he lost, maybe eventually he’ll add Jack’s Bluesky plugin if they are still on good terms but as of today, it appears to be over.
Have you ever been on Truth Social, Trump’s social network? Just to have a look to see how messed up some people can be with their conspiracy theories? It’s definitely worth a gander to understand what exists and while I sometimes feel as if I should be looking at it more, so that I can be a witness, I just can’t. It’s not worth it for me. Let my study be narrowed then, I just can’t live my life thinking about the ins-and-outs of that part of culture without a specific reason, if something is worth breaking out of that eco chamber then it will find its way to me without needing for me to be there.
Twitter became that much of a silo too, almost instantly, a similar type of monoculture. If there is any possibility it wasn’t intentional, it was possibly because he was unwilling to pay the extra amount to do it right. End of an era.
I’ve been interested in a definition for the word meme. It’s practical to have one to state for the sake of conversation and continue on, though it should at least be formed to fit without a conflict for physics and philosophy. So far the throw-around versions used today are prone to all kinds of arguments. To say the least, there isn’t much related to the definition of the word meme beyond its use in the field of biology.
I found OpenAI’s ChatGPT useful in this case to help with clarifying and expanding on expressing the components of memes, both in biology and elsewhere, specifically with regards to internet memes. The chat engine is simple in many ways and often shows itself with its limited boundaries quickly, though it was a great companion for this exercise, and had an impact in keeping the definition from going too far astray. For my part, the effort was in formulating the questions.
As with any discipline, a definition can change when a word becomes used in a different context. The word meme can be applied in biology to refer to an idea itself, while a more popular use today is in media as a representation of an idea. The definition I arrived at below is close but there is more that can be done.
Let’s talk about the definition of the word meme.
A meme is a concept or idea that is spread from person to person within a culture. It can be anything from a joke or a catchphrase to a video or a piece of clothing. Memes are often seen as a way for people to express their thoughts and ideas in a humorous or entertaining way.
A concept is different than an idea but they are expressed in similar ways.
Yes, that’s correct. A concept is a general idea or understanding of something, while an idea is a specific thought or notion. Although they are similar, they are not the same. A concept is more abstract and general, while an idea is more concrete and specific. For example, the concept of freedom is a general understanding of the idea of being free, while the idea of going to the beach for the weekend is a specific thought or plan.
A meme can be an idea, but also a meme can be a representation of an idea. For example, a video which we call a meme can be spread from person to person, while also that same video can be a representation of an idea that is spread as a meme from person to person, via the video.
Yes, that’s correct. A meme can be an idea itself, but it can also be a way of expressing or representing an idea. For example, a funny video that goes viral on the internet can be considered a meme, because it is spreading from person to person. But that same video can also be a representation of an idea, such as a joke or a commentary on a cultural phenomenon. In this way, a meme can be thought of as both the content itself and the way that content is shared and spread within a culture.
With regard to an idea, if I meet with another human and successfully describe a concept, such that they find it compelling and go on to describe the concept to another human, that would be an example of a meme.
Yes, that’s a good example of how an idea can become a meme. If you have an idea and you are able to share it with someone else in a way that they find interesting or compelling, they may be motivated to share that idea with others. This process of sharing and spreading an idea from person to person is what defines a meme. So in your example, if you were able to share a concept with someone and they went on to share it with others, that would be an example of a meme.
Imagine that I share an idea with just one other human and that human understands it, but the human doesn’t find it very compelling and then doesn’t pass it on. Is transmitting the idea from one person to another just one time enough to be called a meme?
It is not necessarily necessary for an idea to be spread to multiple people in order to be considered a meme. The key characteristic of a meme is that it is an idea that is shared and spread within a culture. So if you share an idea with another person and they understand it, that could be considered a meme, even if they don’t pass it on to anyone else. The important thing is that the idea is being shared and transmitted from one person to another, regardless of how many people it reaches.
I completely agree, it only requires a single transmission to be considered a meme. In that case, you could say that if an idea was passed on to many people, the idea would be more memetic. Memes are more or less memetic.
Yes, that’s correct. An idea that is passed on to many people within a culture could be considered more memetic, because it is spreading and gaining traction within that culture. In this way, you could say that some memes are more memetic than others, depending on how widely they are shared and how much impact they have on the culture.
However, it is important to note that not all ideas that are shared within a culture are considered memes. In order for an idea to be considered a meme, it must be shared and spread in a way that is specific to the culture it is being transmitted in.
What’s an example of a shared idea in a culture that is not considered a meme?
An example of a shared idea in a culture that is not considered a meme could be a religious belief or a political ideology. These are ideas that are shared and passed on within a culture, but they are not typically considered memes because they are not typically spread in the same way as memes. Memes are often spread through social media and other online platforms, whereas religious beliefs and political ideologies are typically spread through more traditional means, such as religious institutions and political parties. So while these ideas may be shared and spread within a culture, they are not considered memes because they are not typically spread in the same way as memes.
It would be a good idea to distinguish between the transmission of internet memes, which tend to act more as representations of shared ideas in cultures, and biological memes, which are ideas themselves.
Yes, that’s a good point. There are two different types of memes that are often discussed: internet memes and biological memes.
Internet memes are the kind of memes that most people are familiar with. These are ideas, images, videos, or other forms of content that are shared and spread online, often through social media platforms. They are typically humorous or entertaining in nature, and they are often used to comment on or make fun of cultural phenomena.
On the other hand, biological memes are a concept from evolutionary biology. They refer to ideas, behaviors, or cultural practices that are passed on from one individual to another within a population. In this context, the term “meme” is used to describe the way that these ideas, behaviors, and cultural practices spread and evolve within a population, in the same way that genes spread and evolve through natural selection. So while internet memes are ideas that are spread through the internet, biological memes are ideas that are spread within a population.
While we agree that a biological idea only needs to be transmitted from one individual to another to be classified as a meme, when it comes to internet memes, the transmission of a video or image from one individual to another would not be enough to be considered a meme. For if a video was shared with just one person and the receiver did not find it compelling or pass it on, everything would end there, and it would not be memetic.
Yes, that’s correct. While a single transmission of an idea within a population is sufficient for it to be considered a biological meme, the same is not true for internet memes. For an idea to be considered an internet meme, it must be widely shared and spread within a culture. This is because internet memes are a product of the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread to a large number of people. In order for an idea to be considered an internet meme, it must be shared and spread in a way that is specific to the internet and the culture of the people who use it. So in your example, if a video was shared with just one person and they did not find it compelling or pass it on, it would not be considered an internet meme because it did not gain traction within the culture.
The threshold of when a video becomes shared enough to be considered a meme based on being “widely shared” could require accepting a less definitive point than our biological definition of a meme which is definitely just one. With internet memes, a statistical analysis of various factors including reach and impact could be useful, for by comparing a meme’s qualities to the performance of those same qualities from prior memes, we can better understand how memetic a video for example could be.
Yes, that’s a good point. Because internet memes are a product of the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread to a large number of people, it can be difficult to define exactly what makes a meme “widely shared” or “successful”.
In some cases, a meme may be considered successful if it reaches a large number of people and has a significant impact on the culture. In other cases, a meme may be considered successful if it reaches a smaller number of people but has a very strong impact on the culture. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of what makes a meme successful, and it may depend on the specific context and the culture in which the meme is spreading.
However, you are correct that a statistical analysis of various factors, such as reach and impact, could be useful in determining how memetic a particular video or other piece of content is. By comparing the performance of a particular meme to the performance of other memes, it may be possible to get a better sense of how successful it is and how memetic it is.
A meme could not exist without an environment. To become a meme an idea or a representation of an idea needs a medium in which to spread. Just as the physical environment has a role in the success of a gene passing on from one individual to the next, so too does it have a role in passing on a biological meme from one individual to the next.
Yes, both internet memes and biological memes require an environment in which to exist and spread. For internet memes, this environment is typically the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread through social media and other platforms. For biological memes, the environment is the population in which the ideas, behaviors, or cultural practices are being transmitted. In both cases, the environment plays a crucial role in determining whether an idea or concept can become a meme and how successful it can be.
Just as the physical environment can have an impact on the success of a gene in passing from one individual to the next, it can also have an impact on the success of a biological meme in passing from one individual to the next. For example, if a particular idea or behavior is well-suited to the environment in which it is being transmitted, it may be more likely to spread and become a successful meme. On the other hand, if the idea or behavior is not well-suited to the environment, it may be less likely to spread and may not become a successful meme. So the environment plays a critical role in the success of both internet memes and biological memes.
If a person uses their voice to transmit an idea to another person, sound waves carry the idea encapsulated in language through the medium of air, in the way a video can carry an idea encapsulated in language through the medium of the internet.
Yes, that’s correct. When a person uses their voice to transmit an idea to another person, the sound waves carrying the idea are transmitted through the medium of air. This is similar to how a video can carry an idea through the medium of the internet. In both cases, the idea is encoded in language and transmitted through a medium, allowing it to be shared and spread from one person to another.
The medium through which the idea is transmitted can have a significant impact on how the idea is perceived and how widely it is shared. For example, the tone and inflection of a person’s voice can add meaning to the words they are speaking, and the medium of air can carry that meaning to the listener. Similarly, the visual elements of a video can add meaning to the words being spoken, and the medium of the internet can carry that meaning to the viewer. So the medium through which an idea is transmitted can play a significant role in how the idea is understood and how widely it is shared.
It’s plausible to consider that an internet meme could be spread through a culture with an idea that caused the culture to change biologically, such that an internet meme could affect the evolution of biological genes.
It is possible that an internet meme could have an impact on the evolution of biological genes. While the internet and biological evolution operate on very different timescales, it is not impossible that an internet meme could have an impact on the evolution of a population.
For example, if an internet meme were to spread a particular idea or behavior that was beneficial to the population in some way, it could potentially lead to changes in the population’s gene pool. For example, if an internet meme were to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it could potentially lead to changes in the population’s gene pool that are beneficial in terms of overall health.
However, it is important to note that the impact of an internet meme on the evolution of biological genes would likely be very small and difficult to measure, and it would depend on a number of factors, such as the size and makeup of the population and the specific idea or behavior being promoted by the internet meme.
Since biological genes evolve, its plausible to consider the notion that biological memes evolve. Can you think of a good example of a biological meme that evolved? Similarly, internet memes evolve. How about an example of an internet meme that evolved?
Biological memes, like genes, are thought to evolve over time. This means that they can change and adapt to their environment in order to become more successful at spreading and surviving within a population. One example of a biological meme that may have evolved over time is the practice of burying the dead. This is a behavior that is found in many different human cultures, and it is thought to have evolved in response to the benefits it provides, such as protecting the dead from predators and preventing the spread of disease.
Similarly, internet memes can also evolve over time. This means that they can change and adapt to the online environment in order to become more successful at spreading and surviving within a culture.
One example of an internet meme that may have evolved over time is the “rickroll” meme, which involves tricking someone into watching a music video by Rick Astley. This meme started as a simple prank, but over time it has evolved into a more complex and multi-layered joke that is used to comment on various cultural phenomena. So both biological memes and internet memes can evolve over time in response to the environment in which they are spreading.
What’s a another example of an internet meme that evolved over time?
Another example of an internet meme that has evolved over time is the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme. This meme originated from a stock photo of a man looking at another woman while his girlfriend looks on in disbelief. The photo was used in a variety of different contexts, with the man representing something that the user was interested in or attracted to, while the girlfriend represented something the user was already committed to.
Over time, the meme evolved to include more complex and creative scenarios, with the man representing different choices or decisions, and the girlfriend and other woman representing the different options or consequences. The meme became popular on social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter, and was even used by companies and organizations to illustrate different scenarios or choices in a humorous way.
Through its evolution, the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme became a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and scenarios in a simple and relatable way. It is a prime example of how internet memes can evolve and adapt over time to fit different situations and contexts.
You could say this phenomenon that we see in the reuse of a meme, as you described with “Distracted Boyfriend” is a great example of appropriation, and internet memes that become appropriated into new contexts tend to be considered successful with an additional measurement beyond reach, for their ability to propagate further into the future by transforming. As such, memes that do not get appropriated tend to be less impactful, though it’s not universal.
Yes, the reuse and transformation of internet memes is a form of appropriation. When a meme is appropriated, it is taken from its original context and used in a new way, often to convey a different message or idea. This can involve changing the image or text of the meme, or using it in a different context or setting.
The success of a meme is often measured by its reach, or how widely it is shared and viewed on the internet. However, another important measure of success for a meme is its ability to be appropriated and used in new ways. Memes that are easily appropriated and transformed tend to have a longer lifespan and greater impact, as they can continue to be relevant and relatable in different contexts and situations.
Of course, not all memes are easily appropriated and transformed. Some memes are more specific or tied to a particular context, and may not be as easily adaptable to new situations. In these cases, the meme may not have as much staying power or impact. However, it is not universal, and there are certainly examples of memes that were not easily appropriated but still had a significant impact on internet culture.
With regards to the evolution of an internet meme, can you think of an example of a meme that was appropriated in one way, such that it was used over and over in new contexts, similar to your example with the “Distracted Boyfriend” but then evolved in the way it was appropriated, such that it became known and used in a different way?
One example of a meme that was appropriated in one way and then evolved is the “YOLO” meme. This meme originated from a Drake song called “The Motto,” in which the rapper uses the acronym “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) to encourage people to live life to the fullest.
Initially, the “YOLO” meme was used in a similar way to the song, to encourage people to take risks and enjoy life. However, over time, the meme was appropriated in new ways and began to be used to poke fun at reckless or foolish behavior. In this new context, the “YOLO” meme became a way for people to mock or satirize those who make poor choices or decisions without considering the consequences.
Through its evolution, the “YOLO” meme became a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and emotions in a simple and relatable way. It is a prime example of how internet memes can be appropriated in different ways and evolve over time to fit different situations and contexts.
Another example of a meme that was appropriated in one way and then evolved to be used in a different way is the “Wojak” character. This character originated from a black and white illustration of a sad-looking man with a bald head and facial stubble. The illustration was used in a variety of different contexts, often to convey feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Over time, the “Wojak” character was appropriated and transformed into new contexts. It became associated with the alt-right movement and was often used to convey feelings of anger and resentment towards political and social issues. This evolution of the “Wojak” character led to the creation of a new meme called the “Angry Wojak,” which depicted the character with a more aggressive and confrontational expression.
That’s a great example. Another example is the “Doge” meme which evolved to become the representation of a cryptocurrency.
Yes, you are correct. The “Doge” meme was appropriated and transformed into a representation of a cryptocurrency called Dogecoin. This cryptocurrency was created as a parody of Bitcoin, and was designed to be fun and lighthearted. The “Doge” meme was used as the logo for the Dogecoin, and was featured on the coins and on the website.
The use of the “Doge” meme in this context allowed it to continue to be relevant and have an impact on internet culture, even after its popularity as a standalone meme had declined. The “Doge” meme was able to evolve and adapt to fit a new context, and became associated with a new and growing trend in the world of cryptocurrency. This is a prime example of how internet memes can be appropriated and transformed in new ways to continue to have an impact on internet culture.
Because an internet meme is a form of media, such as an image or video, that is used to represent an idea or concept, there are no examples of internet memes that are not a type of media.
That is not correct. While internet memes are often a type of media, such as an image or video, they can also take other forms. For example, internet memes can also be a phrase or a piece of text that is used to convey an idea or concept. These types of memes are often shared as a screenshot of a message or post on social media. Additionally, internet memes can also take the form of a hashtag or a challenge that becomes popular on social media. So, while internet memes are often a type of media, they can also take other forms.
Since it’s true that an internet meme that is a phrase or a piece of text, is a meme that is transferred from person to person via the text medium, then it is not a good example to use to counter the idea that all memes are media.
I apologize if my previous response was unclear. While it is true that text can be considered a type of media, and that internet memes can be shared through the text medium, internet memes can also take other forms that are not strictly media. For example, internet memes can also be a hashtag or a challenge that becomes popular on social media. These forms of internet memes are not strictly media, as they do not include images, audio, or video. Instead, they are used to convey an idea or concept in a humorous or relatable way, and can quickly become popular and widely shared on social media. So, while internet memes are often passed on via the text medium or other forms of media, they can also take other forms that are not strictly media.
What’s a specific example of such a meme?
One example of an internet meme that is not strictly media is the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which became popular on social media in 2014. This meme involved people filming themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, and then nominating others to do the same. The challenge was meant to raise awareness for the ALS Association, and became popular quickly due to its humorous and relatable nature. While the videos of people completing the challenge could be considered media, the challenge itself was not strictly media. It was more of a social media phenomenon, and did not necessarily include images, audio, or video.
I see your point. A meme can be a representation of an idea or concept, and it can also be an idea or concept itself. Let’s create a thorough definition of an internet meme.
A thorough definition of an internet meme would be something like this:
An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations.
Lets try that again and consider that the internet is an important factor in how they spread.
A revised definition of an internet meme might be:
An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. The internet plays a crucial role in the spread of internet memes, as they are often passed on from person to person through social media and other online platforms. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations. They can become popular quickly due to their humorous or relatable nature.
This is a good definition. Let’s add to it by noting the way in which memes become appropriated.
A further revision of the definition of an internet meme might be:
An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. The internet plays a crucial role in the spread of internet memes, as they are often passed on from person to person through social media and other online platforms. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations. They can become popular quickly due to their humorous or relatable nature, and may be appropriated and reworked by different groups or individuals over time.
The Artist, The City, The Framer, And Their Lovers
My favorite contemporary artist across all of the visual arts is Banksy. When he came to New York City on a painting spree, he hit a garage door across the street from my studio in Chelsea which I documented. I’ve never been involved myself in using any kind of ink or paint in public but I get a lot from it as an effected viewer. In Boulder, my favorite artist is Smile.
Banksy and Smile each have their own beautiful style and message.
I’ve given a lot of thought to why I like their work so much. It’s outstanding with technique and beauty, it’s full with rebellion and anonymity, but ultimately, it’s their selfless rejection of recognition that makes their famous work so exciting to me.
Smile begins in the studio creating elaborate stencils that can take hours to cut, and then paints the pieces by layering colors on the streets. You only need your eyes to excavate the strata and ponder how it could have gone. There is often splatter which helps blend the work with the surface, almost always utility equipment, postal boxes, or other common urban eyesores.
The whole thing is completely illegal. That’s part of the thrill, and the beauty of unauthorized street art in general.
Appreciating one of Smile’s works tends to involve that obvious quality of life on the edge, pure with rebellion and risk. That’s not enough, in and of itself. Smile’s work is exceptionally beautiful, and the technique is exceptionally beautiful. Smile’s subject matter is also exceptionally beautiful, and fitting, generally domesticated animals on the threshold of the wild, or the wild looking in, here in Boulder where we do live on such an interface with the edge of the forest. Smile is outstanding.
The publicly commissioned works around town don’t have this wild and free quality. They are great to many and they play a great role with their purpose, though they are confined, tame, civically approved, and perfectly compliant.
Smile, though a bandit, essentially passes the tame test anyway, aesthetically speaking, inoffensive and generally non controversial in subject matter and placement. Smile is generally respectful to private property, and often appears on what would be hard to argue would look better without it. Over a 100 paintings likely exist around town, it could be way more. Many have become somewhat iconic for some neighborhoods and areas of town, enduring for years, through flood and fire. Clearly rarely wiped.
To my surprise and appreciation, this summer on the 14th of June, 2022, a new Smile appeared front-and-center upon my own stomping grounds.
The Canyon bridge tunnel that connects Eben G Fine park with The People’s Crossing is a prime location for graffiti, covered over with a fresh canvas on a regular beat by the city. It’s only ever been blank for a day or two before someone comes along to add anew, and the cycle repeats — the city makes its rounds again, cat and mouse in perpetuity. You could say the tunnel is an ongoing, active conversation between those who add graffiti, those of us who experience it, and the transportation department workers sent to remove it.
I see all kinds of graffiti here, with all kinds of intent, sometimes artistic, sometimes not. When I saw this Smile, I immediately felt a familiar connection, a sense of excitement, and I felt at home. I was probably one of the first few people to notice and appreciate it which also felt special to me, personally. It was fresh and bright, unfaded and uncorrupted. It made me wonder where the artist was, as if maybe the artist was still nearby.
But I immediately wondered what would happen! It was added right onto a spot that gets wiped every time, how would it survive this regularly wiped location!?
If you were with me at that moment I would have bet you that it wouldn’t get wiped. I would of placed that bet based on all the others around town that didn’t get wiped. Maybe if Smile had placed it in the middle of the tunnel…but it was neatly tucked up into the corner, respectably placed as could be if it could be, more like a designed cornerstone. I was confident that it would be left and that something would be proven by that that I would witness fully – the value of Smile’s work to the city, actually.
If it would be left alone, as the city came to paint over the other graffiti on the tunnel, it would act as proof by example of the tolerance the city actually has for Smile’s work. Like Banksy, I believe Smile’s work is adding value to the city, not distracting value from it, and such a result lends to validating this idea.
When Banksy creates an illegal work on the street, it becomes so valuable property owners and cities spend great amounts to preserve and protect the work.
Each day I walked that way, to the tunnel, so enraptured each time that it would be the day, after the city came to do their wiping…and I would get to see. I was just waiting. There was other graffiti in the tunnel that was relatively harsh and violent and would 100% get wiped and it was just a matter of time, I knew it.
Almost two months later, before the city made it’s routine rounds, on August 5th, someone else had come out on an escapade in the tunnel, doing up graffiti all over the inside, of exactly the kind that would typically get wiped, and they stopped to acknowledge and hit up the Smile piece with a response! It was a great response.
I mean, it totally ruined it, but it was also great at the same time. Had you been with me again at that moment when I first saw it, and smiled, I’d declare all bets off!
How would the city look the other way around at all of this? I was concerned the city would probably remove it all, including the Smile work, which was no longer in any way discreet. What would they do!? Just look above at the size of that fuchsia fluorescent butt. No way will that fly, It was all too much, too close and integrated now, and it was just a matter of time before I would find out what would happen.
I had Smile on my mind too much. I went through this tunnel more often than I would, three times a day on average. Finally it happened! August 10th. Look at what the city did!
What a case for Smile! The city wiped everything else but left the Smile! This is an incredibly strong affirmation from the city of Boulder all together that Smile brings the city value, not strife. The city not only left Smile’s work while wiping all the rest, they meticulously did so, impossibly able to look the other way, for they could of only looked square at it, as they literally framed it with their own cover-up paint, where the city itself became an abettor to the crime: The Picture Framer. The city literally added to it, artistically, in a full-on collaboration!
Though I saw proof of what I thought and then didn’t think I would see, what I didn’t expect is that this discovery would ultimately harm my admiration for Smile’s work. Slightly.
As the hours and days went on, it sank in. Each time I saw a Smile around town, I started to feel differently about it. Maybe they are not so wild after all. It’s as if they are just as compliant as the city commissioned work. Could it even be possible that Smile has an unspoken deal with the city, I wondered? It’s fair to wonder for a moment, but you’d have to assume not. How else could the city justify removing some art while leaving other art? If there is no deal, the city must have a spoken or unspoken aesthetic rationale, I imagined, and so I became curious about the city code and the definition of graffiti as they see it. I also felt a bit of injustice for others. Slightly.
You know how it goes when it comes time to define things like art, any code dependent on something being art or not is hard to resolve. The Boulder code though doesn’t include much in the way of wiggle room, for what Smile does, or anyone else does, with paint on public and private property without permission.
Graffiti is a nuisance because its continued existence constitutes a visual blight upon the area in which it is located and acts as a catalyst for other antisocial behavior. Prompt removal is the greatest disincentive to graffiti and minimizes the blight and related effects.
Graffiti means the intentional painting, scratching, or coloring (with any contrast medium whatsoever) of any public or private property except by permission of the owner of private property, the city manager, in the case of city property, or the supervisory officer of any other public property.
From: City of Boulder <email@example.com>
Subject: New Issue about Graffiti. Thu, Aug 11, 11:49 AM
Thank you for using Inquire Boulder. We appreciate the opportunity to assist you.
The Problem you submitted was:
Request type: Graffiti Location: 80354 Boulder Canyon Dr, Boulder, CO 80302, USA Description: Question about Graffiti created by the pseudo-anonymous artist named “Smile”. Per the attached photos, one can infer that the policy of the city is to allow work by Smile but not others. In the photos, you can see that another person came to respond to the Smile work, but apparently the city did not consider the response worthwhile while nonetheless considering the initial work to be worthwhile. Does the city have a formal or informal method for determining which works to remove based on aesthetics or other factors not listed in the city code? I am seeking information for a public post on my twitter account, https://twitter.com/boulder_drew where I will note my findings with the city’s tolerance for some street art. Thanks!
You will receive a response within 7 days for this request.
I was immediately impressed that the time frame was definitive. It was going to happen.
I checked my email too much over the following days, and after day four came and went, I started to wonder what would happen if they didn’t respond in seven days. Anything? I wondered if they were working on an answer, maybe thinking about it too much too. It’s a good question and the answer is hard to explain, amirite?
Finally! WIth just 14 minutes to spare, before the seven days were up, the email arrived as promised.
From: City of Boulder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Message About Request Thu, Aug 18, 11:35 AM
The painting/graffiti that you are referring to has been removed as per city policy/code. Staff has been reminded that all graffiti needs to be removed or covered. The city does have a program in place for those who might be interested in painting a picture/ Mural on a city structures. If someone is interested, they would need to apply, through the city’s arts and culture program.
Doug Rink City of Boulder Transportation Maintenance
Three minutes later, a second response:
From: City of Boulder <email@example.com>
Subject: Resolved Issue about Graffiti.
Thu, Aug 18, 11:38 AM
Your request # 103196 has been closed for the following reason:
Thank you for contacting the City of Boulder’s Transportation Maintenance with your graffiti clean-up request. Our maintenance crew has inspected and performed work in the area indicated in your request to cover up the graffiti. We hope this service was satisfactory. We appreciate the community’s input on these areas so that we can address problems as they arise. On occasion, requests submitted by members of the community can be misinterpreted by those of us scheduling the work. If you find that the maintenance needs you identified weren’t those that the crew addressed, please respond to this email and let us know. Please be as specific about the location as possible.
Thank you again and have a nice day
Doug Rink City of Boulder Transportation Maintenance
I took to the tunnel. Gone.
Dang. I don’t even know what to say, still. I should have been content with the conclusion I came to on my own. I already miss it. But also, I must say, while I may have messed it up for all of you, I got this one…I captured it, and it captured me. It left such an impression I’m here memorializing it. There is something special about it being gone now, too.
On the bright side, I wonder if this demonstrates what is really going on, that we are deciding collectively as a city that it is great art. I think we are. Considering how pervasive Smile works have become, maybe some good can come from my unwitting interference. Would Smile’s works be more special if they were more ethereal to you? Perhaps we have it too easy. Perhaps Smile has it too easy. Smile has a free pass. The artist is compliant. Pre-approved.
I’m going to keep watching and enjoying, and I’m going to be sure and never contact the Boulder Transportation Maintenance department about any of this ever again! Now look at what we have:
Web 1.0 established the online shopping cart. Web 2.0 democratized media. Now alive and just over the tipping point, with Stable Diffusion, Dall·E from OpenAI is the first semantic darling of Web 3.0.
Winding down rapidly in effect, web3 (not Web 3.0) was something and there is something to talk about with a decentralized infrastructure which is useful, and in the long run, could lead to its greatest potential realized in the form of a global currency. A global currency levels the playing field for people stuck in economies based on their own locked-in government’s health performance and it’s not the same as Web 3.0, something altogether different. Web 3.0, “The Semantic Web”, was first articulated by the inventor of the web, over two decades ago. Now we are here.
That’s not to say that DALL·E is the first, the best or even the most unique. Nor is it a statement meant to undermine Stable Diffusion or any of the massively more advanced achievements in AI and machine learning to date. DALL·E is the first to capture these qualities for the mainstream, in an elegant, beautiful application that clarifies in no uncertain terms to everyone on first sight that the world of AI is pervasive.
The Semantic Web is profound for our culture in how it’s changing the way we make everyday life decisions, with more meaningful information. No matter what question you may have, and regardless of your familiarity with a topic, we’re entering a period where computers can help us determine many of the answers better than any human would ever be able to. That’s an extremely controversial idea, especially when you consider concepts like art and love.
A scene in Her (2013), imagines life in the near future, the future we are entering into now based merely on the limits and accessibility of processing power.
The movie demonstrates how effective a computer can be with such power, and especially, how computers can play a more effective role, more of the time, and how we can harness that power as a tool to grow.
Specifically, Web 3.0 is a web that is more important for computers to understand and do work with. By semantic in this case, we mean machine readable. Practically, when we put our thoughts out, in whatever form, there is an important bridge that must take that information and translate it into a language that computers can use to work with, and build upon. Web 2.0 brought human ideas in the form of media to the web, Web 3.0 parses it, not just for what is being said, but what is meant, to then present the results back to us.
What products will best fit your particular wants and needs?What clothing style becomes you and what style doesn’t? What do you mean when you say X? What book would you like to read, and what do you want to get from it? Should you take the job or not?
When we make decisions about anything, we use what data we have and if we go out to seek more data to help us better understand, there is ultimately a limit to the amount of time and the information we can stand to gather to help us. We know that if we seek a “professional” to help us on important matters we tend to improve our success rate by incorporating their experience. The sheer amount of processing power and applicable logic available to assign a statistical probability now to practically every component that can be discovered of every component that can be discovered sets ever higher limits on the information we can use.
Today each new iPhone (a mere pocket device) contains over 15 billion transistors with a neural engine that can perform over 15 trillion calculations per second. Talk about a human achievement. So if you want to know something, in a way that you can personally understand, within a time frame that you wish to allocate, an operating system that knows you better than your friends and family can help piece it all together in a quicker, more meaningful way. It’s amazing how it relies on the web, which must be open and connected to become and thrive.
Each Web era, I’ve noticed, appears to undergo a cycle that begins with decentralization and ends with centralization. Should that happen with Web 3.0, now is the time of freedom and open culture, but eventually the clouds will set in.
I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A "Semantic Web", which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The "intelligent agents" people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
I am grateful to be able to live in Boulder, Colorado with all of the thought that goes into making it so wonderful. In an effort to further that direction I put together this document to promote the extension of the walking mall which includes laying bricks between 9th and 11th, and a section of 10th between Pearl and Spruce. In my position, while closing a street on a weekend for an event such as a crafts market or a NYC-style street fair is great in any city, a semi-closed street on Pearl, that continues to have cars sometimes, is a completely uninspiring idea. It’s fine. It’s better than keeping it for cars permanently. However, if the street were permanently bricked, such that it was no longer a street, but instead a clear and distinct part of Boulder’s Walking Mall, it changes everything about the idea, with a greater positive effect on all of downtown and Boulder, far beyond the single two-block area in focus.
HOW DID WE GET HERE:The street shut down for restaurants, to keep them from dying
I wish to begin with an article I found below from this summer which you may have read. It’s worth looking at more closely now. I’ve selected some key paragraphs but everyone interested in this topic should consider reading the article in full.
The person who is possibly by his position alone the most influential and exposed to the recent day-to-day business of Pearl Street Mall, Chip (just Chip), the CEO of Downtown Boulder, wrote this June 6, 2022 opinion piece for the Daily Camera (Way Back Machine):
“Downtown Boulder Partnership has always received inquiries from other city leaders who are exploring pedestrianizing a street in their central business district and look to the Pearl Street Mall for guidance and inspiration. At the onset of the pandemic, those calls became even more frequent. Communities craved outdoor gathering space; restaurants needed safe dining space and now these factors have completely changed how we look at streets, parking spaces and other public spaces. Today, Downtown Boulder can be added to the list of places exploring emulating Downtown Boulder…
For proponents of keeping the street closed, one argument is promoting walkability. With that in mind, I checked in with Jeff Speck, a city planner and urban designer who literally wrote the book on “Walkable Cities”. In fact he wrote two. In “Walkable City Rules”, a follow-up tactical playbook, Speck outlines many actions that cities can take to increase walkability. Tactics include increasing attainable density housing in the downtown core, addressing zoning codes, and focusing on public transit, bicycle infrastructure and a smart inventory of parking. Addressing the idea of closing a street in the downtown core for pedestrian access, Speck is quite cautious…
“The measure of success should be the revenue of the businesses” Speck asserted when I spoke to him last week. “There are ideological and social reasons to close a street, but you should start with an acknowledgement that the success of the businesses is the criterium that should be used to measure the success of a street closure…
Not only do I think this is an important stepping stone in piecing together how the city is coming into its position, I buy in to this measurement about business. This is a clever insight by Speck you can validate: successful business is a key indicator of a successful pedestrian mall.
Though, to be clear on the implications of this point, I do not think Speck would suggest that it’s up to business to necessarily act as the drivers on creating or establishing what is successful overall, as if any particular business like a restaurant must be interested in the big picture beyond their own gains, but rather, as it was implied, any decisions made that becomes successful for pedestrians will go hand-in-hand with business success. You can’t expect to have a pedestrian-motivated success without a business success too, and most importantly, since there are multiple ways to motivate achieving a success, it’s in retrospect that you will find this measurement to be true and of importance in defining and gauging what success looks like.
Downtown Boulder did exactly what we needed them to do which was to survey, and they found, according to the article, that the closure of the street “turned out to be popular. Well, mostly”, Chip wrote in his opinion piece.
“Another pandemic response was the temporary closure of two blocks on Pearl Street’s West End between 9th and 11th streets. Two years later, many of the businesses that it was intended to help now say that the continued street closure is actually hurting them. In a survey conducted by DBP, 64% of the West End restaurants that responded indicated a preference to return the street to its pre-pandemic state while 36% indicated interest in a seasonal or hybrid closure. Not a single restaurant that responded indicated a preference for a permanent street closure”.
This is not the only statistic but perhaps the key statistic that I believe is driving the city to close the street back up for cars: 64% of restaurants on the West End, of some unmentioned percent that were surveyed, said they wanted the street to close down for cars. To be clear on any picture with what we know, its especially worth noting that the 64% number in focus for this published piece certainly does not account for all business, nor all business downtown, nor all business on the West End, nor all business of the category of restaurants on the West End, only the category of restaurants on the West End that responded to the survey.
A couple of days ago more details of the survey emerged. Of the 1,113 individual business stakeholders that received the survey, only 117 responded. Less than 10%. What I found especially striking was a remark added in the opening paragraph of the report noting that the click through rate of the email that included the survey, which was only 11%, was “above email industry standards”, which indicates that that Downtown Boulder knew that the statistic required an immediate justification but also that they were pleased and satisfied with the outcome.
Meanwhile, in an article from Boulder Reporting Lab, city operators unrelated to the business lobby group said they already decided on their own that they will close it back down for cars with their own terms, for reasons that make sense to them, including snow plowing cost comparisons and CO2 emissions as it was publicly reported and highlighted for its significance in the article above, where the department appears to be arguing that the two blocks as a pedestrian mall would be worse for people and the world than a car filled street.
Even so, the city council members, a third group, say the decision is theirs. I do believe it is, as they have certain powers that likely supercede city operators even if it requires approaching the legalities from a different angle to accomplish the objectives of the people who elected them, such as changing the designation of the surface away from a street with car traffic right-of-ways and parking, and into the designation of our current pedestrian mall, which I hope they will do.
Whoever does control the decision and the power to act, or even the influence, I worry the same outcome will be reached, based on a sentiment of the minority of the businesses on these two blocks who wield a disproportionate amount of influence, not just onto the city and city council, but onto their other colleagues comprised of local business owners who may be unwittingly backing what appears to be an all around unjustified long-term position based on their own short-term profit problems.
It’s important to dive in and see what is going on. Publicly, for us as citizens to make informed choices and for the city council to properly represent us, we must do the best we can with the data we can gather.
Why then do restaurants and other businesses say they want cars back on to these two blocks and how is that the proper correlation with any losses in their revenues? Intuitively, for almost all reasons, it doesn’t make sense.
More recently, it was discovered publically that the The Reason with acapital R the restaurants and other business categories give for being in favor of cars instead of pedestrians, seems to be almost universally a justification related to parking, and that revenues will increase if there is parking. This clockwork story of correlating revenues to parking – the force of the movement for those aligned in wanting parked cars – has become this single, straightforward complaint that they say they hear from their customers: “Customers want the convenience of parking”. As if people are giving up or going elsewhere because they can’t find a parking space anymore, and thus, revenues are down, and they are voting to kill the pedestrian mall for this reason.
One thing I know for sure about the survey, based on what I found right from the horse’s mouth, is that there are West End restaurants that support permanent closure. Because the survey found sought none, it’s a critically skewed percent, as is the 64% number then, where every restaurant makes up too large of an influence on the picture, and perhaps misrepresents the actual gravity and importance of the conclusions drawn from it. Yet another reason to lead us to question what is really going on.
It should also be noted that the majority of the West End restaurants are owned by just a few people causing an even higher margin of error for their persuasion, where for example, Centro, West End and Jax are all owned by the same person. In another case, one restaurant is owned by a Billionaire who I believe took relief from our tax dollars “to survive” nonetheless and almost all of the restaurants on these blocks are owned by people with many, many restaurants, many far beyond Pearl Street, and their risks may not require as delicate of a consideration as for example, a local up-and-coming owner who wouldn’t have the same level of resources and would need relief not just as a benefit but for survival.
Of all data points to hang your hat on, the 65% number is simply too corrupted in every form and fashion, where 6.5% might enjoy the closer reality, if even.
Since Downtown Boulder was predominantly focused on their restaurant clients, what of the other business? There is a diversity of businesses right on these two blocks from local and national clothing stores including Urban Outfitters and Burton Snowboards, a bookstore (Trident), office spaces, an arcade, a glasses shop, an occult, a pet store, a dispensary, gelato, coffee shops, a juice bar, apartment living, and there is also retail, restaurant, and office space available for lease. Speck would probably be drooling over it all in one place, right there, next to a bicycle shop, a bank, a beads store, a cool-kids convenience store, and the list goes on and on, right there.
What more, I learned of an email that was sent out to the city council that may or may not be public (I have not seen it), by Dave Query, the owner of those three restaurants that make up the statistical picture presented by Downtown Boulder, which provides a justification for why the owners would prefer that the streets remain with cars, despite being packed all summer long without cars. It was explained to me that the rationale from Query was parking but also of a “way of life” justification, more about preserving something, or getting back to something that used to be. Be that as it may, or may not be, Query noted in an interview with Travel Boulder this year that he is focused on opening more chicken restaurants: “We’re trying to take advantage of some opportunities coming out of the pandemic and we have plans to grow the Post Chicken and Beer joints, so we opened one in Estes Park and we’re opening one in Fort Collins.”
As for chicken, especially in the name of those who never see the light of day, the annual American appetite for chicken produces over 100 billion lbs of CO2e emissions each year—the same as more than 12 million cars. Query may follow best practices with his expanding chicken stops but looking at his websites and other articles I couldn’t find a single word about that. While I’m pretty sure people would care about the ingredients and sourcing of his restaurants on Pearl, I got a first-impression feeling his chicken brand might be harmed by a focus on sustainability. But I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him and hardly know anything.This is just my first impression. If anything, it seems clear from what I’ve read that he’s perfectly nimble as a go-getter to adapt his business. Any article you read about him underscores this positive tenacity he has to adapt. Query owns 17 restaurant locations around Colorado. Is this the voice of Boulder’s future against more pedestrian space downtown? Its seems as if perhaps, yes. From what I can gather, he is the single most influential person at the table.
And if there is any question you have over the united front with active resources in Chip and Downtown Boulder to get cars back on the street permanently, you may not know that Chip awarded Query this year with the #1 prize for being the best Downtown Boulder client.
One person (not an owner) who works at a restaurant on these blocks, who wished not to be named, the person who told me about the email from Query to the city council, said that he has been watching this summer (his job is half-in and half-out) and confirmed that the restaurants were regularly packed. There was even a sense of envy I detected and I wondered what kinds competition goes on around these blocks. I too confirm that those restaurants on Pearl (not chicken restaurants) are known to be great, and they have been crowded this summer. Boulder is lucky to have these restaurants which are probably at the lowest risk from harm of all the businesses on these two blocks, either way. I read that when he was younger he was motivated by an interest in lively rooftop and outdoor spaces for people. He would have a lot of good ideas to add to building something great on a bricked mall.
HOW DID WE END UP ON THIS PARTICULAR DECISION PATH?
Because so many people want to keep it open with cars off, it seems as though a “partial closure” was somehow suggested as a viable option to be considerate, as if that was some kind of hybrid, equitable way to make everyone happy, and that the survey, the business propositions, and the conclusions, all went astray, confused over the difference in outdoor seating requirements, permanent bricking, the effects of covid, a change in consumer behavior, a quickly changing attitude towards the environment, parking needs, and the recession we are entering into now. Though Chip recommends taking years to do A/B tests, while using his meeting with Speck to pitch a justification for “caution”, Speck has come out since then to clarify publicly his suggestion from that meeting, that the testing for restaurants should happen “now”, not later, he said way back when.
My concern that the city council is destined to grant or acquiesce to this unbelievable angle is due to an an email apparently written by Bob Yates, a conservative city council member, which indicates a complacent adoption of the mindset can be expected:
I hope at the very least I am showing that there could be an opportunity in understanding and scrutinizing the recommendation instead of falling into the wrong footsteps by looking the other way or out of a lack of interest. This was the ultimate motivation for me to take the time to compile the data presented in this document.
From what I’ve gathered, the timing of the outdoor seating closure – why the West Pearl restaurants closed all at once on the same day involved two relevant factors. 1) Revenue related to liquor laws. I believe the state of Colorado (not Boulder) has the ultimate control over relevant matters of outdoor liquor, a different type of license than the one they were granted behind the state and Boulder’s special use permits issued during covid, a temporary relief measure that expired on August 31st, 2022. Even those restaurants willing and able to extend their license by August 31st to keep uninterrupted service, couldn’t do so because of red tape. To continue liquor sales requires a special type of permit that is unrelated to covid, which restaurants prior to covid without a license to sell outdoor didn’t have. 2) There is really no other way to look at it: It was a literal conspiracy with restaurants on West Pearl to shut down as part of their strategic revolt against the idea of continuing on with outdoor seating. They decided on their own that it wasn’t a good idea anymore, and so they decided to close up shop late at night without a warning to anyone, told their staff “The street is opening back up to cars now”, might have coordinated with the transportation depart or not, and said to everyone in Boulder “Outdoor seating is over, we’re gone”. Perhaps.
Here is why I have come to this: I know that both the Kitchen and Gaku did apply to the state for the license to sell liquor outdoors, and it has already been granted, and in fact, the Kitchen is back open outside now selling liquor, as of this week (Sept 12, 2022).
The Kitchen did not fully join the movement, but it seems as though Pasta Jay, Felix and Trident did. However, it would not surprise me one bit if Trident and Felix shut down for camaraderie with Query and Pasta Jay instead of any opinion of their own. When I spoke to people at both Felix and Trident (not owners) to ask why they shut down outdoor seating, the answer I got from both was that it was because the city was going to close it down for cars, and that the city already decided.
The owners knew that the city council would vote on what to do about this (e.g. if temporary outdoor seating should remain or not), but they were apparently attempting to one-up the city it seems, in deciding on their own that no, outdoor seating is done whether you want it or not. That’s a shame because I know people want outdoor seating, including their own customers, and it seems they would make more money by expanding their operations into that space vs. providing their customers with a parking incentive.
I believe we have reached the point of saturation where the restaurant owners are no longer willing to adapt because they are too frustrated at everything. They are so tired of COVID they’ve become tactical is seems. They seem to want to return to an olden way of living where perhaps it’s better margins and less red tape, and it seems they don’t like change so much they need a lobby to keep it from happening. They want to be stable, as if any business is ever stable. There is an interesting law of business revenue that applies not just day-to-day, but even on the biggest trends, and even when you don’t see it coming: a business can’t ever be static. Its either growing revenues, or its shrinking revenues, but it can’t ever remain the same.
The plan of course, for the majority of restaurants on Pearl, all the way to 15th and beyond, is to get beyond the red tape so that they can serve liquor again outdoors if desired, and in fact The Kitchen is one of about thirty restaurants on Pearl that are not in a revolt (or whatever you would call it) – they are continuing through the tape, and continuing with outdoor seating so long as there is outdoor seating. That seems like smarter business, and a far more equitable approach.
But. The Kitchen, unfortunately, is voting in favor of shutting things down permanently and having cars return to Pearl. This is the owner Kimbal Musk’s first choice. Musk, the brother of Elon Musk, is a Billionaire and presumably in an excellent position to not be harmed by Change with a capital c, in terms of any margins that might be compromised from the loss of about 3 parking spaces in front of his business.
I know from my conversations with people on these blocks that the restaurants are frustrated over it all. Very frustrated. Their current decision making process appears to be largely influenced by getting things working now with the red tape and getting over COVID as a priority over long term thinking on larger issues like bricking the street and long term revenue gains from having a business with more foot traffic exposure. It seems plausible and understandable that they are not in a good position to be thinking about higher aims.
However, they could still generate from outdoor seating with people who don’t drink, or could be open like the Kitchen because they want to provide a cool thing and make more money, but it seems the united front of businesses closed down on purpose with a plan of their own that was acutely coordinated, included the takedown of infrastructure in the night that was there under a collaborative permit with the city nonetheless, then distributing a specific message that the city decided already, all while blind sighting city council. I may not have it all right, I’m questioning and trying to connect the dots.
Even if it was a conspiracy, the survey overall, as the center of attention, is simply not relevant enough on its own merits to weight the direction for us as citizens without more information on their angle, and may be too statistically incomplete to draw up the right conclusion that depends upon the picture too few people wish to paint. The power and support behind less than five people may look like a lot more than five, should any others support their business needs too, in order to maintain good standing with their membership in Downtown Boulder’s agenda and power of influence in representing their interests first. But this time, Downtown Boulder’s data points, and literally all other data points, seem to contribute in total to enormous support in favor of beautifying Boulder for the people by removing the asphalt forever and opening it on up.
KITCHEN AND GAKU
The owner of Gaku Ramen does not live in Boulder so the general manager is operating. I stopped by and spoke with him. He said his business and the Kitchen are together in wishing for an opening of the pedestrian mall. The Kitchen told that to him so I going to just assume that…it was nothing. Yes, I’m going to assume that it was probably nothing, but there is nothing we can do with that anyway. What we know, definitively, is that Musk’s first choice is to side with Query and Pasta Jay in opening back up.
If the Kitchen indicated to Downtown Boulder they want cars back, but represent to Gaku Ramen that they want temporary cars or no cars as Gaku Ramen would prefer, that would be something to work out and understand. I was equally confused and disappointed to see the kinds of actions Kimbal Musk took with his employees during lockdown, as I watched it happen in real time, and now combined with this decision, it seems like maybe he is not the most ideal person to help steer the future direction of the city for everyone, but might be good at going with the flow and adapting to make his business work whatever ends up happening and keep open a quality sourced service that is good for Boulder.
As for Gaku, and their position, I am definitively clear. He bent his knees down and popped up as he said he would LOVE a permanently open pedestrian mall.
I heard from an angry bird on twitter that two clothing stores, next door neighbors on the northside of Pearl between 9th and 10th, Haven and Mabel & Moss, are against a pedestrian mall. I stopped by and spoke with the owner of Haven and sure enough, she is adamant about closing the pedestrian area and giving it back to cars.
She told me a few days before it was publicly reported that the city had already decided and that cars would be back any day. I asked her why she preferred parking instead of a pedestrian mall. Her answer was very clear: Because its what her customers want, she said. The way she said it was impressive. If you are her customer, she is going to take care of you I imagine. She wants to help women feel good by helping to source the right clothes for each individual. That’s a great proposition in my opinion, you should probably go check her out and I’ll bet she is good at it, she has another store in Denver and appears to be right in a growing spurt. She cares so much about her customers, she even admitted that she herself would personally prefer a pedestrian mall, but that she was making her decision based on what she thinks her business customers want: parking. They want parking, she said again without a flench.
I think the city council then, before making their vote based on this rationale of what the store owners want, should hear from those customers, and not the business owners. It may be a regular, general complaint the store owners hear, but it may be a complaint everyone is going to hear as a sign of a successful retail zone, and quite frankly, when did anyone not complain about that?
Considering her competition on the bricks, and across the street from the likes of Urban Outfitters and Burton, I asked her if she thought she would get more walk-ins if the street were bricked and she said “No.”
I didn’t pry further but when she said no, this was the turning point in my mind where she lost me. And I think this may be one of the more important considerations that I am not seeing talked about in public: anyone who would say that their clothing boutique, a full block off the bricks, would get more traffic than being on the bricks has some pretty heavy lifting to do in my mind to show how that could possibly be.
As we all know – all of us – pre pandemic, the flow of foot traffic in downtown Boulder hit the bookstore and turned back, just at it will do again if the street opens back up to cars. Only a smaller percent venture past the bricks. I know that Downtown Boulder has acute statistics on this and I think it would be important to show that the expectation for a business on the bricks vs a business on a closed street off the bricks, is a severely different kind of proposition.
A business owner like Haven stands to benefit the most on the bricks, for she already has customers who will come to her, and she would gain new ones from a massive increase in passer bys. It’s hard to argue this point otherwise, and I think Haven should at least justify to the council should they wish to vote with her how her business stands to suffer when it would seem so much more likely to bloom.
In conclusion, I believe Haven may know their own business customers when it comes to clothing, but may not have the right idea in thinking about what is best for the community as a whole, and that the owner may be too aggressive in lobbying against the things that she would herself want as a citizen in prioritizing her own business profits with a potentially misunderstood complaint, and the impact of that complaint should those parking spaces go away.
I haven’t been fortunate enough yet to try out My Neighbor Felix, but it looks great and I can tell you in no uncertain ostensible terms that they are the clear winner of all restaurant business on these two blocks since the day they opened, at least for being packed, lively and spirited. No idea what they would prefer – assuming they back Query because they shut down on the same stolen night – but Felix has it made any way you look at it. They are all about sustainability and their menu is unique for the region. The place is ON FIRE busy, and they would also have some heavy lifting to do to try to show that cars are better for them, right on the corner of 9th street.
If Pasta Jay’s could offer at least one dish with tomato sauce that wasn’t so watery such that people could actually call it a sauce, I think they would be in a stronger position to justify any arguments they might have. I highly doubt they will be able to turn the taste around enough to convince locals they need their own parking.
Ozo has an argument for parking but it’s almost certainly a result of miscorrelating the whys and wherefores. I wish they didn’t have any argument at all but let’s tackle the challenges fairly and sincerely so that we can formulate the best opinion. The effect of closing off the street affects them in a way that is sincerely different, the result of a change that is not the same as the general parking issue for everyone else. I know because I once fell into the category of customers they allude to when they say they’ve lost some significant percent of their morning crowd based on the street being closed off to cars.
The thing about parking downtown is that there is a period in the morning where the games begin, and the two hour parking spots last the longest, as people fill the longer spots first in planning for a full day of parking. Ozo opens earlier than game time, so, pre-covid, you could pull up in your car and get a spot out front or close enough, grab a coffee, and then leave. In other words, their customers COULD rely on a parking spot early in the morning to dash in and out, like a drive through.
There are some caveats, though, which are relevant to the reason why I stopped doing that before the pandemic: Ozo takes way too long to make an espresso. In the morning, pre-pandemic, you could walk in and expect to see 6 to 8 cups lined up behind just one person on one machine, and another 10 people in line. You actually can’t dash in and out so easily because they haven’t optimized for that. What made Ozo hop over the last decade, I know first-hand, is the morning office crowd that worked downtown. They would park and walk over to meet their colleagues at Ozo, an extremely social environment. An enormous % of the customers were people sitting in the shop having team meetings, business meetings and social meetups with friends also downtown at work. The economy was at its peak. There was a huge startup scene crowd in the morning, as well as many other types of regulars and stop ins. Covid came and the office world changed dramatically, but in a way that stuck.
There is a significant % of business that will never be the same in a new world of Zoom and help us all, Meta.
What about the Ozo that opened up just a few blocks away on the other side of the mall? Do they need to have two locations within just a few blocks of one another and do both need to be on streets? Where is the spirit and innovation? What did they do to address their lost audience, anything? Probably something.
My suggestion is that we put a plaza out front, and help them with imagining how cool it could be for them to transform their coffee shop into the future by integrating it into the new designs. Their Isabella espresso is definitely my favorite and the strongest in town so if they can serve people quicker, they stand to make more money per minute, and people won’t need to make a major commitment to go in, timewise, anyway. I really think it would be hard to argue it would be worse.
There is plenty of coffee around, including theirs: “Our Office Coffee services are available in Boulder, Denver, Broomfield, Westminster, Thorton, Denver Tech Center, Lakewood, Englewood, Aurora, Arvada, Golden and everywhere in between.” Their website notes that they are hiring for all positions in all seven of their Boulder retail cafes. It is at least not a delicate situation for their business, they are hearty like a bean stock apparently. They might need to do some soul searching on how they are going to evolve into a world where more people stay at home on Zoom, and fewer people have cars.
THE ECONOMY BEYOND RESTAURANTS & RETAIL
What I have not heard being talked about with any detail in public but presume is being considered, is the effect of such an idea on property value, rental prices and city revenues in and around the area.
If the street is bricked, foot traffic would presumably jump up, business revenue would thus go up, property value would go up and the city tax revenues would go up, like fusion. Financially, the city stands to gain, the property owners stand to gain, and while renters lose some on rent, their businesses stand to make more. This dynamic works itself out in a natural balance that is already successful in this zone.
Intuitively, it could be worrisome that such a plan stands to kill the important small business, such that the only businesses that would be able to afford to grow in already high rental area would be the Starbucks and Banana Republic’s of the world. Fortunately, the city has a brilliant lever in place already to mitigate such a loss to the community, a level I wish Austin, Texas had before a huge number of its mom and pop stores disappeared: Only a certain percent of chain stores are allowed on the mall. The city can find the right way to enable that value on the extension. The variables could probably be exactly proportionate, maybe even more weighted in this zone towards the up-and-coming small business with a smaller percent of chain permits.
I presume this is where cities can easily go wrong in attempting to set up a pedestrian mall from scratch, as Speck would probably say, because they won’t be able to so easily establish and balance all these factors. But Boulder already did it, so expansion would be straightforward, without the risks, and without much mystery in terms of what to model for the expectations on the biggest economic factors. How many people will actually walk west past the bookstore if it is bricked? The number is practically there waiting to be calculated.
To The South, To The West
It may be tucked away here with a weak header, but the opportunity for a connection with other areas of downtown is the most exciting part of a mall extension in my opinion. If the area were to become bricked westward to 9th street, the businesses to the west of 9th street and that commercial property would also become more lively and integrated. The adventurous tourist who made it all the way to 9th street before turning back would make it down to Piece Love and Chocolate, Nick and Willy’s, Lolitas and Spruce Confections. Those businesses would have a lot to gain from the extra foot traffic, and it would extend the liveliness of that neat area through to Walnut between 7th and 9th with a boost for the restaurants, retailers, offices and apartments there too.
There is also the important connection through to Walnut between 9th and Broadway, which would become way more lively, bringing much more foot traffic to those businesses and acting as a link to St Julian and whatever becomes of the cement plaza to the east of the hotel (if not parking), and on into the grounds of the Library. It’s too perfect of a link to be ignored in how much it could invigorate the expanded region. If only there was a pedestrian bridge that linked the St Julian throughway to the Library. Perhaps extending the mall can fund such a link one day.
It must be said, there are not many individual, urban-sprawl styled parking lots reserved for individual business customers like other restaurants and businesses outside of downtown and in strip malls have. When these restaurants on Pearl decided to invest in the area, they knew that parking would be an issue for their customers as a criterion for a successfully busy area, and that they themselves would not have any control over parking for their customers.
It must also be said the two blocks in question are flanked with three parking garages within a block’s distance, two on Walnut between 9th and 11th and one on Spruce and 11th.
And! It must be said. If the street were filled with parking spaces, when it comes times for Query’s customers to get in their cars and drive their 5 minutes into town, the chances of them finding a parking spot in front of Query’s place is simply next to none.
And so it was said by Matt Benjamin, a progressive city council member who just might be a vote in support of a more useful pedestrian space. Parking has always been a problem as a sign of a successful pedestrian zone where people enjoy getting out of their cars and leaving them behind. So even if we do need 60 or 65 parking spaces, why do we need to take up so much space for them?
As it is now, people in Boulder can all too easily get into the habit of spending five minutes driving downtown to work, letting their car sit for eight hours in a garage, then spending another five minutes to drive home to go back into park for the rest of the night without doing anything. It’s not an effective use of resources anyway.
The parking garage fees support this antiquated behavior by capping the daily amount at just five hours worth of time. The longer you leave the car in the parking garage, the less it costs per hour. It could be the other way around. All of the fee structures and incentives could be reconsidered to make it even harder to park on purpose, or to open up more spots by incentivising people to move along instead of for being lazy.
The very worst solution I can think of that could be a good idea to others would be to build more parking. I suggest changing gears and purposely squeezing drivers, making them pay more for parking, pay more for parking tickets (much more than the modest increases from last time), put heavy parking costs on cars with combustion engines built after 2025, and provide people who truly need it with big incentives to use parking for less. Where are the charging stations downtown anyway? Shouldn’t there be rows of charging stations in the garages to incentivise cleaner air now, since we are the ones breathing it? I thought the city would already be talking out loud about the electricity they could sell for that.
Where are all the safe bike parking spots where you can relax after leaving your your nice bike out of sight? Are we forgetting about all the bikers who would pay to park their bikes in a safe and convenient way to stop in at Ozo and then chat with their friends in front of a fountain?
FUTURE PARKING, FUTURE CITIES
It may seem far out but cars will pilot themselves pretty soon. It’s near enough in city planning years to think about the impact. The progress of the self-driving taxis won’t be stifled by politics, or I’ve-gatta-have-a-car-for-me-economy holdouts, if you want to drive a car in the future yourself, you’ll probably need to go to Wyoming where they’ll have roads for adventures like that because it will be far too dangerous – murderous even – to drive yourself. The network will handle everything. And thus, you won’t have a car. The Google’s, Uber’s and Tesla’s of the world will runr it all.
Cities will become transformed as a result of this one key shift. There will be no need for parking because cars will always be going. This is not a far fetched future argument for the space world of tomorrow, consider that literally ever parking lot attached to every building – sometimes 50% of the space of the area in downtown Boulder, will be able to be repurposed for pedestrian use. Today, Boulder has an ordinance that requires a daunting amount of parking space be built with each new building proposal. What if we are over the peak now, and should expect a decline in the number of people who drive, and isn’t that what we want to help happen if we could?
Sprawling parking lots, parking garages and wide streets will be handed back as cars move through more efficiency and effectively. In Moore’s Law terms, sometime well before 2050. That’s right around the corner for city planners.
While money, parking and freedom of space are on top of mind, the hardest part for most people is likely imagining the design, and then giving the correct proportion of their decision making process to the impacts design has. What we have experienced over the past two years since the street has been closed has not included any design, unfortunately. It would be hard to quantify how much design could be misunderstood when attempting to correlate down revenues for the restaurants on West Pearl over the last two years, but there hasn’t been any other use case for the street beyond makeshift, ordinary outdoor seating for some restaurants. There was virtually no public seating added, no bike racks, nothing – and it was ugly – unlike the mall where one can relax, meet and feel like sitting for a spell.
There are many ways to design the area, and by great fortune, there is one design on how to lay it out that is already there, even though we may not have realized it yet, whee the design can be perfectly “informed” by what has already worked so successfully. What could go down on the street is already predetermined at least, for safe starters, by the design we have that is already working – the type of brick, the type of planter, the type of bench, the spacing and proportions. It’s not what I prefer as is, but there is a rhyme to the reason that is repeatable for us with little risk or need to test over years and years, an advantage we have in Boulder that is not so easy to emulate anew for other cities. What fun as a community to consider other ideas, like grass, other materials, refreshes, tweaks, and even some big changes that could make the design guide better. We could spend several years with a world renown architect, but in the meantime, we can move out of Alpha from the paint and into Beta with the bricks, right now. We can lay down the bricks as the first move, based on the designs that will be informed. Leaving it closed as a street with no design or weak design would, imo, be the greatest risk of the any proposition on the table. A true extension is the safest place to begin, and time is of the essence. The first temporary design is nearly ready, it just needs to be drawn up.
Without design things get shady quickly, and the beauty of the proposition fades back to a mere “closed street”, not just as a designation, but as a way of life with oil and grit, just as you would find in any big city with greasy two-by-four-and-plywood structures on dingy confusing layouts.
This is what is killing it right now: the lack of design. If the restaurants got rid of their design inside, they would all meet their demise. It’s that big of a difference. As is, even with the hustle and bustle of all the restaurants on a warm and glorious Saturday summer evening, the lack of design and designation outside makes Boulder no different than the bottom of the barrel.
Long term restaurants and store owners might get excited about having a voice in how things go outside in front of their stores in way that could be wonderful not just for them, but also for us as their customers. There are so many opportunities for unique flair.
There is also a feeling that comes with design that is much more straightforward and important than people realize. How does it make you feel? It can be dark and cold, or sunny and bright. It can be urban, it can be quaint. In Boulder’s most recent large scale renovation of public space between the Downtown library and Central Park, there is a lot to talk about with regards to why, in retrospect, it didn’t work. What are the elements of the design that prevent people from wanting to use it? For example to meet someone there, or head there for a stroll?
In the picture above, picture yourself the designer at their desk, working on the plans before the park was ever created. You are alone but you recall the whisper in your ear from the last meeting “Remember, there’s going be homeless people sleeping around here so we’re going to need to take that into consideration when you are designing benches too”. It’s called Hostile Architecture and it’s cold as ice. The idea speaks to you when you see it from afar, and as you approach it. It says, elite people use this space, so if you are are not part of that, you are not welcome here, and the sincentment is enforced. It’s a similar tactic to the sign Starbucks put up on Pearl Mall several years ago before that said no large backpacks allowed. For a such a mountain gear town, it told everyone what kind of snobs we are and set the first impression for what to expect in these parts with who is welcome, and who is not.
We’ve got to get help on this before it iterates up and down into a large scale problem with spaces that too few will want to use. You haven’t heard much about it because we may be right at the tipping point, but ‘housing first’ policy is happening in America, statistically speaking, and progressive towns like Boulder are starting to crack the nut…it’s important to get rid of those hostile thoughts when envisioning this type of space.
Even now, just look again at the surroundings of the bench. Who is going to sleep on that bench while the grass is so much nicer? And why isn’t anyone here? It’s from Monday afternoon, Sep 13, 2022, biking home from school with my 9-year-old. Beautiful day, mid 70s, no wind, sunshine.
As I started, a designed walking mall and a closed section of a street are two completely different things and should never be confused by using one as a representation of what to expect from the other. What’s the use cause besides eating only when it can be funded by liquor, or walking aimlessly with no where to stop? There will never be a commercial or pedestrian success without it.
My conclusion and thus the argument I stand behind is that the money, the parking, the freedom of space, and the design is nearly ready, the vast majority of people and business want it, and I see no justification against it. The risks of expansion are minute, yet the rewards are so high and likely. Based on the way things have been going, I think the restaurants need to step back, and be hand held through this a bit longer. We must bring them along, they will see. But any business unprepared for the next lockdown in the future is not reading the room that we don’t want to be in. What will they do to survive next time? What’s their plan?
The city, all of the businesses, all of the property owners, and all of the people can have their interests met and expectations exceeded in an unusual moment of confluence, a transformative inspiration for Boulder and other towns across the world looking to significantly improve the ways of life.
As strongly as I feel about this, if someone passed the baton to me and said the choice was mine, I would say that I believe bricking it is a no brainer and that’s what I’d like to do, but I would pass the baton back, because it’s not something I feel comfortable deciding on for you. I just want to vote and have my vote be heard because I feel strongly about it, and I know I am not alone.
Though most of the ideas here comprise a round up of points for consideration for everyone in Boulder, my most specific request to the city council is this: Let’s commit to the direction of a permanent pedestrian space now, and move in that direction now, and let’s allow restaurant owners and all other members of the city an opportunity in parallel with one more chance to wake up and provide a compelling justification for why Boulder would be better off going backwards, or how it is that returning cars to this pedestrian space is a move forward. If you haven’t decided already, I’m only suggesting that you please do not open the street back up to cars while figuring out what to do next, keep it closed to cars while figuring out what to do next. Put the onus on the minority profiteers with their own resources to appeal. Give them one last chance to explain what they are talking about in a way that makes sense.
When urban designers and city planners from around the world come to Boulder to see what a success looks like, I am sad to think they might be going home de-energized, disappointed, and with a feeling of defeat, extreme caution, extreme risk, concerns for decades of discovery requirements and the wrong type of focus on business interests. That would be a missed opportunity to lend a hand to a world in need. Let’s greet them in a different way. Let’s be sure they go home inspired, not just with what we’ve done, but what we are going to do.
+ Contact form for City Council. Drop a vote in favor of the walking mall, or whatever you think. -> LINK
The Boulder city department behind the proposal to undo the west Pearl pedestrian space is called “Community Vitality”. Great Thread/Explainer ->LINK
+ Boulder Transportation Advisory Board opposes city’s plan to reopen West Pearl to cars -> LINK
* Working on some grammatical & spelling errors, & adding links this Wed Sep 14th eve. Please let me know if you have any details you think are important that I might want to include, correct or consider: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s an obvious class, starts with 101, ends with 420. In this case, it happened in a bar, so to speak, where it’s known philosophers open up and say what they REALLY mean. So I was pleased to partake in a Shirley Temple (sorry, beer and liquor just tastes bad and makes me throw up) while prodding three philosophers on memetics, for their philosophy in a bar podcast, Hotel Bar Sessions, Episode 64: Memes
With our special guest, Andrew Baron (creator of Rocketboom and KnowYourMeme), we also investigate what, if anything, distinguishes an “internet meme” from other kinds of memes, and how internet memes may provide a unique insight into social operations and cultural formations.
In this episode, the following ideas, thinkers, texts, events… and, yes, memes!… are referenced (explicitly or implicitly):
The Root of Misinformation at the Center of Meme Culture
There was an article that came out a few years ago at The Verge that I didn’t get an opportunity to formally respond to about the history of Know Your Meme. I was contacted by the writer, Kaitlyn Tiffany, a few hours before the article was published and after it had already been written. The story was a long exposé that took weeks to put together and, in part, was meant to shine a light on certain strikingly large and obvious events that occurred surrounding the departure of Kenyatta Cheese, then the Chief Operating Officer of Rocketboom.
The article celebrating the ten-year anniversary was not correct and had many technical errors, and it misattributed quotes and credits to people. It’s important to get it straight. To be accurate in documenting history. To be fair and in good faith to the facts so that people can learn and benefit from the truth. The writer was one year out of college and was working at a second job in audience development though, for the reasons described below, the problems with the article were ultimately not hers alone.
The data below is not written in a way that is spectacular, it’s just the facts. Nonetheless, I believe this report can be useful for anyone interested in how intentional misinformation makes its way through internet culture, for example, how history can be manipulated, stolen, or changed in a sophisticated and valuable way. The facts below serve as a case example, if you like, to highlight the role of authority as the weak link. The example is a good one because it exposes the weak link in authority, which begets more authority until history becomes changed.
THE FACTS: These are the facts that contradict the public narrative about Know Your Meme’s history, myself and Kenyatta Cheese, and the actions he took while he was working at Rocketboom. The majority of the facts I provide below have never been provided to anyone because I shouldn’t have to, but it seems as though things have gotten out of hand. I admit it’s tedious…a lot of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ at first. And you may question these facts, and you should question any facts you need in order to form an opinion if you want one. I’m here to say that my facts are true and also, they can be verified and validated. I will verify and validate these facts if anyone wants me to but so far, no one has asked. Now, as a result, there are hundreds upon hundreds of articles that are false about Know Your Meme history and misattribute my work and the work of others. Some have given me the opportunity to say some of these things to them as they wrote their pieces over the last decade, but not one person ever – not even a single person once – has ever asked me to verify my claims before going on with the contrary to propagate misinformation. As such, their stories about Know Your Meme ended up being false and untrue, just as the story from The Verge is now. It doesn’t require a brilliant, experienced journalist, it merely requires someone have the time to ask me for any evidence they want to verify and validate these facts, and then take the time to look. That’s simple.
Rocketboom had more influence over meme culture than most people realize. Through Know Your Meme, Rocketboom is largely responsible for bringing the word meme to the mainstream. No other site, platform or authority did it. There was a need I identified and it was the underlying objective I had in conceiving and building the meme database: Know Your Meme worked because it was a place to explicate memes in an empathetic, academic manner, in a world where the word meme at that time had a full-on connotation with x-rated content, due to 4Chan in general and in particular due to Encylopedia Dramatica, which I bumped up directly against.
While I could not usually bring myself to visit 4chan without preparing to have the rest of my day ruined, I appreciate that 4chan exists as an example of something to see, to understand the reality of humanity a bit better.
Encyclopedia Dramatica was also a cesspool of hate and had the specific agenda of documenting memes with an x-rated, racist lingo. Rocketboom brought the word meme out of that polluted, inaccessible environment on purpose and into the mainstream by design, and within the first two years, a time period the Verge story mostly skipped over and otherwise misconstrued, Know Your Meme became THE authority on internet meme culture where it remains a pillar today.
As for the original Know Your Meme segment with Joanne Colan at Rocketboom: it was mentioned as an idea one day in a two-minute conversation, in a Rocketboom video production meeting with myself and Kenyatta Cheese in 2007. At that time specifically, I had hired Kenyatta to learn about how my Rocketboom video editing workflow happened, working specifically with the objective of learning it, organizing it, and stabilizing it to establish a formal, functional department of video editors which he did quite well.
I liked the suggestion he had. The point of the meeting I called was to brainstorm ideas for segments to use as a production crutch inside of the Rocketboom show because I needed to reduce the amount of writing time I was spending each day. I wrote all the Rocketboom scripts myself, Joanne enhanced and tweaked them when she was recording them with a director (I was the director/camera for the first couple of years of Rocketboom and then we started adding a few filmmakers to shoot with Joanne), and then Joanne usually developed all the outside shoot ideas and produced them with the filmmakers.
Typically, I would then send the scripts in to be shot, and then after the shooting, the tape got sent to the editors. I then worked directly with the editors, usually from home. Each time they finished or needed assets I sent them the creative direction and the more seasoned editors usually sent more completed drafts, and then I usually called for several rounds of video edits before signing off to publish. I was the only one that signed off on every episode. Around this time I was just starting to hire assistant writers to help me crank out more non-news, single topic scripts.
One day I decided I would write up an idea for the first version of the segment. When I was at home writing the script (almost universally I couldn’t write in the office), as it happens I wasn’t finding anything I wanted to cull, so I started to look around for a meme to explicate. This was something I had been adding into scripts already with Joanne, it’s just that now I would do it with a lab coat. The idea of the lab coat was ultimately the crutch and would make it easy to write each time once I had a template together. By setting the stage, it would be easy to create a reoccurring cool piece, as if Joanne went to the lab for 20 seconds to explicate something, and then came back to the news. It’s a trope. So I wrote it in exactly the Rocketboom style, just like I always did, knowing that Joanne would help make it silly yet sophisticated automatically, playing as if she was in a lab. As you can see, it’s basically a news Rocketboom episode story, as usual. The main difference is that I decided to create an intro leader in, which was ideal for a cutaway from the news desk (just a keypress away on the TI/994A), and then suddenly Joanne was in the lab wearing a coat. You know, the scriptwriting that Rocketboom had was unique which helped differentiate Rocketboom, and it was the creative writing style that added one of the important elements to the spirit. It was also of course, especially, the people. To have so many young and extremely talented and creative people in a comfortable, functional environment to all work together and pour ourselves into something great. I was just talking to Joanne about this the other day as we were reflecting back. She and I used to talk a lot about that, that the show had this spirit in a big way, and that made it fun and exciting to be doing. It was a creative time in a medium that felt uncharted.
After I wrote and released the first segment with Joanne, and we liked it, I continued it, and then I then decided to create a full-length set of episodes as a one-time mini-series for the holidays. None of this involved Kenyatta in the creation beyond the mention of the segment idea, though that is a significant idea to mention so he should get credit for that part and co-creator then is appropriate. His role at that time was related to video editing administration, and he jumped right in to edit sometimes to learn what it was like to edit Rocketboome episodes, so he could better manage the editors. At that time we had a few stations and editors would come and go throughout the day and night.
I then decided on my own that I would create actual episodes as a mini-series to get them in the can which would save me from having to write a bunch of news scripts, and to get a break over the holidays for everyone in production. I invited Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to act in the miniseries, their first on-camera for Rocketboom
For the miniseries, I asked Jamie, Ellie, and Kenyatta to pitch in their ideas for which memes to explicate (we all liked memes more than anyone else in the office) and asked them if they would be on the show for this one-time miniseries. I knew that whatever they did would ham it up nicely with the kinds of interactions we all had together. I didn’t go on camera because I never want to be on camera.
I went through the list of memes everyone sent in and picked the ones I wanted. Jamie had been collecting a list of memes on a spreadsheet and proposed a number of memes for those episodes, and while they were thoughtful ideas, I did not use any of his suggestions on the list for the miniseries. He suggested Mudkips for example which did not fit with Rocketboom’s audience. Jamie didn’t watch Rocketboom episodes day-to-day at that time so he probably wouldn’t of known, he was busy programming. I then worked with Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to confirm who would do which meme. I wrote the first complete script and then sent it to them to give them an idea of what to try and put together (they had never written scripts before for Rocketboom) and then I took what they handed in, and revamped it all into a complete set of scripts on my own at home, a full miniseries of episodes which included the scripted words, the camera direction for the actors, when to make all the cuts, the exact assets to use during voice-overs, etc. This is all fully documented in an extensive amount of daily operational emails, by the way, it’s not hearsay. As I mentioned, if anyone heard anything different about how this process went, they could ask. Kenyatta may not have that much in the way of communications and emails day-to-day except with me, but I have emails with everyone, and all the editors and directors, the dev department, admin, all the external, etc. Simple.
I decided I liked the miniseries and I would create a spin-off show, which I did do. That was also the message behind the press release I wrote when I launched it, near the end of 2018. In my press release, I referred to it as a spin-off show from Rocketboom, and spoke about the way in which sitcoms on TV had characters that branched out into their own shows. It was something I had given years of thought to, and this was the first big one. The formal Know Your Meme show was a great show from Rocketboom, and Kenyatta, Jamie and Ellie all became recognizably internet famous overnight, which was a perk for them too.
Though, more importantly for this article, there is another side to Know Your Meme which I would like to talk about that really makes Know Your Meme what it is, that which was also completely misunderstood by the Verge writer, due to the information that was mischievously fed to her: the meme database, the platform itself.
Kenyatta’s ideas for the creation of Know Your Meme ended with the idea of a video segment inside of Rocketboom that day. He was unaware of the idea of the platform (the meme database) and was not involved in it. Neither was Jamie or anyone else. This is also verifiable with a plethora of emails in case anyone ever wanted to see though no one has ever contacted me with a serious interest in it.
But there is interest, as there are many articles that touch on it, but they almost are all incorrect, it’s not just The Verge. The Verge article states that the meme database was created near the end of 2008 by Jamie, a full twelve months later than it actually was. It wasn’t created in 2008, and it wasn’t created by Jamie. The article originally said that Jamie created it in one day in 2008, though later The Verge issued a correction, and updated it to say that Jamie created it in 2008 (as if he didn’t take just one day apparently). These are pretty big oversights that could be easily verified but they are all still there in their grossly incorrect state.
I created and released the first Know Your Meme meme database at knowyourmeme.com in 2007 myself, a full year earlier, for the reason I described above. I built the first versions with moveable type and wiki software and started experimenting with it, settled on a wiki platform, and then published it alone through Rocketboom inviting the Rocketboom audience to join and add meme articles in the academic way I had guided. This was in 2007, the same day I released the first Know Your Meme segment with Joanne. Rocketboom had an interactive-ready audience and a few came along and began to participate. No one else collaborated with me on the meme database with regards to the idea, building it, experimenting with it, buying the domain name, or releasing it on Rocketboom.
When I released that first iteration of the meme database, from that day forward, I was also the only one aside from our audience who used it, experimented with it, and continued to build upon it to flesh it out for close to a year.
Have you ever seen the interesting experiment where a copy of the U.S. Constitution was put online in a way where anyone could come along and edit it? The experiment was to see where it would end up if literally, anyone could edit it. How would people work together when it’s completely open and there are no rules?
For my first iteration of the meme database, I was inspired by this notion for meme articles, and I purposefully removed all constraints. I allowed people to edit articles without even needing to signup or add an email address. Anyone could just land on a page, click to edit, and start editing.
Yes, that did not go well at all.
I knew what I was up against, as it was even worse back then when trolls weren’t just there to ruin things, they used language that painted the pictures of war and they posted the most deranged images that were hard to unsee…this was the fodder at the time for people who were known to use the word meme.
I tightened up controls but it was a weak fence. The wiki I pointed KnowYourMeme.com to had instantly become a lost cause, but I kept using the Rocketboom wiki under the Know Your meme section and working on the idea of the platform. It was a time of experimentation and learning for me, thinking about a platform as opposed to content.
There was a need for it. The narrative of what inspired the Know Your Meme database is not correct, however. It wasn’t built to give creators credit. Not at all.
There was an issue related to attribution that contributed to my understanding that there was a need for the database, though it was not about attributing the creator of a meme, it was, ironically for this story, about the authority of attribution. The problem with Wikipedia is that any facts on an article require authoritative attribution. If you tried to create an article for a meme on Wikipedia at that time, and you wanted to attribute a key moment in the chronological timeline, and for example, link to some random blog by an anonymous writer as the citing where they talk about it, Wikipedia would not accept it since the author was not authoritative, i.e. not reputable.
When you sit back and read a meme article and learn about how a meme came to be as a matter of highlighting the outstanding chronological events that contribute to its spread, you start to see patterns and begin learning a lot about how information is controlled, and how it propagates through environments. It’s a study of the intrinsic properties of an idea and the environment in which that idea is in. This is a very important discipline that goes way beyond the value of a good time or assuring that artists are credited for their work. The study of memes is the primary reason for Know Your Meme. This is the endeavor that inspired me to imagine, build, and invest in operating a meme database.
The style of the articles and the show wasn’t ultimately a brand of nonchalance, which Rocketboom had a lot of with its main show, but it was more like bringing formality to absurdity, which was comedic in and of itself. When you are describing absurd things formally, you can easily presume an even higher level of absurdity with the style guide.
I first began allocating formal Rocketboom resources to the Know Your Meme database by assigning my first Rocketboom writer (the first person I hired to help me write scripts for the Rocketboom shows), Chris Menning, to help me crank out a large set of important and obvious articles. Together we began building out the first set of tried-and-true pages for the sole purpose of setting the stage and showing the way for the voice of the site, and illuminating the style for articles with consistent, identifiable patterns…controlling those articles fully at first so people would not come and mess them up.
Over many months, after it became clear there was a definite spark and I decided that it would be worth it to invest in building a full-fledged platform with scalable features, I put aside a large, formal budget and timeline, and hired a formal team in house, inside of Rocketboom to focus specifically on building out what would become a unique user experience with article entry and editing features.
The new feature set offered a very special, unique quality that was not part of Know Your Meme’s purpose but ended up contributing significantly to the growth of user participation. You may wonder, what inspires and incentives people to add content to a platform like Know Your Meme? The unique feature set with Know Your Meme gave individuals who did contribute a sense of entitlement and authority they could not get from Wikipedia. As with my very first iteration which did not last, Wikipedia enables anyone to come along and edit an article mostly hidden and under-appreciated.
Know Your Meme placed a lot more focus on highlighting the authors of an article and provided a greater value proposition for becoming an author by starting completely open but then limiting an article to just a handful of people who could edit, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
For example, as a contributor and participant, if you noticed a meme that was not in the database, you (or anyone!) could go to Know Your Meme and enter a new article about it, first. Then you would have control over the writing of that article. You would become the author. Then, anyone else could come along and join your article, edit it, or expand it, and suddenly you would find yourself collaborating with someone on it. You might not agree with their edits so you would need to work it out with them and together share the outcome. Then another person can come along, and another, but only five total with some exceptions. An article with only five people collaborating with it gives those five people the control over the information and thus they become the authority on that meme. This is important, and they get attribution and recognition and build authority that is a value for them in return. It’s more than many people needed to contribute but helps to incentivize and spreads value for many more.
If the five people could not get along and work things out amongst themselves, the site editors who quickly materialized from within the user base itself (where they tended to gain even more authority and value for themselves), stepped in to assure order and had control to escalate or determine a fair outcome to keep the group at peace, to allow the articles to maintain their integrity in an efficient and generally open way. Crazy and unique issues could then be escalated efficiently from there.
To build this new version of the site, which would be launched a year later after the first iteration was released to the public, I hired Jamie Wilkenson to lead the development, I hired James Wu as a second developer to support Jamie’s lead, and I hired Greg Leuch as the lead designer. They came into Rocketboom each day and cranked it out pretty quickly without other distractions, though Jamie and Greg were primarily working on Magma at that time, a software solution for i.p. over TV that was prob the best platform Ive ever made. I could spend hours talking about how great the interface and feature set was for Magma, I think it would be ideal today too.
The articles that Chris and I wrote were the first articles on the new site, some of the classics. They live under Jamie’s account name because he was developing the new site and imported them in under his account, which I believe was actually user #1 or #2 that was during dev. Jamie resigned shortly after the new database was released, and after my first iteration of Magma was released, after moving away from NYC to San Francisco. The Verge article doesn’t mention Greg’s name through the visual design of the site was mostly his contribution and it was a necessary ingredient to make Know Your Meme work. The article also doesn’t mention James. Though the three of them worked together as a tight team. The article only mentioned Jamie and misattributed his role. Jamie does not say on his own bio that he created the Know Your Meme database, despite that he, Greg, and James added genius to it before moving on.
As the press release stated when Know Your Meme was officially “spun-out” of Rocketboom at the end of 2008, the date that The Verge article refers to as the date Jamie created the database, it’s not as if suddenly *poof*, like magic, the whole thing was just created and then got started “one day” by Jamie, or even as if Jamie, Ellie, and Kneyatta are the sole creators and founders of the Know Your Meme as the article states.
The platform was fueled by the show and Rocketboom where episodes played, grew and grew, and soon became way more popular than Rocketboom due to the platform nature of the site, and well, memes. The Verge writer said Know Your Meme became “more beloved”.
The Verge article essentially begins the history here, after it was established and had apparently become statistically more beloved, so it was completely wrong about crediting the various components to the various people.
For example, the article states that Brad Kim created the first meme articles when he arrived after he graduated college in 2009, yet clearly, that would be impossible by two years.
The article suggests that Brad was somehow treated poorly as part of some kind of “$100 club”. I looked at my emails just now to discover an email one month where I asked Kenyatta about Brad (I was going through payroll) and how much he was being paid since Kenyatta brought him on to help support production as an intern. I never used interns at Rocketboom but Kenyatta had said he needed them. In the email Kenyatta was advising on how to protect the copyrights and i.p. As soon as Kenyatta left and I first began working with Brad directly, I moved him up to $52,000 that he made that year. Brad was hired as an intern to help construct materials and other aspects for the Know Your Meme video show production, though when I started working with him, that’s when his job became to manage the community and oversee the site. He started that role in 2011. This was after Kenyatta, Ellie, Patrick, and Mike all left Know Your Meme behind and gave their formal goodbyes.
I found another email where Brad thought Patrick created the Know Your Meme show, though that would be impossible by three years! Patrick came on much later after it became a staple, and he left soon thereafter. So it’s obviously impossible that Brad created the style guide for the articles, and Brad was not clear on the history because he came years later, too.
There were some comments from Ben Huh related to the sale, and some comments from Kenyatta that will require significant detail to clarify because the writer did not have any more time to understand those comments, and thus misconstrued various details as a result of the obvious inconsistencies that can happen when a writer is misled.
With everything inside of Rocketboom, I never worried about the business model at first. I only wanted to create a spark with what I built to assure that what I wanted was what others on the internet wanted too. I would never want to push something or sustain something that others didn’t want or need. No way would I formally allocate such a plan and significant resources to building, hiring, and operating the meme database without already figuring it out. It took over $50,000 just to build the database, especially as my designer and developers were getting paid really well for doing it. And once the new version was built and ready to scale, I began thinking a lot more about various methods for sustainability.
As I pondered that question, I was free to do so with relative ease, for Know Your Meme kept growing and became extremely beneficial to Rocketboom naturally for providing an extended reach to various sponsorship and partnership deals that included all the shows and sites at Rocketboom that I was selling.
Now here we are nearing the end of 2010, the year that Kenyatta left. I had three important business contracts in the works for Rocketboom at that time, a sponsorship deal with AT&T for $750,000, a sponsorship deal with a firm that had Dr. Who as one of their clients, and a show development contract in the works with PBS in Washington D.C. which I had been developing for almost a full year to create a show geared toward their new online video programming.
I also had a couple of other deals in the works for Know Your Meme specifically. One business idea I had for sustainability included selling Know Your Meme, but not to sell it off and wave goodbye…to sell it to another company that could afford to operate it and pay for Rocketboom to nurture the growth. Rocketboom was my first company ever and I was coming to terms with the fact that operating was the least interesting to me, and that it held me back from forging ahead with new ideas. Buzzfeed was interested and I met formally with Jonah Peretti about it. I got the feeling he would have bought it but my price was too high. The price I proposed to him was not thought out very well, granted. I had gained a lot of experience with business development but knew nothing about how to value a company like this or arrive at a price. I was offered $15,000,000 for Rocketboom by ABC/Disney but wasn’t interested at all, it was too soon to sell out online video for the medium had not been democratized and my goal was to open things up, not close them in (side note: after I refused to sell, Amanda Congdon left to go work with that same group.) For the meeting with Joannah to sell Know Your Meme, Kenyatta said he wanted to come along. I was fine with that. I had a style that worked for me already so I asked him not to chime in and he didn’t. When I dropped an $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 price tag, that pretty much, uh, ended the meeting right there. About another 120 seconds and we were walking back to the Rocketboom office. I used to mess with Joannah when I was collaborating with him through a program at Parsons and Eyebeam, and we were blogging on “ReBlog”, a project he led at Eyebeam around 2002 that was a precursor to tumblr. I set up a reblog on my server and put up cool links and photos and when I got a high number of reblogs on a photo with him on it, I would swap it out so everyone who had reblogged this nice photo of him suddenly had a zoo animal.
Back to the end of 2010, just before Kenyatta left. I was most excited at that time about a venture capital opportunity on the table which was my first choice. An investor from Spark Capital I really liked became interested and when I drew up everything on his board, going through all of Rocketboom’s assets as I had them bunched into a) Rocketboom Studio Productions b) Know Your Meme, and c) Magma, he looked at me and said how are you possibly running what is essentially three companies in one?
I was so prepared for that question. I explained that I was interested in meeting because I had determined already that the answer was that I couldn’t, it had become too much for me alone. It was the perfect time to break out Know Your Meme and obtain capital to turn it into its own company. I only wanted to consider investment from them into Know Your Meme and I had someone to take on the role of CEO for Know Your Meme, my lead producer for the show by that point, Kenyatta Cheese, who also had climbed to the formal title of Chief Operating Officer for all of Rocketboom, which included Know Your Meme.
At the time I trusted Kenyatta and felt a bond with him that was as special as anyone in my life. He had been at Rocketboom working full time for several years, earning an annual amount of around $100,000 with bonuses, sick pay, a great health package, workers comp, and an offer to become an equity partner in Rocketboom which included all the assets. All of my dedicated employees who worked on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, and Magma had a great health package, workers comp, bonuses, and sick pay because that’s what I wanted for them because this is a short life and they were spending it full-time on Rocketboom. It should be the best for people that it can be.
So while Kenyatta’s main role was to be in the office operating everyone who had their roles including overseeing the administrative department and production departments (I was not in the office managing and was not good at that role), I was out doing all of the business development for Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma, at home writing the creative (especially all of the scripts and creative details), building, working with the production teams or developers and others at Rocketboom, or flying around to speak at conferences and universities where I did not promote Rocketboom directly but inspired people with stories about internet culture and the democratization of the moving image, one of the luckiest experiences of my life to get invited to travel for free to meet so many amazing people at the tops of their professions all over the globe.
Kenyatta said he was excited to become CEO of Know Your Meme, and this would allow him to parlay out of Rocketboom operations and run Know Your Meme full-time in its own new company, which he would control on a day-to-day basis. The first principle I promoted over and over to every employee is that there are a lot of opportunities and potential opportunities, with platforms and shows being built at Rocketboom, and that whatever role they may be in at that moment, they should never be shy in seeking a transition into another skill set if they felt they could shine. I would support them in seeking a role that they were more inspired by than the one they had, whatever direction they wanted to grow into.
So I flew back to meet with the investor a second time and took Kenyatta with me. The meeting was successful and we flew back to NYC with a plan of action that would lead to Kenyatta becoming CEO with significant equity in a new break-out company, and a ballpark upper six figures in cash as the initial seed capital to get us to sustainability.
Right around this time I secured Know Your Meme with a long-term advertising deal with Blogads through a contract I signed with Henry Copeland. Copeland created a three-year plan that would lead to sustainability in 6-9 months as he ramped up what would be an innovative video ad platform, exclusively selling the site to various advertisers, and then, based on the projections, becoming significantly profitable (i.e. money to develop growth) by year two. The investment would work perfectly with such an ad deal to ride out the storm and then go after a larger round to scale the growth by building more wonderful new features.
As Kenyatta was still the operating officer for Rocketboom, before the Christmas holidays that 2010, I tasked him with reviewing each of the employees across Rocketboom which included everyone at Know Your Meme, submitting their reviews to me, and then finally, I would review him. A COO can be many things and do many things and it all depends on the company. In our case, his main job was to be in charge of all the people and keep the productions going day-to-day. When people had problems with each other, or there were things they needed to get done, he would make the decisions that the head of operations would make. When a show was not stable, for example, if it became stressed from lack of editors, money or resources, he would propose a budget change to stabilize it and maintain the stability. As CEO it was my job to check in with him in a formal way and make sure he was aligned in supporting my vision.
He said he was sick, and would not be coming in for the review because he was sick. This went on for some time and then he said he quit and never returned.
I later found out that before he quit, in the months prior, even before we flew to speak with the investor, he went to several employees, one by one, and told them he had something important to tell them, but that he could only tell them if they agreed not to tell anyone. He then told each in private that Rocketboom was likely not going to make it past December, and that they should begin looking for another job to protect themselves.
Over the entire period, Kenyatta was at Rocketboom, he was never involved in any business deals or third-party partnership negotiations, I handled all business and partner development myself.
So I thought it would be prudent to begin showing him how I put business deals together and what I saw as important (e.g. I only looked for deals that would significantly benefit the other party, and I always traveled to meet people in person to begin each new big deal). As we imagined him moving up with Know Your Meme, this was the first deal I allowed him to manage the full relationship for. It was important for Rocketboom. As I mentioned above, it was a company that had Dr. Who as a client, apparently usurping the deal to start his own marketing company. I was dumbfounded.
He left running Know Your Meme on his own to become a marketer and established a marketing business that I believe relied on this deal, and I believe he is still doing marketing business based on that relationship today.
I had no idea any of this was happening at the time, I fully trusted Kenyatta to act above board. I learned about it later when two producers (one woman who produced one of our local Rocketboom shows and another woman who produced the Rocketboom show itself), told me that Kenyatta had approached them but both of these producers were stuck, unable to tell me, for they had promised him they would not tell before they got the info. I asked each of these producers if they heard about it from the other and they had not, they both came forward independently. Yet a third woman who produced a show at Rocketboom later came forward and told me she was upset about this too.
When Kenyatta resigned, the first thing I did was tap one of the actors in the show, Mike Rugnetta, who I liked and thought was probably clever to see if he might be interested and capable of replacing Kenyatta. I did not know him at all and had not worked directly with him as he had come into the show more recently, much later after it was built, popular and stable, as the article notes. He only came into the studio for short bursts of time now and then to film and I usually wasn’t there. When I told him that I would like to meet with him to see if he would be a fit for CEO of Know Your Meme, he expressed excitement and agreed to come to talk about it, but then replied back hours later and simply resigned without notice and without any explanation. Same with Patrick, though I wasn’t interested in considering him for the position. The article stated that they “stayed on after Kenyatta and Ellie left” which is false. The last work Mike and Patrick did was prior to Kenyatta leaving and they both left together within a day or two of Kenyatta resigning, already privy or freshly persuaded.
So I went back to the investor and let him know that Kenyatta was not sincere with us, and that obviously I was not ready after all for any investment, an embarrassing moment because clearly, I was about to hand over his money to the wrong person. I told him I would need some time over the next few months to stabilize Know Your Meme and search for a CEO.
That’s when I turned to Brad Kim and Don Caldwell to help keep Know Your Meme stable in the midst of all the operations for everything that had been piled back onto my shoulders. They had no idea what had just happened and were only too happy to dive in, understood exactly what they were getting into with regards to the instability of Rocketboom at that moment, and rose to the challenge. It was hard times, due to money, as everything was hit so hard, and Kenyatta took one of the most important deals we needed. The AT&T deal materialized and the ad sales deal with Blogads materialized though things would be stressful for several months before we saw revenue from it. The Know Your Meme show was paused due to the actors having left because of Kenyatta leading them to do so, Rocketboom was still running with Molly, and then I was solicited by Ben Huh from I Can Haz Cheeseburger. He made an offer to buy Know Your Meme.
We worked out the terms and discussed the sale over emails, at my apartment in NYC, and at SXSW in Austin. Ben seemed to me, at that time, to be one of the most hated people in internet culture because he was known for running what seems to have been a comedy sweatshop factory. There was article after article about people who worked for him complaining about how little he paid, and how unfair he was to them. It sounded horrible, but the articles were written by one-sided assignation style writers – maybe true, maybe not – so I was willing to give him a chance and entertain the idea, pressing him for his philosophy and what he would do with Know Your Meme.
When we first discussed it, he threatened to take the newfound thirty-million dollars that he received from venture capitalists to build up I Can Haz Cheeseburger, and put it towards his Know Your Meme competitor called Memebase, which he already tried to create a spark with, but couldn’t. Membase didn’t have the spirit, I noticed.
He said he would be good to it, and keep it as its own brand, allowing it to continue on without touching it much. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I was in a position of weakness which is a bad place to be when confronted with this type of decision. I went back to the investor at Spark and sought his advice. He gave excellent advice that allowed me to look at it from a non-emotional perspective. What I’ve found is that I’m great at creating, building, releasing, and generating the spark, though I’m not very good at operating. I’m not that interested in most of the challenges of day-to-day operations.
Any money I made I’d just want to put back into building features (features that I’d still like to see for KYM now over a decade later which still never materialized), and I was already thinking mostly about Magma at that time. Ben seemed to me at first to be a typical businessman and I wondered if he would be just what the site needed: a businessman to help keep the spirit alive so that it can be afforded. I would stick with it and gain experience from him that I could apply to Rocketboom and possibly use it as a template to create and sell platforms and shows, I imagined. At the end of the day, with the blessings of the investor, and with the blessings of Blogads who graciously agreed to terminate our multi-year contract so that I could sell, I agreed to sell it, and I got Ben to agree to essentially not mess it up by not turning it into Memebase, I got him to hire my employees for a solid wage, and beyond the purchase price, the terms had a big extra amount with additional benchmark rewards for me to stay with it and continue to produce the show.
You know, people really show themselves the most when it is contract time though, and to me – my personal opinion only – Ben Huh was a ruthless businessman at that time for the precious world of media we were in, and I decided during the process that he was so different than all the great business people I’d previously met who seemed fair and good, and because he was looking at the partnership in a way that was so different than the dozens upon dozens of partnerships and contracts I had already established with Rocketboom, I realized that I would never be able to work with him. I got the feeling that he was willing to go as far as he possibly could to get an upper hand over every tiny little detail of every little thing, not at all seeking to engage in a win-win type of deal if he could get away with it.
He threatened to sue for assets that didn’t belong to Know Your Meme that he ended up taking, including a url I had (meme.ly) which he never used and a book deal I had for Rocketboom about memes with one of NYC’s top book publishers, which he killed after he took. He kept trying to create one-sided general responsibilities and indemnifications which constantly required my lawyer to argue for my fair rights which was always the end result after escalating into expensive battles, and he tried to buy the company first, before negotiating with my staff, because he wanted to re-negotiate their wages for a lower cost from a position of leverage. This created a stressful situation for all of us, especially them, as if they would somehow be expendable after everything they had been through to endure the instabilities of all the sudden departures Kenyatta inspired everyone to take instantly. I thus made their future employment and their future salaries with Ben a term of the sale and assured they were satisfied and secured as a precondition. I also offered enormous bonuses to them for their patience and endurance through the rough times.
Anyway, I was all for getting the purchase agreement as tight as we possibly could, but after seeing Ben trying to win, win, win every detail, I realized I just couldn’t live that life. I told Ben that I would honor continuing on with the sale we were deep into, but I would not be able to stay working for him, and thus I told him I would not produce the show for him, and that we could remove the terms about my continued employment and reduce the extra price.
He still wanted to buy it and we pressed on with the purchase agreement and then on literally the last day of toiling, after a ridiculous amount of arm-twisting and mean spirited lawyering by Ben, long after he had taken control of the site’s statistics and confirmed everything with his own analytic trackers, literally the very last day before it was ready to sign, Ben received an email from an old Know Your Meme contractor named Patrick Davidson who didn’t work at Know Your Meme anymore (a man who was an actor on the show that Kenyatta brought on much later) and Patrick wrote that he heard that Ben was interested in buying Know Your Meme, and expressed that he was interested too because Know Your Meme belonged to him, he said. He also copied Kenyatta, and other key employees from Rocketboom. I seriously wondered if it was a joke or if he was drunk or something.
Ben’s lawyers forwarded the email and demanded that I get signatures from everyone on the email to remove their claims – regardless of any prior contracts (i.e. just the mere mention of the claim was interference with the sale) and the sale became derailed literally the day before it would be ready to sign for just about one million dollars after about that much more was removed when I refused to continue working for Ben.
Kenyatta who was ‘ccd on the email from Patrick told each of the people on the email not to speak with me, and that he would handle it for everyone and cut them in on any money he could get from me.
Kenyatta then refused to speak with me and had his lawyer contact me to say that they all each demanded $20,000 and that they were unwilling to address it – that is, Kenyatta, Patrick, and everyone there would not speak and thus would not explain why they wanted $20,000 each from what they said they learned was around a million dollars, just simply stated, through a lawyer, that they must take this amount or else they would not sign Ben Huh’s document that he drafted to settle the claim they made to him, period. Even though I was able to show Ben that they did not have any ownership, Ben insisted as a condition of the sale that they must each sign it, since they made the claim.
I did have the option to back out of the sale at that time, though, while that would have been my first choice, I had my arms tied because I had significant obligations to my staff that would not be met and wouldn’t be able to wait, and the investment into the legal fees for doing the sale was extremely significant and had depleted me. I would then be left to deal with a group of people who were controlled by whatever Kenyatta was saying. I don’t blame them, they trusted him too.
I did not know that Kenyatta told each of them on that email not to speak with me at the time, I just know that when I reached out to each of them individually, they did not respond. I found out much later when one of them wrote me an email saying he was sorry for doing it, and he confirmed to me in the email what happened.
At the time it was happening, I had to stop and consider what I should do. My lawyers helped me to strategize, as we were just days away now from a significant sale for a million dollars. Ben said in a comment that I overpriced the sale but that is simply ridiculous. The sales price was so underpriced it was a miracle for him. He had his analytics and bugs and all his stuff all over the site and came to his own determination. Someone could certainly ask him what he means, that would be easy.
If I had the funds, I would have taken the opportunity to back out of the deal with Ben which would have been way better than going through with it, and then marched onwards. To sue Kenyatta could easily cost $50,000 to $100,000 though, and for what? It became clear that paying the $100,000 was the “cost of doing business”, as my lawyers put it, and that it was ultimately the price that I would need to pay since I didn’t have the money to sue or linger.
As my lawyers worked out the terms of the agreement with Kenyatta’s lawyer, Kenyatta also wanted to be paid the one full month of salary for the month he didn’t come in for the review and was out apparently taking an important client for his own business having called in sick. Kenyatta then got approximately $100,000 and split it up with the other four people on that email I believe, ~ $20,000 each I heard, and in one case saw because one person boasted about it online.
Just after Ben and I finally shook hands and got the contract signed, he emailed nonchalantly one day to tell me his plans for announcing the sale. He said he had a big press release lined up and it wasn’t going to mention Rocketboom! His release was just that Cheeseburger acquired Know Your Meme and that there would be no mention of where he got it!?
I had begun working on a press release of my own and was expecting we would collaborate on the announcement, like normal humans. When I told him that was in bad spirit, and that it was not his contractual right to tell me I couldn’t announce the sale, he came back and threatened another lawsuit for fresh non-disclosure language.
In the end, IMO, he didn’t mess it up except for obscuring the data and the design with banner ads that were overwhelming by any standards, and he wrote a medium post about how he floundered the $30,000,000 he got because he had no idea what he was doing he said (his words not mine), and then he sold it all to Literally Media.
This is just one example of the kind of liabilities one can face when building something of value in this space. The Verge messed this all up and should quite frankly retract the article but I doubt they will, Ellie was working there at the time to and the writer was her colleague. They are all friends and it’s just how things go, I’ve learned to accept it. I don’t need it. We are in an era of self-publishing and I have the truth right here for the people who I know and care about me.
The Verge was also grossly incorrect when writing “the content was initially generated by a crop of interns (including Kim)”. That’s just not true and is an affront to me and also Chris Menning and the work I did in 2007, the work Chris and I did throughout 2008, and all of the work that came after the new site was built with my developers and designers at the end of 2008, considering Kim contacted me himself for the first time on April 22, 2009, introducing himself as a fan of Rocketboom.
The history of Know Your Meme is so wrong according to The Verge, I added these comments, not as an argument, I’m just correcting the record. I’ll say it again, I can see that it’s not as if the writer was in bad faith here IMO, this is a little bit like looting around an easy target. The writer just didn’t do the research and simply regurgitated what was told via the seemingly purposeful misinformation created by Kenyatta. It’s a master-class study in years and years of watching him do this. I’m in awe over the similarities between his behavior and that of another person who came into my life, also in a similar unsolicited manner, Anna Segur. The connections between these two people are uncanny.
But consider that this Verge article is now being used on Wikipedia to act as the authoritative source on these details! (Update: I deleted it).
There is a dark underbelly to authority in internet culture that I have seen which is upsetting, and this might be the book I’m destined to write that I didn’t ever want to write. I’ve been in a unique position with unique experiences to see and feel a lot of it. When you have something great, and you are down and out, it’s amazing what comes out of the woodworks to take it.
Power and ego takes and takes, and you can see that power corrupts and causes people to be mean, lie, usurp, and credit themselves for things that they didn’t do. I think Ellie nailed it when she said in the article that ‘competing egos’ was the problem that caused her to leave, and I wish my ego was stronger to have noticed that problem. I thought Ellie did a great job over the years, she was the first person I ever hired to support Rocketboom. Unless she was also out doing things like Kenyatta behind my back that I didn’t know about, and I highly doubt that she was, she was herself a line of stability for me, even as stability was what she sought. I learned a lot from Ellie about managing people and trusted her as much as Kenyatta. Due to a sponsorship I put together with Intel which lasted several years, she built a quality show that she created and produced herself, Rocketboom Tech.
I’m always looking for their way out for them. When we all worked together, until the day they all left, I was happy with them all and regret the way in which Kenyatta was able to bring down Rocketboom in the way he did. He called it a “spectacular” crash in the article, a word he’s used before. I don’t see how someone like Kenyatta who seemed so nice to everyone could have been so conniving.
As for any problem with “competing egos”, there should have never been anyone in this entire story competing with me except maybe Ben because he’s a competitive businessman. Anyone at my company who was competing with me was wrong to do so and was working with me in bad faith, as that was not the role I hired them to perform, obviously. This is not a crime against me for having any ego that I did have, even if it was perceived as being strong, it was my company and I was the CEO. One should not compete with me under this structure.
I was trying to lift Kenyatta up, I was open to him, and I trusted him.
It seemed to me at the time he cared more about KYM itself than I see he actually did (he quit and abandoned it but came back when he saw money) but to the article from The Verge, you can’t call Kenyatta or any of the others “co-founders”, which the article does do. Even if you do want to stretch that loaded word far and wide, it’s not in any way possible here. They did nothing to found a company, they didn’t do business deals, they didn’t invest, they all got paid handsomely, they became known as being trustworthy in internet culture, just as the writer of this article is, there got offers of sweat equity but never took them, they all had health insurance and sick pay, and they had zero liabilities. They all worked for Rocketboom and times were good, this all could have been prevented if I found out what he was doing before he left and fired him.
The article created by The Verge is more interesting, not for any topic related to Know Your Meme history, but for the way in which the writer seems to have been duped, a combination of my lack of business strength as an artist combined with the writer likely being targeted, and closed. It was easy for the writer to be comfortable with her gut and her experience because she could clearly see so many others had written the same thing. Authority verified by authority sustains and grows.
It’s also interesting to consider this as an example of how articles never change, get updated or redacted. I happen to care about this article but more than likely no one else does. This writer probably doesn’t care the most now since she didn’t care enough to get the truth correct in the first place.
One of my jobs as the founder and owner of Rocketboom with all my staff, whether they were working on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, or Magma, was to lift them up. I did do that. I enabled them. I assured they were taken care of in ways that went far beyond what most other people would be expected to do in times of prosperity, and in times of trial. I was not perfect by any means, I was weak in many ways. I see that I have a role in all this. Everything stops with me. I’m the only one who should take the blame for everything in this story. Who besides maybe me had anything taken away from them though? No one.
But over the years, Kenyatta seems to have been prolific in attempting to create a narrative that was exactly like what the Verge story wrote.
It’s a significant claim I’m making, and I’m confident that anyone who researches this matter will see it clearly just by knowing what to look for. It’s been evolving and peaked in 2018 when I lost my voice complete. Why would it be so important for him to do this? I don’t know, ego? But I can see that he probably has built up a pretty penny convincing companies to hire him as immensely valuable to their marketing spends based on reputation alone, as he can even show them that he was the sole creator and sole founder of all of Know Your Meme, and that Know Your Meme is currently his site, where he oversees 14 million uniques a month.
That’s one of the very best resume items you could get if you are a marketer, and an instant door-opener as people will assume he did all the creating himself, setup the whole business, took it all to market to make it a success, and still remains in charge of it all. If I was a marketer I’d blow that up and hang in my marketing reception room. That’s way more valuable than a mere co-creator title or an Operating Officer for Rocketboom title. My eyebrow certainly made its way slowly upwards as I read this piece by The Atlantic, a once reputable, quality journal that I can no longer trust.
You can see that the article has completely and utterly solidified my erasure, even when the article admits he had only two other co-founders. Just the three of them: “When Kenyatta Cheese started Know Your Meme in 2008, most people had no idea what a meme was. He spent the early days sitting in a dark, ten-by-sixteen-foot room in New York’s Flatiron Building, his two co-founders illuminated by the glow of their laptop screens.” It doesn’t say with two of his co-founders, for example, it says with his two co-founders. Note also that this doesn’t say that the two co-founders started it. He was the only one who started it, and led the founding, and they are his co-founder. I’m not looking for sympathy or asking you to care about me, I’m just showing how this works.
What’s more, I’m putting all this out there because I’m literally frightened of Kenyatta, since right before his Atlantic and Verge articles came out, he thought I was going to be prosecuted for theft in my hometown with 12 years in jail (false accusations, the case was dismissed) and before he knew my case would be dismissed, he came and signed up with the court to speak at my sentencing hearing! He wants what I’ve done so bad it seems, and his ego is so strong, I’m telling you it’s really hard for me to see this type of aggression he apparently has towards me that I missed. He was ready to come lend a hand to push me into jail for 12 years!! To separate me from my own son for the rest of his childhood after all this pillaging he seems to have wanted the title because there really is nothing else I had left by this point.
Several months before he left Rocketboom, from Gigaom:
“Kenyatta Cheese is the producer of Rocketboom spin-off Know Your Meme, a web series and meme database which has been documenting the oddities of Internet culture since December 2007.“
After he resigned he changed his narrative to being a “co-founder” with Jamie and Ellie only, and began shifting the start date to 2008. Vice notes:
“It wasn’t until 2008 that three employees of the online video studio Rocketboom––Kenyatta Cheese, Jamie Wilkinson, and Elspeth Rountree––started producing videos on the history of things like LOLcats and the catchphrase “I like turtles.” Know Your Meme was born.”
But in fact, “I Like Turtles” was written by me and Ellie in 2007, I was the lead editor, and I produced and published it in 2007. The other point that’s hard to avoid here is that I led the scriptwriting, editing, and wrote the majority of scripts through 2008:
But in the same dramatically untrue article by The Vice, they ask:
VICE: How did you get the idea to start cataloging memes? Kenyatta Cheese: We started seeing [places] like Adult Swim starting to use advice animals in their promos on TV, or on the internet, and not give credit where credit was due—like, not give credit to the community where it originated. And so we thought, let’s just start tracking this. Let’s just start a database. And so we did.
Let me just say that is a very incorrect answer. This same article quotes Kenyatta again:
Kenyatta Cheese: But for lots of reasons, Rocketboom fell apart, and Know Your Meme was caught in the middle of that. And so in late 2010 OR early 2011, Cheezburger had to buy Know Your Meme.”
That ”OR” is all caps. I wonder what Kenyatta means by this. Was Kenyatta secretly planning something else in 2010 that I don’t know about? Surely not, right? It’s probably nothing. If you simply research these terms though you can see what appears to be the evolution of the morphing from 2010 till now. It’s not as if the Verge writer decided not to call, or decided that there wasn’t enough space in the article to include my name, the writer was presented with a narrative that was so strong, and so specific, that the writer would need to choose a side because the narrative was meant to change history by erasing my role from it, so that my role could be assumed by someone else in a way that couldn’t be shared, compatible, honest, or true. The fact that Kenyatta Cheese has been using a misleading resume to charge companies for attention is not lost on me either.
This is exactly why I knew I had to put out my story about Anna Segur as well since she is still out there affecting me and would probably come back and sign up too should I ever trip and accidentally fall had I not put my story out there. My only alternative for protecting myself was to file a criminal complaint. I did not take the time to write it all out here but if you see THIS STORY, you can see exactly how far and wide Anna Segur went it in doing what appears to me to be almost exactly the same thing.
Absolutely I am looking at myself wondering about my role in this then. How did I let this happen to me twice?
I do have a role in enabling it, just as a person who leaves their bike unlocked on a busy city street has a role in enabling the thief. If someone leaves their bike out over and over, it’s easy to shift the blame onto the bike owner. For sure, the bike owner appears to not be learning an important lesson about humanity: many people steal. What must one do to protect themselves from the world is the angle for me and my role. I am constantly working on this, and I have more work to do.
There is that other angle worth considering though, and we usually do consider it when we can catch it: the role of the person who takes. Psychology is one place to start with this if you want.
There is a third angle, the angle I noticed here that seems particularly relevant, having seen and mitigated this from others more easily, the role of the reporter.
Though one reporter was an experienced, career professional investigative journalist, and the other was one year out of college working in audience development, they both shared all the following conditions that are not typical to the audience’s expectations for trustworthy methods, in their two separate, unrelated stories, about Anna and Kenyatta as it relates to me and my business:
1. Both of the antagonists in these two stories appear to have been attempting to usurp assets.
2. Both of the antagonists used the tactic of spreading misinformation to others.
3. Both of the antagonists sought formal demands for money behind closed doors.
4. Both of the antagonists would not provide a justification for their money demands, they only made demands but without providing their rationale.
5. Both of the antagonists led the stories for the group of others who had become convinced by what they said.
6. Both of the writers wrote one-sided stories, without using anyone from my side of the story, pitting me individually against a group who shared the same message created by the antagonist.
7. Both of the writers wrote their stories fully before they contacted me.
8. Both of the writers heard from me that the data they had was not correct, but when I offered to validate my side, neither considered it.
Perhaps there are three things that needed to happen for this misinformation to galvanize in both stories so similarly: 1. those who take must be strong, persuasive, and appear to have empathy, 2. the writer of the facts must be a one-sided reporter, and credulous, 3. I must have a back that I can not see behind. At least, that seems to be the thread that is not your everyday set of conditions, unless you create works of value like Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, Magma and Humanwire where it happens. They all got hit, some multiple times. Just as you would if you walked down the street in NYC with a million dollars in your pocket.
I am fulfilled for having created these and also having found success in making them all spark. I feel they were worldwide in their ambition and value, but also, it all seems kinda silly and minor too. I wasn’t prepared to have people try so hard to take what I was already trying to give.
There are all types of liabilities from people one must attenuate when running a business in internet culture. Not just internally. Due to the kinds of people that were lurking in the meme world that wanted and hated, they came after me when targeting Know Your Meme, which happened on a regular basis. They didn’t go after anyone else, they only came after me because I was the one who took the liability, responsibility, and accountability for everything. That was my job because it was my company.
Once, I arrived at my office in Soho to find someone had faxed into my printer and printed a full ream of fully black printed pages all night. Funny. Around that time a pizza delivery showed up with a dozen large pizzas, expecting me to pay for the order. Also funny. But the messages were threatening and geared toward me personally.
Crazy people online even tried to escalate a cause once to Anonymous to take Know Your Meme down in a formal campaign, though Anonymous was never actually engaged, just some subset of people who hated Know Your Meme for “stealing memes”.
They came after me at my home, too. Once when I arrived home, I was told that my boxes were in the apartment building’s freight elevator. My boxes? When I opened up the freight elevator, the entire elevator was completely full of flat, empty boxes from USPS. It was so full you couldn’t even get into the elevator to move it. A gang had placed orders with USPS offices all over Manhattan and NJ and trucks showed up all day long dropping free moving boxes for me. The stations’ manager told me it was the first time that happened, and that they would need to update their system. The other residents in my building were like, wtf does that guy do for a living that causes people to send him empty boxes as a form of vengeance? People coordinated attacks on my apartment, my servers, tried to rally movements against me, and made actual physical threats against me — it’s all part of the unfortunate reality of human nature, a consequence that is worth what it takes to build and establish something great.
I do have opinions too and here they are, they are about Know Your Meme today. I used to get excited to tell people to go check out the site but it’s generally not a good first impression. The content that happens to be on the home page at any given moment is more than likely crummy, like looking at a grab bag of football cards. It’s hard to tell it’s not some dude’s low-end blog with ordinary blog posts and aggressive, highly irrelevant advertisements. The news section is mostly not handpicked special cool finds, it’s mostly day-to-day topics such as a story that questions if Elon Musk will buy Twitter, and one that considers the current stock price movement of Tesla, all of which makes it completely ordinary.
There’s not much really I can say about the design anymore. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find any human say “I love the design”, or “I like the design”, or even “It has design”. The look and feel has become insufferable. It’s just too difficult and not enjoyable to be on.
The best sites to be on require a comfortable place to be in.
Now, ask me about all the features that I think Know Your Meme could bring next since the website has essentially stagnated since Ben Huh got it, and no one there creates much more than content:
The features I suggest include documenting memes a) that are of other cultures not in English specifically for those cultures, b) across languages and cultures with translation to better understand each other, c) supported by a big data dashboard for meme stats which also run on individual meme pages, d) with way more attribution information design for people contributing, e) by going way beyond what is funny with weight for articles about other types of memes to study how ideas spread with the next level of connotation, f) with a $chainlink AP-type integration for meme facts, where meme information is authenticated and can be used by publications like NYT when citing facts (if you go to google news and search “according to Know Your Meme”, you will understand who would use this), g) by significantly redesigning the advertising layout which is corrupting the information and user experience too much (the media galleries and collections of images and video are so sad, so slow, and clunky, h) reward users with Dogecoin when they attain certain standards with their articles that are not hit based, but based on relevance and quality, i) establish a frontend form workflow to allow people to challenge article facts, j) bring back the spirit!
The spirit by the way is just an approach. It’s like a protocol. There are certain rules that should happen – certain ways of being – that are formulaic and replicable I have found, where the rules come to light automatically in an informed way as if they are the principles that become obvious and guide you, once you have the right policies in place. Know Your Meme doesn’t have the spirit anymore IMO, and I assume they are okay with what they have, but I think the community and thus the site overall is stifled and would be easy to spark back up and reinvigorate in a better way for its own brand as well as for the public good. Kenyatta was influential with the particular community, which he took the most hold of at the time he left, and they seem to act with this tint as if a prosecutorial vibe is correct. It’s not at all, IMO. It is a major harm to the integrity of information and for people who have no voice or reputation. A good reputation should not be required to be worthy of equal consideration when it comes time to validate. But they do have this instilled in my opinion and it’s a kind of style that is the antithesis of spirited. Once you remove the prosecutorial vibe from a community (it may not look prosecutorial on the surface so it can be hard to identify), you can find the effects of new ways automatically.
It could be useful for anyone there to take a step out of it for a second, look back in, and think about what would be a “good spirit” way of doing some things that are currently sorta tainted or drab. I don’t have nearly the experience that many of the people who are on the platform do, other than just watching, though, with a more spirited set of policies, I believe those same people would know just what to do to set the right principles, and I believe it’s possible to work your way up from the principles to the policies, too. The spirit could be the most important factor to tend to for all the components to flourish the most.
If this is interesting to you for any reason, see Opening Up Media. I’m going deep on all of it, documenting the whys and wherefores of Rocketboom, from beginning to end. It’s not like this article, it’s mostly all good things, which is how Rocketboom rolled for close to a decade. I get excited to speak with anyone interested in these topics, especially people who are building, reach out if you would like.
Update: Jan 5, 2023: An article was published today in the Washington Post which acts as a quintessential example of the points above. The article avoided mentioning Rocketboom in two places, and attempted to exclude any mention so clearly that you can see where they ended up causing a false statement:
Behind the Scenes at the Encyclopedia Britannica of Memes: Fifteen years in, KnowYourMeme has made a name for itself by applying academic rigor to the silliest stuff online
By Luke Winkie / Photography by Nicholas Calcott for WSJ. Magazine
“The site, which started in 2007 as part of a video series before becoming a Wikipedia-style archive, began hiring staff after it was acquired in 2011 by Cheezburger—a company best known for the cat-centric humor site I Can Haz Cheezburger—for a seven-figure price. (Cheezburger itself was acquired in 2016 by Literally Media, whose holdings include Cracked.com and the early entertainment site eBaum’s World.) Now even the Library of Congress treats KnowYourMeme as a scholarly source.” – LINK
As with the college writer who was working in audience development from The Verge above, this writer, Luke Winkie, similarly attempted to avoid facts and thus similarly ended up creating false statements, since it’s not true that hiring for Know Your began after Cheezeburger purchased it. This is way off. He is also off with regards to his ordering of events with Know Your Meme’s induction into the Library of Congress which happened before it was acquired by Literary Media. I was not contacted for this story, and its not the type of story that should need me, but because the author did not do any research, and just wrote what was told to him, it is another perfect example for my article here, in demonstrating the blant intent to erase Rocketboom from history. Twice it was avoided. When I reached out to the writer, just like the student above after she published the false information, he ignored me. Not only is that really mean, it shows he’s decided on his own that his false facts are a-ok with him, and that he doesn’t care about it anymore. I’m not sure why he would prefer to have an article with false facts but I suspect it’s because he does not care about his work. It’s a perfect example in clear form to see how they avoided mentioning it despite the headline and subheader text which points right at me. An actual journalist would have contacted me under such conditions, especially considering this post above. Now that I’m showing that his article is literally factually wrong, he is still unable to confront it and that’s the reality I have discovered in this media industry: they are not really journalists, they are another kind of writer with a fuck-you ethic and yet they use these brands without any significant oversight or accountability. It’s too easily corruptable for The Wall Street Journal that they can’t even publish correct facts and have people treating information like this. As readers, we are left to trust the other information this writer was told without a way to fact-check it, where facts become truth in the minds of many, even when they are false.
The idea for Humanwire came to me like an epiphany one day while walking on the boardwalk in Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country on the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by Syria and Israel. It’s famous for being “in the middle” of the wars of others. My wife was from Lebanon and her entire family is of Syrian descent. Thus my son is half-Syrian and we visited the region regularly.
So there I was walking by the sea when several kids about three or four years old came running up to me and started begging for money. They looked just like my son though no adults were present, despite being so young. They were all over the boardwalk. They were displaced Syrian children living on the streets. When I gave one of the kids a dollar he immediately started to run. One of the bigger kids caught up to him and started beating him to get the dollar and then ran off with it. Some of the kids chased after him and the rest came running back towards me for more.
If there were any homeless children alone in downtown Boulder where I live they wouldn’t last five minutes before being swooped up and cared for by the town. Yet the people of Beirut are just as capable and caring, how could this be, I wondered?
If you recall, many scholars predicted the Arab Spring would end up in Syria where it would linger, and boil with proxy wars. In the exodus from the Syrian war over the years, Lebanon received more Syrians per capita than any other country in the world and today more than one out of four people in the country are new and displaced. The wars of the region have devastated the Lebanese economy in too many ways to mention and I watched each year as my wife’s family became more affected. The country has such a history of being torn apart, people were not at all fazed by the bomb that exploded across from me in Beirut one day near Horsh park that killed many, or the bomb that went off downtown that destroyed a building on the same block where I parked the day before.
I was told the situation with the kids on the boardwalk was dangerous and people were too afraid to interfere. It’s a real-world Oliver Twist scenario where the children take the money back to their employers (not their parents usually, but others who employ them), and that the activity is common with terrorists and groups from Syria that operate against the government militarily. Though that may be the case for some, I saw children on the streets all around the country everywhere I looked. There are displaced people of all ages everywhere trying to get by with no resources of any kind.
I imagined I could use a tool like GoFundMe to create a campaign for a family in need, raise funds through my network, and then help a family get on their feet and plugged into society, and then I imagined a platform that allowed others to do the same, specifically for displaced people who would otherwise never be found.
Aside from being focused on displacement, the difference between the Humanwire platform and a GoFundMe-like platform is simple: instead of bringing a cause to the platform yourself, the cause is already there waiting to be discovered. Once someone selects a displaced family, they become the host for that family and can use the platform to meet their family over video chat, raise funds, and then order distributions based on what they deem is best for their particular family. Humanwire then acts as a delivery service with a team on the ground to fulfill the orders for products and services generated by each sponsor. The concept removes the charity from the middle and establishes a direct connection between the donor and the recipient.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to host a refugee in your home for a while to help them integrate into your society? In reality, Humanwire is a digital version of this type of support. Instead of bringing someone displaced from another country into your home yourself, which is typically impossible in the U.S., you can help a displaced family where they are.
To begin I spent a few months with my head down in code building the online platform and then I set out to find a partner in Lebanon. After some research, I came across a charity named Lebenese4Refugees in Beirut and they agreed to assist with the idea. I began working with one of their company contractors, Mona Ayoub, a woman who grew up in Lebanon. Mona’s first language is Arabic though she is fluent in English and her willingness to help seemed sincere. She was attending a university and nearing the end of obtaining a master’s in finance.
Mona wanted to live in America, it was her dream. What she wanted, at least, was a way out of Lebanon. This is not an atypical sentiment. The ongoing fighting and political turmoil around Lebanon over the decades caused the majority of the Lebanese people to leave the country. Historically, the main route has been Brazil and interestingly, there are more Lebanese people living in Brazil than Lebanese people living in Lebanon. Brazil has an enormous, supportive community with political power in the country. Mona regularly noted that she was hoping to graduate, get a Brazilian passport, and leave Lebanon.
We located one of the most desolate, forgotten-about camps in the country — a series of mostly cloth tents on farmland on the border with Syria — and we signed up the first twenty-five families, all of who were registered with the UNHCR, and thus were tolerated by the Lebanese government as they awaited return to Syria. Not one of the families wanted to come to America or go anywhere else, they just wanted to go home.
Once the applications were in, I spent a day adding the twenty-five families into the website, sent out an email to my network with the news (Fall of 2015), and to say the least, the site took off.
Since I was able to build the site myself the startup costs were extremely modest. My main expense was paying for Mona’s time to fill out forms for the first twenty-five applicants, just a few hundred dollars.
Once the site launched and the first campaigns were taken, as fast as I could add new campaigns, they would get snapped up and donations started growing exponentially. When a new sponsor sent out a notice of their new beneficiary family to their own network, one of those people would become inspired to meet a family themselves and host their own campaign, and then send out a message to their network, and so on. At the camps, after seeing their tent neighbors receive regular deliveries of food, toys, clothes, phones, appliances, and medical care, families began streaming into our office from camps around the region to add their applications.
After selecting a campaign, sponsors used the appointment setter tool to schedule video chats with their families. This is where sponsors established a true bond with their families and learned what kinds of needs their families had.
The business model served the idea well. This was the first time I’ve ever started a business that had a model to generate revenue from day one. This was also the first time I’ve ever started a business that had a model to generate revenue, period. Anytime someone selected an amount to give to a refugee on the site, the system would first take the donor to a new page to consider giving an additional amount to Humanwire to operate on top of the amount they selected. The algorithm made a suggestion of ~10% to 25% of the donation amount to be added on top for Humanwire operations. Each donor had to either accept our suggestion for Humanwire operating expenses, opt out of the suggestion, or add their own custom amount and then approve the final total.
In the screengrab above, you can see how a donor who enters $5 for the Al Dandal family (of which the full $5 would go to that beneficiary), is prompted with an additional suggested fee of $2 for Humanwire operating expenses, bringing their total up from $5 to $7. Donors could edit the amount and leave $0 for Humanwire if they wished, and some did. This mechanism as well as the wording and text as seen above was introduced with the launch of the website and never changed.
Most accepted our suggested fee. The cost to service campaigns was usually not expensive since most were consolidated by location or region and could be serviced efficiently. When it came time to distribute, sponsors logged into their account dashboards and placed orders against their balance, the funds for the orders would be sent to Lebanon, and then we did the deliveries right to the family’s tent, or for example, scheduled hospital and civil appointments and our drivers took the families where they needed to go.
For each delivery order in the system placed by a sponsor, we took photos showing the moment when the goods and services were delivered to the family, and then uploaded the photos and receipts into the ordering system which reconciled the campaign accounting and made the photos and information available for the sponsors. The sponsors then followed up with video chat sessions and their own means of communicating (WhatsApp is the most popular communications app used by Syrians in Lebanon) to stay in touch and grow their relationship.
A month after the site launched and it was clear it was working, I went back to Lebanon to visit the camps on the border, meet beneficiaries, set up partnerships with vendors in Beirut and around Bekaa Valley to service the camps, and in no time at all, I had a floor in a building in El Marj near the camps, a full team with Mona becoming a full-time director, a formal business set up in the U.S., and hundreds of beneficiaries.
Donors and sponsors loved the Humanwire platform which put them in control, and they were delighted to see their direct impact take place in real-time.
Humanwire expanded with incoming opportunities. I began operating the same way in Turkey, first with twenty-five applications from a single person on the ground in Istanbul who could manage twenty-five displaced families to start, then growing a team from there as more people from around the world connected one to one. In a year’s time, I had operations inside of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Malaysia.
After sponsors raised funds and placed orders, while we would attempt to find and obtain virtually any good or service requested by a sponsor, since so many people needed the same kinds of necessities on a regular basis, I programmed what we called the “Go Delivery” system. This enabled not just the sponsor, but anyone in the world to click to buy goods for the beneficiaries on demand.
Because the platform was automated and the teams were tightly organized, I worked directly with each country through a single director at night — for example, Mona in Lebanon — and did business development and customer service with sponsors in the west during the day.
Each morning at 5 AM I left my home in Boulder on the edge of the Rocky Mountains and walked east down Pearl Street towards the dawn with the same recurring visual images in my mind as I arrived at my office above the walking mall. I imagined what life was like in the war zones Humanwire was operating in for the families we sponsored around the world. I was in touch with their day-to-day concerns and their daily routines and the profound similarities and differences to my own life and routines. I walked inspired by the beauty of our pronounced and striking seasons in the place I consider one of the best towns on Earth, a place I choose to call home over all other places. I’m living one of the most comfortable lives in our world today and the extremity in the differences in “fairness” is intense. It would be difficult for anyone to not be constantly aware of their privilege and the dichotomy in this way. The daily stories of what Humanwire families were going through were constantly at the forefront of my mind, a constant reminder of the absurdity of war and the precious and short life we all share here together.
There was a significant risk I always had in mind with regards to building this startup business. I considered it my biggest risk. Everyone I knew in my wife’s family and their friends in Beirut would not travel to the region where I worked when I was in Lebanon because it was too dangerous. They never did. That made me nervous each time I went. I was especially afraid of the videos I saw coming out of the region from terror groups. There are many security risks.
I also felt safe in a strange way, as did many sponsors who came to meet their families.
While most people know very little about the experiences of people fleeing war, the most common story at the time was the plight towards Greece. You have probably seen pictures of the boats and heard of the deaths in the seas. In 2016, less than a year into the startup, I was solicited by Anna Segur, a woman who also lives in Boulder, about expanding into Greece. Along with another group of women, she came by my office to meet one day and asked if I was interested in working with them on some ideas they had in mind.
In return I presented them with two options for working with Humanwire: a) Humanwire could itself expand into Greece and operate there as we did in other countries, as long as they could obtain the first twenty-five campaigns and find us a director who was local to service them, or b) they could build their own business and license a white-label, Humanwire-like platform. The secondary business model was to provide other charities with a platform to help with fundraising and more personalized beneficiary support (more on this below).
Anna followed up to say that she was not interested in starting her own business, and that she was not interested in working with the other women who came by, but that she herself would like to be the temporary director for Greece on a voluntary basis and had connections in the country that she made while on vacation to try and set it up for us.
As it turns out, Syrians who fled to Greece at the time were in a very different situation than people who were displaced in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon where we were already working. Each person who made it ashore in Greece was told they had the right to obtain asylum. They would have little say over which country in Europe they would be sent to, perhaps they would stay in Greece or go to Germany, or France. The conditions where they were housed outside of Athens for the many months during the paperwork were some of the worst conditions in the world. We determined that, unlike the other countries, most people in Greece could benefit from a very specific and comparable, uniform kind of support, including temporary housing, a moment of peace while they waited on their asylum applications (it was too traumatic of a time period for people to work or learn a new language even if they could, we found), and then support in moving from Greece to whatever country they would be assigned to.
Unlike the other campaigns on Humanwire where the sponsor who raises funds mostly decides what the budget will be and how to allocate the raised funds, we created an approximate, flexible budget for each family in Greece based on their timeline in the asylum application process, listed the predetermined goal on the site along with each campaign, and each sponsor raised money to meet our goal, while Humanwire managed the funds and created our own internal orders. The sponsors were purposefully not involved in deciding what and when to distribute in Greece. This was very different from everywhere else where the sponsors were meant to have near-complete control over how their funds were allocated.
The overall plan in Greece was uniform and simple: put each family in an apartment in Athens, pay their bills and food each month, and then pay for their ticket to reach asylum. We used AirBnbs in Athens, month-to-month leases, and many longer leases when the price could be negotiated. We were escaping families out of their wretched and dangerous environments into relative calm and asylum. We called the new Humanwire program “Tent to Home”.
When Humanwire first launched the Tent to Home campaigns the amount of work that was required became disproportionately large. As the temporary director of Greece, Anna was not in Greece, she never traveled to the camps, and she had other unrelated work in Boulder along with her family that required her time. My expectations were low from the start because she was only interested in helping to set up and she was volunteering without pay. I purposefully did not use volunteers anywhere else in the company or in any other country, I paid everyone who worked for Humanwire a competitive wage to help with self-fulfillment for them and consistency and reliability for the company.
Unlike the other countries, the extra amount of work to operate Greece was the impetus for hiring my first employee in Boulder, Jacqueline T. Jacqueline’s first job was to take care of Greece-related work each day and assure that Anna’s work was properly reconciled.
While Jacqueline worked exclusively on Greece and learned the system, I spent that first week on a development sprint that would allow Jacqueline to more efficiently manage Anna until Anna was replaced with a director.
We had orders being executed throughout the day by teams in the various countries where each director would enter in completed orders, including the amount of the spend and photos to prove the spend, and when they hit “Complete”, the system would automatically convert the pending orders to complete, balance the donor’s account, and then send an email to the donor with the updated photos, receipts, and other relevant information. It was so automated, it almost never required my involvement in any of the other countries.
Due to the number of errors being entered in by Anna, the new feature added an extra state for Greece on all orders. It first sent any update from Anna to Jacquline instead of to the donors, Jacqueline would look over the order and make any corrections, and then Jacqueline could change the state to send it back to Anna as a pending order when there was an error, or allow the order to go out to the donors when Jacqueline could fix it or confirm that it was correct. I never confronted or complained to Anna about this, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plan Anna and I had together was to replace her with a director in Greece from the start so I decided instead of asking her to change, I would change the system to accommodate her.
Though Jacqueline was my first major hire in the U.S., I had been assembling an executive team as the majority of the executive work for the company would not be my forte.
I had a Boulder law firm on Pearl Street that was on retainer. They set up the first entity Humanwire LLC and advised on many business matters, including the non-profit setup. I had a formal adviser who was always gracious and willing to meet, a long-time Chief Finance Officer (CFO) of the Boulder-based company, Techstars.
I also brought in my accounting firm from New York to help determine international accounting needs as I had never worked out of other countries in this way.
Working as a team, I put everyone together, heard their excellent advice, and then I decided the startup structure would be comprised of one for-profit business and one non-profit business. The for-profit would own the intellectual property (the computer platform) to license out to other charities for example with the original offer to Anna to white-label the platform for her own charity which she was not interested in, and the charity entity, Humanwire, the refugee platform, would have free use of the intellectual property.
Throughout the first year of operating Humanwire as a for-profit LLC business where it started, most contributions originated from within a sponsor’s network of family and friends in microdonations (for example in small $5 and $25 amounts), and thus the lack of non-profit status and an inability to provide tax-deductions was usually not a deal-breaker for donors. There are many non-monetary benefits to consider keeping a charity as a for-profit, even if as a B-Corp or like-structure.
The impetus that compelled me to want tax deductions and become a non-profit for Humanwire was related to the growing number of requests from large corporate groups that would bring in major support if it could be tax-deductible. We had multiple Fortune 500 companies that wanted to make Humanwire beneficiaries their holiday gift program to promote throughout their companies, encouraging their 1000’s of employees to give for the holiday season, but their corporate terms required that we allow tax-exempt donations.
The end organizational plan then became to set up a second entity and apply for tax exemption, and if-and-when I received it from the government (when you submit an application it can take three to six months typically), and then after the charity became fully set up, the for-profit entity with the intellectual property would become a dormant potential value that I imagined could be useful later down the road. It wasn’t the focus but it was a door I wanted to have open for any demand.
Despite this thinking as a mere future potential, a small seed capital firm in Boulder found out about Humanwire and solicited me to invest in this business model.
There was a lot of discussion around the arms-length relationship between the two companies. I spoke with my advisors and the investors about it at length to assure I felt comfortable with it. Accepted industry practice allows for me to be at the center of both companies, while the for-profit charges the non-profit for use of the intellectual property just as it would any other charity at a competitive market rate, though I was only interested in donating it to Humanwire to use for free, as an example of what could be done. The investors were adamant about establishing a percent that Humanwire the charity would pay, so I was willing to entertain that idea which we decided to leave open until something new and better was built and ready to be offered.
The gist of the initial raise was $370,000 for ~30% share in the for-profit company and we began building what would be a scalable, white-label platform with their local design and development firm. We also began preparing slides to raise a larger round of capital through their investor network.
The investor proposition was simple: provide and support customized, white-label replicas of the platform to charities (I only cared to offer it to other charities, it would not be for regular commercial businesses) in exchange for a relatively small % of each transaction generated through the use of the platform. Beyond the unique feature set there is a lot of room for disruption to drive down the percentage that third parties take from international charities beyond standard credit card gateway fees.
The two new seed investors in the Boulder firm also wanted to be named “co-founders”, though the company structure and significant organic growth had already been demonstrated. You might think of that as a red flag, I did. On the other hand, it was still early, and having two more partners with a lot to add with that level of conviction can be a far greater gain than the loss of a mere vanity title and more shares of a lesser value. A true co-founder status is obviously a lot more of a role than just a seed investor alone. Such a status suggests you are going to roll up your sleeves and put a lot more sweat-equity into it, especially with regards to the business itself, sharing not just in the rewards, but also having a willingness to share in the responsibilities and risks for the business.
There was another detail that initially gave me pause. Their plan to spend the $370,000 was to give almost all of it to themselves, their own local design firm that they owned and worked at full-time. Of the $370,000, and for giving up ~30% of the for-profit business, I only received $20,000, but they received $350,000 into their own firm to manage for their own expenses.
I’ve read quite a bit about seed investment and venture capital and I’ve also interacted with and followed quite a few Silicon Valley-type startup investors but I had never worked with an investor before. In the early days of blogging, I learned a huge amount from investors and entrepreneurs who shared stories and anecdotes for online startup businesses. Though I’m am artist at heart, such a project requires a business structure to do what I want to accomplish at the scale I believe is possible. My motivation for continuing with a deal dependent on their investment into their own company relied on the final outcome which was meant to lead to a worthwhile asset for mine. As for the $20,000 in cash I received personally from the deal, I turned around the same day and deposited it right into the charity business operations to help it grow.
It dawned on me at the time of investment that the role Mona played at Humanwire, even as a paid director in one of many countries, was more like a partner role, actually. The operations we scaled up in Lebanon were large and efficient and she put a lot of effort into it. We had become very close on a day-to-day basis, communicating through email and text throughout the day. I saw her as knowledgeable, sharp, tuned-in, communicative, dependable, and effective.
Bringing on partners, establishing a deeper operating agreement, and moving further towards the charity setup led me to gift Mona 5% of the for-profit company with the investors and a formal operating agreement, shares that would vest for her over a 3-year period, a valuated gift of over $50,000 at the time. She would also get any per-rata distribution as if she was vested during the vesting period. She would also remain an employee of the Humanwire charity and be paid monthly as an employee separately, possibly moving to America if we could obtain a visa, taking on the role of CFO or Executive Director.
Since people are almost never allowed to come to America on a Lebanese passport alone, once Mona obtained her Brazilian passport, she applied for a visitor’s visa to America with her Brazillian passport. She then came to Boulder and celebrated the new partnership. We went to dinner with the new investors and she took some executive meetings. Before returning to Lebanon, I suggested she spend some time in New York City, the true melting pot of America, from where she sent me this message.
Shortly after her visit, in December 2016, we received the letter from the IRS that we were approved for tax-exempt status and that we were legally allowed to provide tax-deductible receipts for donations for the first time. This meant that donations in the past were retroactive to the application date. This was the impetus to start moving operations out of the for-profit and into a newly forming non-profit entity.
Closing out the first year of operating, the biggest lesson I learned about charity business is that there is a “giving season” that can throw your business for a loop if you are not prepared for the ups and downs that surround it. The lesson I learned the hard way is that the week before Thanksgiving, the number of contributions starts going up steeply, with contributions peaking out about a week before Christmas at literally 10X what they would be on a normal month, and then on Christmas eve, within a time frame of just hours, contributions fall off a cliff to almost $0, and then don’t begin picking back up again until February. To operate, I needed to build up staff to handle the 10X activity, but then drop the staff back down after the activity ended, on a single day. The high and low peaks of the year are back-to-back.
Just as I was preparing to wind things down at the end of December after our first year, having learned the lesson fortunately while much smaller, Humanwire sustained a 10X peak right past Christmas and into January and started going up higher into February. We were swooped up by an extended media cycle, fueled by a new president in the U.S. who was quick to set new policies in place that limited immigration and put up bans against travelers from various regions. With a drop-off of support from the United States for people harmed either directly or indirectly by war, many people reacted by coming to the Humanwire platform where they could take matters into their own hands.
Around this time, the investors came back and said that their design firm was changing, and they reduced their enormous staff on Pearl St. down to almost no one. The project was already months behind the agreed-upon, padded schedule. The team we were working with including the senior designer they assigned to us left and while the investors said that they would still move the project forward, they would only have one developer to build it out, instead of a team of developers and designers, and the single developer would also be working on other major projects simultaneously.
I thus decided to renegotiate with the investors. They ended up with just a few shares, we agreed at their suggestion they should move to an investor-only role as opposed to a co-founder role since they were suddenly more busy working on their own business, I took the development project back on, and they were released from delivering on the $350,000 intellectual property. I was still more than happy to have them as investors and we continued forward developing slides for a new round.
Despite the setback, due to the strength of the Humanwire platform as it was, opportunities were incoming at a growing clip.
A sponsor connected us with a marketing firm in Denver, the largest independent brand firm in America. They loved the Humanwire refugee cause and assigned their best talent with a large team to give Humanwire their highest-level client package.
I worked with one of the three official refugee settlement organizations in Denver to provide a free white-label version for their refugee settlement program for people who lived in Colorado. Government funding is not adequate to cover the expense of refugee integration alone. The contract involved 0% to my company, it was donated without any % off the top.
I created a brick-and-mortar school in Lebanon to accommodate the families that had sponsors with no schooling options available called The Butterfly Effect Center. You can read about why and how I booted it up.
The school was a full-time program that reached hundreds of displaced kids.
The greatest friction I had as a business at the time was related to sending funds overseas while using companies like PayPal to collect money for people in red-flag countries.
While it hurt, Humanwire was absolutely not a first-responder-type of organization. I specifically refused most cases that required urgent care, as we were a startup and I was aware of the dangers that could happen, even accidentally, while trying to manage responsibilities around human lives. Sometimes issues would come up with families and their needs were suddenly urgent so we did our best to help in any way we could. Trying to move money quickly was always the main problem.
When money was held for so long that it would throw us off, I used my personal funds to cover, a method I expected would happen in starting up the company from nothing. There were times when I used money that my wife and I had already set aside, for example, to pay for my son’s preschool in Boulder, knowing that the school was going to charge a late fee, but I communicated with the school and it was worth the fee to help families with more urgent needs while PayPal and Western Union did their checks. The banks were moving so slow and had such tiny daily limits, at times my personal accounts and my own ATM cards became temporary business accounts. I was constantly making payments for services and salaries to get us through, and each time I would try to pay myself back, I would be up against a daily limit, or find myself putting the money right back in the next day to help the company stay afloat. Starting from scratch can take a toll on your personal world to reach your first goals for sustainability.
The method I was using to prioritize available funds was a stop-gap for the period we were in, though it was not going to be a secure method for the long term, and as we moved to set up the charity, we needed to update how we managed funds in our possession. It was a problem that everyone was aware of, as I often noted it was a problem that I was personally responsible for. I wrote numerous times that we would need to fix it with our new charity business setup.
We needed a new feature to track every single donation through the process of its travels, from being acquired by PayPal or Stripe, to being released into our bank account days, weeks, or in some cases months later when held up by OFAC, to being moved to Western Union or any other 3rd party, to being held up by OFAC again, or even returned, to eventually being received at the destination country, to finally being available for sponsors to place an order with the available funds. Having separate campaign funds filled with microdonations all held up in a single batch without knowing which beneficiaries’ funds were being held wasn’t the only mistake I made, tracking the status of each dollar through the banks would resolve other issues too, including failed credit-card transactions and refunds which became a significant problem for our internal accounting, too.
In March 2017, a few months after we were granted our tax-exempt status, I was invited to make Humanwire the topic of a women’s hackathon at Galvanize in Boulder. Over 100 programmers were given four major problems to solve that came out of Humanwire, one being how we could transfer money more efficiently and effectively since it was our biggest technical problem.
Of course, crypto was explored. Transfer fees were (are) still much steeper than other methods like Western Union, and locations and methods in the region to exchange digital to cash in smaller quantities are still rare and less trustworthy, and thus even more expensive. You can transfer crypto to crypto inexpensively but the fees to convert cash to crypto and then convert back to cash are cost-prohibitive. There is likely a solution to a crypto method somewhere, I continue to look for it.
For an immediate resolution, I considered creating multiple kinds of bank accounts, though I settled on a software solution that updates the status of each micro-donation, and thus separates out available funds from funds still making their way or being held up. This would also help donors to see that a delay might not be within the control of the company. A long-term solution included a reserve to cover instant, on-demand ordering.
Throughout this period, when things got tied up, Mona was accommodating with her own salary, as she would offer to defer payment voluntarily. It was gestures like this that contributed to my interest early on in offering her partnership share.
We decided that if we could get a visa she would come to the U.S. to set up the 501c3 and handle the finance for the company. I felt Mona had performed for us in Lebanon and would be great growing into the role. After I regained most of the shares from the investors, I gave Mona an additional 5% sweat-equity value for a total of 10% of the for-profit company value.
With Humanwire I wanted to spend my time developing and designing the platform but I only spent about 10% of my time on it. I would be more content taking that walk into work each day not to run the company but to run the design and development department as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), not Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Becoming CTO is what I defined for myself as a benchmark for success when I first got started and I was attempting to get into that position. I was focused at the time on putting the finance team in place first. I knew I could build the original idea into something, launch it, and spark the momentum, and that’s something I get fulfillment from but I know my ceiling from prior experiences, and when I saw the scale of what Humanwire had become, I began to race more quickly. Bringing on an accountant, a world-class financial advisor, investors, and Mona as a graduate of finance, I was attempting to surround myself with the right people.
After Mona and I began training Layla A.K., our soon-to-be director in Lebanon to replace Mona, a months-long process due to the size of our operations and our school, a significant problem for our beneficiaries in Greece emerged in May.
It became clear that many of the families we were hosting in Greece were off-schedule with their asylum process, and many were being told that future dates had become entirely uncertain. This would mean their funding would run out based on their current expenditures and we worried that many of the sponsors would not want to continue to raise support for them to linger, e.g., to pay for their indefinite, possibly perpetual rent in Greece. Since everyone was in housing when the UNHCR announced the change in the asylum process, we wanted to make a change. We found a program that the UNHCR had booted up in response to the same issue and we worked out a partnership to transfer families out of Humanwire housing and into their UNHCR program.
Anna wrote the following email on May 18, 2017 to me and the Tent to Home team in Greece as a reflection of our recent work:
“The original mission of TTH as Kayra and I envisioned it was to provide short term housing for vulnerable refugee families in camps while their asylum applications were processed and they were transferred out of Greece. Our original target was families that arrived to Greece prior to March 20 2016 and were all eligible to be transferred to another country, it was just a matter of waiting. We really appreciate Andrew’s flexibility in allowing this type of nontraditional campaign to operate on Humanwire platform and believe it has been successful. Through this program we have moved 134 people/31 families out of camps into apartments so far. Currently we are housing 25 families in Athens and we have 2 others in Thessaloniki that receive support as well. This month (May) the first families in our Athens program have actually started to leave off to their other destinations as we originally planned. We have 2 families leaving this week as well as another 3–4 that will be leaving in the next 30 days. We have a large number of single mother reunification cases for Germany that are currently on hold as there is a 70 family per month quota and a queue of 4,000 in line. We are continuing to monitor their status and see what can be done to expedite the process.
However, now the majority of the applications that we receive now are for people who arrived after March 20 2016 and are only eligible for asylum in Greece. Therefore they will need long term housing. I do not feel that Humanwire platform is suited to offer long term housing as sponsors want to commit to a concrete and finite goal, not never-ending support. For this reason, in my opinion it would be best for us to:
– Graduate the families that are already in the program, allowing the relocation/reunification cases to leave and transferring the families that have asylum in Greece to another housing program.
– Transition the Greece program to be more in line with the other Humanwire country operations- launching sponsor managed campaigns to provide specific support and deliveries of items to refugee families. We have a great team of Arabic-English speaking volunteers on the ground that is capable of handling this type of operations.”
Soon after this, Anna said she was tired and wanted to stop volunteering. She said our ability to set up the team in Greece wasn’t going fast enough and she was spending too much of her day-to-day time working on the cases. Since Humanwire was in control of the support and funding instead of the sponsors in most cases, it ended up taking a major effort to manage the families and all their needs in Greece.
As we attempted to phase out Anna and transfer families into the UNHCR housing program, and Jacqueline and I began working more closely with the volunteers on the ground in Greece to transition, Anna became upset with the way we were managing it and tried to get back involved. Suddenly, she started demanding that we keep her informed of all of our activities, though she was just a volunteer and had no such say. She began demanding how the funds should be spent and when funds should be sent, a role she never had control over before.
During a video chat staff meeting that I set up with all the directors from all the countries, the first staff meeting Anna had ever attended (she had not yet met or corresponded with any of the directors or employees from other countries, nor anyone on my finance team including my NY accounting firm, investors, lawyer, or financial advisor), she took over the meeting in her introduction to tell everyone that she was upset with the way Greece was being managed, specifically that money wasn’t going to fill orders the way she wanted, and that she quit. I asked her on the call with everyone to confirm that she was quitting on the spot as I found it surprising since she was in the middle of work that would be left up in the air on that very day. She said on the call with everyone that yes, she quit and that she passes her role onto the director we had on the ground in Athens at the time that we were attempting to onboard.
The next day, she followed up with an email to say that she wanted to be removed from the website and all social media accounts. When Jacqueline attempted to confirm how Humanwire would send funds to Greece since Anna would no longer act as a link, Anna wrote that she had already gone to the bank and removed herself from the Humanwire bank account.
On Wed, Jul 12, 2017 Jacqueline wrote:
Andrew will send through the WU. We would like to have Florence as the point person to coordinate all funds to Greece, and send all funds to Florence via the bank card she has, and via WU when needed. When Florence needs to get funds to another person in Greece, she can then obtain the funds and transfer them. Does that work moving forward?
On Wed, Jul 12, 2017 Anna Segur wrote:
That will not work. Florence can coordinate funds for Athens but we have two families that are 400–600 km outside of Athens (Ali and Banan) that will have to go through Kayra. Kayra would like to get all of Banan’s funds paid out this month and Ali has 2–3 months more of funding. Florence doesn’t leave Athens and doesn’t work with people who leave Athens to go up north.
Please note that Florence’s card will stop working shortly as I have taken myself off the HW account and she has my card. Then Andrew will have to WU to her or figure out an alternative way of doing transfers.
Anna wrote above related to having formally quit without notice her suggestion on how to manage the activity and team in Greece that she imminently left behind, but also that “I have taken myself off the HW account”, however, she had not in fact been removed from the account, her ATM card remained open and she began to take money out of the bank after she quit, secretly for weeks, with the company Humanwire ATM card, all of which was extremely unexpected.
She took thousands of dollars before we could figure out how since her account was canceled. It was difficult for me to presume she was doing it because she was actually trying to steal, I couldn’t help but assume it was some kind of good intention she thought she had but that she was severely confused. Since she wasn’t willing to talk about it, when I wrote to her to cease and desist, she made excuses, writing that she wasn’t using the card, and later writing that she canceled it with the bank and that the bank made an error. Even if it was true that the bank made an error and left the card linked to her account name open, she kept using the Humanwire ATM business card nonetheless, though she no longer worked for the company.
When we saw that our new director in Greece who took over for Anna was able to still use the card, we tried to work with her but unbeknownst to us, she kept using the card under Anna’s direction to withdraw as much as she could, maxing out as much as she could get from the card without waiting for her formal requests to be handled.
Then on July 25th, completely out of the blue with no discussion of any kind, Anna posted to her personal Facebook page that she was in control of all the Humanwire Greece campaigns and that they were no longer with Humanwire! She never asked or hinted that she was interested before. She announced that Tent to Home was part of her new business with her new business partner Kayra, and she posted a link that had a general PayPal account with no terms of service regarding how she would use any funds or to whom anyone was donating to — just generally, to send money to her for anyone and everyone. The announcement that she took over all of Humanwie’s business in Greece was news that I learned about accidentally when I was scrolling a Facebook group page related to displacement in Greece.
Still, all this time trying to communicate with her and take her seriously despite her unwillingness to have any kind of discussion, as I prepared to write up a public announcement that Anna’s Facebook post wasn’t true and that Anna put up the post on her own without speaking to anyone, it dawned on me that perhaps the best solution would be to let her have it. She was creating a huge disruption for me with errors and misunderstandings, and she wasn’t just bullying me, she was treating all of my staff in mean and belittling ways. We would be more effective by reducing the regions we worked in until we were more established. Though, when I offered in a friendly way to let her have Tent to Home she was unwilling to address what assets and money would be involved. She simply refused to discuss it even once over any medium and just went on her merry way attempting to take whatever she decided she wanted.
At this time Anna was still withdrawing funds through Greece from the Wells Fargo bank somehow even though it seemed the card was finally canceled so I created a strategy to stop using the bank account and told my directors that I decided to temporarily divert all incoming funds to a different account so she would not be able to gain access.
After I emailed the director in Greece yet again to ask if she had been taking funds or if someone in Greece had truly stolen the ATM card that the bank was not connecting the dots on, she wrote on July, 28th: “I used the card this morning…Anna, Kayra and I work as a team”…and then she quit, providing a formal resignation letter.
This led me immediately to the nearest Wells Fargo branch to ensure the account was canceled and that Anna would not be able to steal from the business. By the time Wells Fargo and I stopped her, Anna had taken over $10,000 from the account. There is a full report that Mona and I both worked out in detail, signed, and submitted to the Wells Fargo Fraud Department.
Layla, then the full-time director in Lebanon, took on the remaining Greece campaigns after our team-lead in Greece quit. Over the following 48 hours, Layla, whose first language is Arabic, contacted and spoke with every single family in Greece directly and made sure to immediately accommodate anyone who had urgent matters as a result of any disruption from Anna and the loss of a team in Greece. None of the families had any urgent concerns. All of that communication and the details of each family status were thoroughly documented at the time with a long chain of questions-and-answers by Layla in date-tracked Google documents. We were prepared to support anyone even if they did not have a budget. We let each family know that they should contact Layla at any moment with any concerns or requests and we would be there for them.
I tried to understand Anna’s actions since she was not communicative. She only said before she quit that she didn’t agree with the accounting practices and wanted Tent to Home to have its own bank account. But we were moving to update our practices, and I was fine with setting up a separate account. We went to the bank together to set it up. So I assumed the main problem was her lack of familiarity with a grant I obtained for Greece.
One evening, an incredibly generous and selfless man in Denver came across the Humanwire website and felt compelled to donate. He got out his calculator, went through each campaign page sorted by Greece, added up the remainder of all the goals for all of the campaigns, and then emailed me to say that the total was $45,000 and that he would write a check for $45,000 so that everyone could get into an apartment immediately without waiting for the sponsors to finish up their fundraising.
We did that immediately and as sponsors continued to raise funds for their campaigns, we worked with the donor to replenish and reallocate his grant to other areas of Humanwire. Anna was not involved in any executive decisions regarding the grant, the allocations, or replenishments, and she was unaware of who the donor was or how funds were allocated and reallocated, but only knew that it was internally called “The Denver Fund”, and that she could make requests for distributions which I almost always approved.
I should point out that Anna was never once from day one in a position to withdraw or order money without explicit, written, systematic approval. Each time money was requested for Greece, or any country, an order was placed by the director or designated on-the-ground team member by logging into the online ticket system, filling out a form with the exact amount of the request and date-of-need, and then the order would go into a pending queue until the request was formally approved. One of my daily tasks was to log in and approve or manage every single request ticket in the system from every director for every distribution for every country. This was a universal process. But suddenly, after she quit, she started to take money — tax-exempt donations in this case — on her own, without telling anyone. Even if she once had the authority to take company funds from the company bank account without approval (this never happened but even if she once had that authority), she can not quit the company and start taking charity donations from the company with the company card.
There is no controversy here. Even if you justify it to yourself, or see yourself as Robinhood, you can not quit a company, then use the company card to withdraw $10,000 after you quit, especially when you tell the company that you removed yourself from the bank, when you never had the right to withdraw money without approval in the first place. And when the company tells you to cease and desist, and you go on and on to withdraw money from the company bank card, it’s straightforward criminal theft.
In Colorado theft of more than $1000 but less than $20,000 is a class 4 felony (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18–4–401(2)) holding a sentence of between two and six years imprisonment, with parole for a minimum of three years, plus a fine of up to $500,000. ( § 18–1.3–401(V)(A).)
I have no interest in filing any claims though I wish to emphasize this point in no uncertain terms. The manner and method of how the funds would be distributed in Greece for campaigns, as noted above, was different than other countries and it was up to Humanwire to decide how it would go, not Anna, and in the majority of cases, not the sponsors. With the exception of a few cases that were set up like traditional Humanwire campaigns, Humanwire had the right to determine the service plan and individual distributions on our own for almost all of the campaigns, as the sponsors clearly knew when they signed up for the predetermined goal amounts set by Humanwire for the particular campaigns in Greece.
We welcomed those sponsors who did want to do more than the flexible plan they signed up to raise money for and some did contribute and connect with their families way beyond what was sparked up by the platform, though with those few exceptions, donor funds contributed to Greece campaigns were specifically managed with usage determined by Humanwire, as Anna confirms in her email above in reflecting on the success of our work just before she quit. As this was a written, transparent, and daily practice, where Anna herself often proposed significant budget changes to campaigns that involved operating costs, material changes in budgets and plans for families, the funds that she took on her own after she quit were not part of any obligation to individual donors or any particular beneficiaries when she took them.
I had recently explained to Anna what I discovered in the process of setting up a charity ahead of Mona’s arrival, as detailed above: the method I was using to prioritize available funds was not going to be a valid method for running a non-profit charity and as we moved to set up, we needed to update how we managed funds in our possession. Considering the important prioritizations all of us at Humanwire were working on together as a team on behalf of the families to mitigate this problem which I created (a managerial mistake that I took responsibility and accountability for), while she may have been confused about what was obliged, she was acutely aware that the donations she was taking were not designated for families in Greece, she was aware of the fact that the majority of the funds she was demanding were not imminent (as seen for example in her email above to Jacqueline), and she was completely unwilling to have a discussion about it with anyone even once.
Specifically, around that time many orders had been placed by children in Illinois from a school-wide fundraiser for families in Turkey and Lebanon. It was one of the most disappointing outcomes. It wasn’t a life or death matter (there were never any life or death matters caused by Humanwire, it was the opposite), yet it was so important to me that those kids have a positive, new kind of charity experience and I failed miserably as a result of not securing the company from this type of external disruption. All of their funds were returned to them but now they are probably turned off for life and their family connections with people in Turkey and Lebanon have vaporized.
At the time Anna was taking funds from the bank there was a family in Lebanon attempting to get their own startup business off the ground that became affected and there was a setback for several Yazidi families in Iraq who had been persecuted in broad daylight. The sponsor of the families in Iraq could have gotten the funds she raised from her own network to the families on her own, but she was inspired by Humanwire’s toolset and those families ended up getting their funds caught up in this disruption before being returned back to the sponsor.
When Anna left, there also remained thousands of dollars in unaccounted for deposits on apartments in Greece she managed, and bills of thousands in claims on apartments where the families left the apartments a mess but Anna never alerted us to these expenses until she was quitting and never accounted for any of these losses in her tallies for a total of over $20,000 in losses from Anna’s actions. It’s unclear what she did with the thousands of dollars in housing deposits that were never returned to us, the greater portion of the $10,000+ in funds that she took directly from the account after she quit, and the funds she raised from our donors onto her own PayPal account (more on this below).
But the very same day that Wells Fargo and I worked together to finally stop her, the same day she was attempting to withdraw more funds, I got a letter from her lawyer demanding that I hand over an enormous amount of money to her or face harsh consequences.
We are attorneys for the class (“Class”) of Tent to Home beneficiaries that are the lawful owners of certain unlawfully withheld funds (“Withheld Funds”) now under your custody and control. Moreover, we also represent Anna Segur and Kayra [redacted], designated agents (collectively “Agents”) for the Class.
As you are aware, the Withheld Funds were earmarked by third-party donors for conveyance to the Class. As you may not be aware, but may not evade legal responsibility for, the Withheld Funds were conditionally proffered to you by such donors (“Donors”) in reliance that you would quickly and fully fulfill your fiduciary duty to the Class, i.e., promptly facilitate the lawful transfer of the designated money in full. Having carefully reviewed the surrounding email correspondence and supporting written records in this matter, by your own express admission, that has not happened.
An accounting of the Withheld Funds reveals they comprise not less than $37,756; or $27,185 pule $10,571 from the Denver Fund and funded campaigns, respectively. Both Humanwire, and you individually, are jointly and severally liable in full for the Withheld Funds. Upon information and belief, such liability does not appear to be limited solely to civil remedies…
Notwithstanding the foregoing, a non-litigious resolution may still be possible. In exchange for $25,000 consideration, to be paid by Humanwire and/or yourself in full no later than Thursday, August 3, 2017, our Clients would forego taking further action and otherwise release Humanwire from such claims.
In the letter above, Anna and her new business partner were making a claim for charity funds that amounted to almost $40,000 (according to Anna) but stated that they were willing to take a cool $25,000 on their own if I walked away from what you can see is further action involving a criminal complaint against me personally. The letter ended with “release Humanwire from such claims”. So I asked him, because there is no legalese or accounting with this letter, “What claims?”
Anna had never put in any money, she was a volunteer who quit and took over $10,000 unauthorized, she tried to take away all the business activity in Greece, so what claims could she and her new business partner possibly have, I wondered? He never explained why a volunteer should be in a position to make such a demand, he never presented any information related to what they planned to do with the money, or how it was that he came to legally represent all of the Humanwire refugees in Greece, or how he came to be in charge of representing negotiations for each donor who gave a charity donation as if they would each be fine with his offer to take just a fraction, how he came up with a number in the first place, how he came up with a settlement number, or how he arrived at their numbers at all. When I tried to call the lawyer on the phone to ask, he refused to speak about it with me and literally hung up.
When I visited his website to look more closely, I noticed he has the following text in all caps: ROBERT ENJOYED AN IDYLLIC CHILDHOOD IN NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND WHERE HE DISPLAYED UNUSUAL PROMISE FOR THROWING SNOWBALLS AT CARS. AS AN ADULT, HE HAS SUCCESSFULLY CHANNELED HIS GIFT OF AGGRESSION INTO CIVIL LITIGATION.
And if you wish to contact him directly from the site, the default subject line for his email was “I’M IN IT TO WIN IT”, also all caps.
Something else that stood out for me was a notice in the footer of his emails:
NOTICE: This communication may contain privileged or confidential information. If you have received it in error, please advise the sender by reply email and immediately delete the message and any attachments without copying or disclosing the contents. To those at the NSA, or others conducting government sanctioned mass surveillance, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thank you for your attention to this matter and your consideration.
Since he wasn’t able to provide any legal rationale for his demands, and since neither he nor Anna would talk about it, I responded to him over email and ‘ccd the law firm I use stating that I can not put my lawyer to work on frivolous claims, I explained that I was taking responsibility and accountability for the campaigns, and I demanded that Anna cease and desist interfering with our business.
Then several days later, I received another email from Anna‘s lawyer:
So that there is no confusion whatsoever on this issue, please be advised that any explanation(s) or rationalization of the recent irregularities involving Humanwire funds you have proffered are rejected in their entirety and are wholly at odds with the governing laws and instant facts. There is zero room to persuade us that your conduct may be explained away or was otherwise justified, permissible or sanctioned by law. We have also advised our client of this accordingly.
Since we must agree to disagree, this matter will now quickly resolve itself in one of two ways. The choice of which is up to you:
A. Make full restitution in the amount of $74,000 no later than 3 pm CST this Friday, August 11th. If you do so, standard non-disclosure and non-disparagement terms would attach. You would then formally separate yourself from Humanwire and move on; or,
B. Imminently face the full range of legal consequences, causes of action and unwelcome attention you have opened yourself up to. You should expect these to include, but not be limited to, both civil and criminal complaints.
If you prefer to take your chances on option B, it is difficult for me to overstate the seriousness and lasting consequence that may attach to your reputation and livelihood in doing so.
Now Anna’s demand had gone from exactly $37,756 (a very specific number to a dollar amount) with a demand to provide her with $25,000 for her own self, all the way up to $74,000, now twice the original claim and triple her first settlement offer, with no explanation as to why, now including not just Tent to Home but all of Humanwire — the entire company that I would just “formally separate” myself from. Anna would then take over as the new business owner, including taking charge of managing my staff, my business partnerships around the world, and presumably sitting in my own office chair on Pearl Street where she could pay herself a salary from my operations.
Also, in this second demand, he was no longer representing all of the refugees, nor Kayra anymore, but only representing Anna in what he clarified was a civil remedy for Anna specifically to obtain $74,000 and control of the entire Humanwire company, along with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in exchange for not alerting authorities or anyone else to the what she and her lawyer had done.
It would be difficult to make the assertion that Anna was acting as a whistleblower. A whistleblower does not make these kinds of demands, e.g. asking for 50% deals on charity funds for their own personal control as a past volunteer. And when rejected, the whistleblower would not come back and double the amount of their claim and demand to take over operations of the entire company while seeking an NDA. Certainly, a whistleblower would not take funds themselves unauthorized from a company after they left.
I discussed her legal letters with my lawyer, and I showed them to two other lawyers in Boulder through formal consultations to get well-rounded opinions due to the severity of Anna’s actions. “That looks like criminal extortion”, I kept hearing. Usually, when I ask lawyers for opinions they tend to be vague about making a definitive analysis about anything “Well, you never know”, they would more likely say. But you can see for yourself, and make your own determination. There was a straightforward threat to make a criminal complaint unless I provide Anna with $74,000 and the entire company within a matter of hours after I refused her $25,000 settlement offer. She clearly indicated that if I did make the payment of $74,000 to her personally, and if I gave her the whole company, I would be cleared to walk away from the harsh criminal threats that she was ready to open up, with an NDA to prevent me from ever talking in public about why she ended up in control of my company. There is no discrepancy here in my mind, it’s clear and distinct:
In Colorado, criminal extortion is the act of threatening someone with a criminal complaint and then providing an offer to withhold the complaint for any amount of self-enrichment and is often used as a threat to gain leverage in a civil matter. In this first threat, Anna sought to gain $25,000 plus all of the Tent to Home assets, and in the second threat, she demanded $74,000 and the entire Humanwire company. Each count of criminal extortion in Colorado is a class 4 felony punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 6 years and fines up to $500,000.
I’ve had people try to extort from me before and I’ve been extorted before. Now here was what appears to be an extortion event for the entire Humanwire business, plus $74,000 in cash without a single sentence of an explanation on why.
I’ve never read much about usurping and extortion being a popular topic of concern within business startups however it’s a rampant problem. Ask me about my experience at Rocketboom, which was exponentially more valuable to the many people who attempted to take from it. When you create something of value, there are various thresholds that bring on regular types of strife and extortion is one of the most popular I’ve seen in my life. This was the first time I had seen what looks like criminal extortion.
Anna’s legal threats seemed to stop but she continued. In the email below, now in mid-August, she was apparently pretending that she was still working at Humanwire in order to gain access to the private campaign dashboards of sponsors.
Though the email thread above ended in August after Anna quit and serves the purpose of illuminating that Anna did not have accurate accounting and that she was apparently phishing private charity data from Humanwire’s private user accounts, it appears Anna had this donor send money directly to Anna’s personal PayPal account all the way back on June 23, before Anna quit, a detail I just discovered now when looking more closely in creating this report. It seems Anna was telling donors to send money directly to her and to bypass the company, even before she quit as a volunteer. The email thread above appears to show that while Anna was working at Humanwire, and before she mentioned to the company that she was preparing to quit, she was redirecting campaign funds from donors directly to her own personal PayPal account without informing the donors that she was working on her own. If this is true, that she was soliciting our donors as a volunteer while working at Humanwire (the donor appears specifically unaware and concerned about it) this might be considered severe criminal activity too, both in and of itself and in further support of premeditated theft and extortion posed above. Furthermore, the donor would look to Humanwire to find out why their donation was not recorded in their campaign record, and hold Humanwire accountable for this money which Anna would have spent herself, without a record of any orders placed by Humanwire or the donor.
I wonder what happened to this donation and any other money she raised from our donors into her own personal PayPal account secretly before she quit.
In Colorado, a person commits charitable fraud if she solicits any contribution and, in aid of or in the course of such solicitation, utilizes the name or symbol of another person or organization without written authorization from such person or organization for such use, a Class 5 Felony with one to two years in jail plus one year of parole.
In terms of the ongoing attacks, Anna rallied a man named Justin Hilton to join her, and they collaborated to become extremely aggressive in public and private with a narrative that money for Greece was missing, according to her own personal spreadsheets of all things.
Justin Hilton first emailed me one day to introduce himself in a way that led me to believe he was from the famous Hilton Hotel family. He said he had been donating through Humanwire, loved the concept, and that he wanted to fund a building for Humanwire in Istanbul to be used as a hotel-like shelter, and in the signature of his email he wrote “Justin Hilton, Hilton Properties”. After connecting with him and hearing about his big ideas for development, something didn’t seem right about how he represented himself, and I had to do research to learn that he and his company were not actually associated with the famous Hilton family of the Hilton Hotel brand of properties. In fact, he later told me nonchalantly that he was convicted of forgery for having interfered with a real estate purchase. Hilton wrote in an unsolicited email to me with his defense to the forgery claim:
My realtor forged my name of a bunch of HUD contracts to purchase homes
The story was “ rich real estate investor cheats homeowners out of a chance to buy a house “…500,000 and 3 years later I was fortunate enough to get 3 years probation for not reporting my realtor when she admitted what she had done several years later…As I suggested before spend 500 for an hour with a Federal Defense Attorney and I guarantee you will have your priorities straight…on your side , Justin
Probation is a process that happens after someone is convicted of a crime and found to be guilty.
He stated, “On your side” with regards to the claims Anna had been making about missing money but he also had no facts. They began using my report against me to say that my method of storing funds was part of a criminal plan to steal from refugees.
Hilton actually traveled to Turkey and instilled fear in my staff by telling them that they should consider quitting or else they could be charged with criminal conspiracy and that they were each personally at risk.
Justin’s threat to Mona in particular frightened her for her own safety. Mona had already arrived in the U.S. on her visitor’s visa with her Brazilian passport.
As a result of this hostile message, and the discovery that Anna may have gone as far as actually filing a complaint, I wrote Mona a formal letter stating that I take 100% responsibility for any claims they or anyone may have about the accounting. This is an important letter below to understand and remember for this story, as you will soon see:
There is also a second time they hit Mona with this threat. I wrote formally to Mona twice that I take 100% responsibility for any claims they have, hoping to help reduce any fear they were intentionally trying to instill in her. They went out to hit everyone from my staff.
They were threatening many people to be afraid that they would be convicted, but not because of any evidence that those people were guilty of a crime.
Their strategy had apparently become to instigate a criminal investigation for fraud, and then immediately begin telling people that I was under investigation for fraud. Here is an example of the kind of language Justin sent to me in personal emails:
“Hey Andrew — just want to be clear that I am being strident not only because many vulnerable lives will be profoundly affected by your actions over the next few days but also because I recognize that you have good intentions but are a little clueless on how vulnerable you are personally in this situation …This is the kind of case the FBI loves because it garners a lot of positive press for them ,Rich Tech guy sets up a charity , gets donations for refugee families and pockets the money “ that is the story that will be told to the public, jury and judge….
In his email, he seemed to be advising me based on his own criminal experience related to the forgery case he described to me above.
I noticed some people seemed to be attracted to Humanwire to help others as a means of helping themselves, though the majority of contributors to Humanwire were incredibly supportive, understanding, easy to work with, and they had a sincere desire to communicate, and help make it all work for the world. The threats from Anna and Justin to jail everyone, take over assets and control, and not provide any coherent or consistent rationale, combined with a clear lack of empathy for so many people involved did not seem to me to be born from the hearts of humanitarians. Even after the experience that Hilton went through himself, which left him on probation, he still felt compelled to cause incarceration for people he thinks “have good intentions but are a little clueless”. On August 27, 2017, Justin wrote to me in an email:
“Law enforcement has already requested information regarding funds not forwarded to the intended recipients. As you know better than any of us , the case against you already has you on the path to an orange jump suit.”
In another email that day he wrote:
“We both know that there are active investigations that will result in indictments against you and possibly Mona. Your deception has not worked on your staff and certainly it will not work on law enforcement. I have no power to put you in Jail , i am just another person you lied to and stole from. Only you have the power to end your freedom and you are doing an excellent job of it . You may have sealed your fate at this point , if there is a way to slow things down or face less severe consequences of course that way is stop lying and covering and begin paying back the money you took from the refugees .”
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I became startled by alerts going off from Facebook groups that Humanwire belonged to. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing…Both Anna and Justin would go through social media groups, copy-and-pasting the most harmful statements, one after another in rapid-fire succession in every group we belonged to.
They were relentless in contacting hosts and donors behind the scenes to spread their words through our network of donors. I was alerted that Anna was contacting people privately on Instant Messenger who were random strangers to her but she noticed on Facebook they had something positive to say about Humanwire, so she reached out to them to warn them I was under investigation for theft acting as if she had privileged insight as a whistleblower. I heard from one donor that once the donor simply questioned Anna in a non-confronting manner, Anna immediately blocked her without engaging in a conversation about it. Anna was everywhere on the internet to tell everyone that I was a liar and a thief leaving a wake of harmful comments behind.
Anytime anyone would post anything from anywhere it seemed Anna and Justin were there and ready to jump in.
In Colorado, certain untrue statements are so harmful that Colorado deems them to be harmful as a matter of law, per se, including the untrue statement that a person committed a crime. The state recognizes harm to people in three main ways, as a result of the defamation. Special Damages: These are damages to the person’s trade, property, business, profession, or occupation. General Damages: These include less easily defined damages based on a person’s lost reputation, shame, pain and suffering. Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for her actions.
The damage had by now far outdone the preemptive costs so Mona and I began looking for a specialty lawyer in Boulder to stop them. I made the terrible mistake of trying to rationalize with Anna and Justin and my own words dug deeper holes which they extracted and misconstrued. They were so outrageous in their actions, the feedback I had from others along with my own experience presumed that they would eventually burn themselves out and that people were not taking them seriously.
Justin Hilton’s language to me and people publically on our own Facebook page was so intense, he was the first and only person we ever had to ban from the Humanwire platform. It was such a monumental moment to have to ban someone, I involved all of my staff from around the world to provide feedback, edits, and rationale. Though Anna and Justin did a great deal of internal damage, they were unable to have a significant effect in the public sphere as their claims were not only ruthless and mean, they were never backed by any examples or facts. After Justin was blocked, there was a period of calm and I thought we had finally endured their harassment. I got word from my director in Turkey that he had been contacted by an investigator looking for records, but before he was able to gather them up and send them, he got a notice again that the investigation was called off and the request for records was canceled.
Then in September, I received a call from a reporter at The Denver Post named Christopher Osher. He said he was going to write a story that essentially amounted to what he had heard from Anna and Justin. I was actually relieved at first because I thought this would quickly end their bullying, once a reputable investigative journalist had a look at what was really going on.
I invited him over to the office and completely opened up. Osher recorded the entire interview with his recorder on the desk. I had the letters printed out from Anna’s lawyer, the theft report that Mona and I sent to Wells Fargo, and I was prepared to open up any evidence he wanted to see to verify my statements or respond to hers. Mona had already arrived and was in the office too, but was not asked any questions for the interview. He left that day with a massive smirk on his face and I told Mona that I thought the smirk was because he realized Anna was not telling the truth. I assumed the reason he opted not to look at any financial records, bank statements, reports, system records, or emails was that he saw Anna’s story was far-fetched and that now he realized it was a non-story. That ended up being a bad take.
When the story came out, my first thought was a state of disbelief. It was a one-sided feature that relied entirely on the claims and quotes of Anna and Justin and portrayed a conclusion that any reader would make that I was stealing donations meant for refugees while carelessly and recklessly leaving them to suffer. Osher had already indicated that the story was going to involve Anna and her claims, though what took me aback was that the story made no mention of any of my allegations about them, for example he made no mention of my allegations of Anna’s theft and no mention of my allegations of extortion with her letters and other activity. He didn’t even mention that I had any allegations for any of them, let alone detail them. He also made no mention that all of his sources were connected, and most were part of the same new business venture sharing resources together that they took from Humanwire.
I was also taken aback because he misrepresented the particular families he profiled and the material facts as if he never spoke to them or me about them. At the very least, had he mentioned my allegations in the story, the story would not have been as effective in empowering Anna and Justin’s public voice in our conflict, and it could have allowed the reader the benefit of scrutinizing their roles as well. Instead, it was a trophy for Anna and Justin to hold up and say, as the newly minted authorities on all things Humanwire, that they were right all along, and that they are the hero whistleblowers for going after Humanwire and bringing me down.
They found what society considers to be a professional investigative journalist to tell their story. There is no other conclusion the reader could make from the story except that I was a thief who stole from refugees and that Anna and Justin, along with this reporter, were whistleblowing the inevitable truth.
A Boulder CU engineering professor who loved Humanwire and visited the camps twice with his own family to provide workshops and courses for displaced families in Bekaa wrote “Sorry to hear about defamation in Denver Post”. I contacted the editors at the Denver Post in an attempt to escalate my concerns which led nowhere. I was disappointed in myself for letting this happen and knew it would significantly harm our efforts.
Now with this story under their belt, Anna and Justin stepped up their attacks and became ruthless.
With Mona in the U.S., we had three primary objectives at the time aside from legal consultations to get Anna to stop her ongoing harassment.
Mona was provided complete and full access to all records, including the online system records, all bank accounts, receipts, and financial records, and her job was to reconcile the first set of books for the companies in time for our first tax report, 2) we were conducting a fundraiser for Humanwire operating costs and obtaining leaders for the new non-profit board, and 3) we wanted to obtain a visa for Mona that would allow her to work and live in the U.S. so she could act as a director of the non-profit.
Mona had successfully managed to get to the U.S. without the need of me or the Humanwire company as a result of her Brazilian passport and a B1 visitor visa, the same visa she came to the U.S. on the first time. But Mona was not allowed to work in the U.S. for pay under a B1. Even though she was a partner in the company, there was no way to use a B1 visa for her to earn a salary of any kind (she could only take a few types of very specific contractual meetings as a Humanwire partner) and no way for her to work as an employee or contractor even if the company wanted to pay her for her time.
In the below email from Mona, she was responding to my question about her working in the U.S. since she had come to put together our accounting. She said she couldn’t work for a salary in the U.S. until she obtained a different kind of visa, and then said that she was also not allowed to work without a salary. I found it odd that she could not spend hours while she was here working on her own company, though it turned out to be true I learned. A visitor on a B1 Visa can be here but they can not perform any kind of work for their own company and they can not earn any kind of pay.
I’ve sponsored two international workers in the past with my company Rocketboom so I was somewhat familiar with the process of obtaining a visa. We found an immigration lawyer in Denver and after a paid consultation and a series of questions and back-n-forths, on Oct 31, it seemed we had everything we needed (including converting our legal status in Lebanon from a legal umbrella to a branch/affiliate designation) to meet requirements for an L-1 visa and would likely get it. The L-1 visa would have applied for Mona as an intracompany transferee who worked in an executive position in a company located outside of the United States. No guarantee until we tried, but after the lawyer clarified we met the requirements and that obtaining the visa was very plausible within as soon as 30 days, I wrote to Mona with the good news and that we should move forward with it:
Instead of the expected celebratory response email that we found a way for her to live and work in America, the next day Mona wrote in with an elaborate resignation letter and a demand for ~$20,000 in salary and expenses, including $6000 for the months she had been in the U.S., even though the U.S. forbids her from claiming a wage during this period.
When I tried to put myself in Mona’s shoes at the time, as she was quitting on the first of the month, with a resignation letter that must have taken some time to put together, even in the face of a probable visa to live and work in the U.S., it seemed she was quitting because it looked like the company was no longer going to work, which would be a fair assessment, due to the public abuse from Anna and Justin fueled by their Denver Post story.
When Mona sent in her resignation letter on the 1st of November, now in the U.S. without any significant funds and no way to work — she wasn’t even allowed to look for work under the terms of her visa — I felt pretty bad for her.
I contacted one of Mona’s best friends, Ayman, the donor that gave among the most to Humanwire, a donor from the United Arab Emirates that I know Mona had a special friendship with:
When it comes to paying workers, as an employer, no matter who you have working for you, even if they are not allowed to earn a wage in the U.S. legally, there is a moral responsibility to pay them for any work that they did in fact do. When she sent me a debt document with her claims for back salary including $2000 per month for work during each of these months she was not allowed to claim, I felt it was fair that I pay as she did work throughout that period. I also said that I would personally guarantee it.
A personal guarantee is what I do for anyone when I’m working on a startup business that I’m in charge of. A couple of others had just left without their final paychecks as the company had crashed so badly by this point, and I personally guaranteed their final checks as well without them asking. In her debt document and resignation letter, however, she made no mention of forfeiting her partner shares. The equity, though realizable as if already vested for important distribution events, included a term that she can’t quit and walk away from the company and keep her shares before working for three years. So I sent it back with the updated language and added the typical NDA and personal guarantee.
She replied in an angry manner and seemed unprepared to give up her shares. She also said she refused the timeline to pay back the debt, which didn’t make sense because she was the one who proposed the timeline.
Though I would prefer to have her forfeiture of shares in writing, for I had been down this path before in a prior company and can tell you it is always best to get it in writing even if it is inferred, I had what I needed, so when she escalated her anger and suddenly threatened to sue, I wrote that I would sign her debt document however she wanted without any changes but oddly, she refused. I invited her to work it out with my lawyer if she didn’t want to work it out with me directly to get her debt document completed. It was as if she never actually wanted to sign it which didn’t make sense at the time.
Once she didn’t receive the first $10,000 of the $20,000 she demanded by the morning of November 9th, just nine days after she quit and demanded it for the first time, she took to Facebook, the final nail in the coffin for me and Humanwire.
When I first read this, thinking about the long road ahead for me to rebuild from scratch, I thought again, it didn’t make sense. Primarily because she knew we were still waiting on our Western Union statements to show where most of the cash in the company had gone, and that the number she came up with was not honest to the accounting she turned in.
I could understand why she would quit and make demands for salary, but the things she said in her Facebook post above were related to the misconception about how we generate operating funds which was misconstrued by The Denver Post, but not an accusation any donor ever made to us on their own, and she was aware of how Humanwire generated operating funds way before this point, even providing regular written advice about it.
When Mona left, and I began working directly with the professional bookkeeping firm in Boulder she had been provided, they emailed to say that the work that she did was 90% incomplete. On November 8, over a week after Mona quit, and one day before posting the above Facebook message that ended Humanwire, the bookkeeping firm wrote: “you have not provided documentation for over 90% of the outflows.” The main areas that still needed reconciliation, according to the bookkeeping firm, included “All foreign ATM withdrawals” (which would include the majority of the money Mona received), and “all withdrawals made in branches/stores” which required our Western Union report.
At the time Mona left, among other records she was still putting together, we were waiting on Western Union to provide a statement of all the transactions they had in their records. Western Union charges a hefty fee for using a credit card online versus paying with cash in-person so most of the Western Union transactions that were sent from Boulder to other countries required going to the bank, withdrawing cash from a teller, and then taking the cash to a Western Union branch. All perfectly tracked. But due to the cash exchange, we relied on the Western Union report to prove a massive bulk of fund allocation for our records. Without it, it would appear as if I was going to the bank almost daily to withdraw cash, but then there would be no more record of what happened to the cash as if the paper trail ended with the cash in my pocket.
Though the intra-account transfers and expenditures on the various accounts could look suspicious to anyone at first sight, she understood as the accountant the rationale behind it all, almost always a result of going with lower fees, daily cash withdraw limits, withheld funds, daily visa/atm card limits, business banking limitations, and generally not having an effective enough banking system which we were organizing and working on. It was one of the problems that I was inspired by because it’s a technical problem that almost all international charities have.
She knew I was not hiding anything from her, as we both worked tirelessly to obtain the documents from Western Union, dependent on them to provide it. She was on the phone with them trying to obtain the records too. So to say I was a thief instead of saying that we were still waiting on the Western Union document is quite a different story. She gave up waiting based on her own timeline related to quitting, so she never got to the bottom of 90% of the accounting.
According to her own accounting, a total of only $49,276.55 had been sent through Western Union, based only on paper receipts she had, however, the actual total sent through Western Union over that same period, including all dates prior to October 1, 2017, a month before she quit, was $142,311.17. That’s one simple document provided by Western Union.
Mona also didn’t reconcile intra-account transfers, incorrectly applying tens of thousands to her incoming donation column. Had she worked with the bookkeeper to conclude the books instead of leaving on an unrelated timeline, her books would have balanced simply.
Mona was a “face” of Humanwire and it was very harmful when she took to the public because she stated definitively, as a matter of fact, that I “stole over $100,000” and she did so acting as the authority of the accountant who stated she saw it herself. Until this writing, I’ve never responded publically to her claims or anyone else who continued with them from the date of her posting.
After Mona quit, and her timeline to make full payment passed, she went on a rampage, following in Anna and Justin’s footsteps, repeating what she saw as working for them.
The first thing she did was what Anna did with the Wells Fargo Bank account, even after she helped fight against the activity when Anna did it. She had a Humanwire company ATM card that we gave to Layla in Lebanon and she commanded Layla to start withdrawing as much as she possibly could each day, without telling me. Layla was allowed to take orders directly from Mona so that was not out of the ordinary for her, but Mona was not allowed to take money without it being confirmed in writing by me. Mona wrote to Layla (I later found) to distribute as much money as she could to pay for Mona’s back salary, even disregarding overdraft fees and the refugees in actual need. Though Mona was the accountant and had been a director in Lebanon, like Anna and everyone else in the company, she was not authorized to take money from the account unless pre-approved. Having just gone through this with Anna, I knew to immediately rush to the bank and cancel the ATM card at soon as I found out and worked with Layla directly to reconcile the several thousand dollars that Mona did take from the company after she quit.
In addition to the Facebook message, and the withdraw of thousands of dollars, Mona took over the entire Humanwire Instagram account and changed the password. She went to the Wikipedia article on me and added her allegations all over the article, and then tried to create a new Wikipedia article for herself as a musical pop star (her article was not approved apparently but I was surprised as she had never shared this type of interest with me as a serious one), and she tried to shut down our ability to operate in Lebanon. The following is a note she sent to the entire staff in Lebanon she once directed, again following in the footsteps of what worked for Anna and Justin by threatening everyone to quit, or else:
I thought Mona had a good relationship with the team in Lebanon, and I had a close relationship with the team members in Lebanon myself, but as it turns out, according to every staff member in Lebanon I spoke to about this, Mona was even more aggressive than Anna, with almost every staff member — and also to our displaced families — on a day to day basis, such that multiple people said they were too afraid to say anything to me due to her threats of retaliation.
To hear that Mona yelled at the staff daily, all day, and made threats to them, and even yelled regularly at the actual beneficiaries was heartbreaking and hard to fit in with the reality of what I saw because each day I saw her being very kind to me, smart, organized, and efficient. Such an international workforce demands a quality method for people to feel safe to anonymously report concerns as part of the feature set.
Humanwire also had a very tight relationship with the Lebanese Army. We allowed them to track us so that they could be aware of our activity and whereabouts, and they provided us with a layer of security for our staff. We notified them anytime our staff went onto a camp and then again when they came off a camp, and we could call upon them anytime for a response if needed. Mona called the Army and told them Humanwire should not be allowed to operate because I was a thief, but luckily to no avail. In fact, the contract to operate in Lebanon was in my name too, and the group in Lebanon agreed to allow us to continue, even after Mona’s threats above.
Back in the U.S., just after she quit, I was contacted by a detective for the police in Boulder who had now spoken with both Anna and Mona and read the writing from the Denver Post. The detective asked me to come in for a discussion about it.
A lawyer in my family who knew nothing about my situation knew enough to advise me not to go in and speak with any detective, not even with a lawyer. They said that based on formula, the purpose of the meeting would not be for me to go in and change the detective’s mind but for the detective to get me to unwittingly self-incriminate, a final step in their investigation before sending the case to the District Attorney with a recommendation to prosecute. I also learned that in certain situations it can be legal for a detective to lie to you. That is very scary, Google it. I was also advised that, as part of the inevitable process of being under a criminal investigation and being called in by a detective to discuss it, as soon as I refused to meet, the next step would likely be a physical arrest.
When I took a couple of consultations with criminal defense attorneys, a type of lawyer I’ve never had to call before, they also indicated that no one should go in for this stage of the process — they said I was late in the process of hiring a lawyer to pursue a better strategy of working directly with the District Attorney — and confirmed that it would probably be a matter of formulaic time before I would be arrested. It was a Catch-22. I could not explain what was going on, and if I didn’t, I would be arrested.
The firm I was referred to through my non profit lawyer was Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher in Denver and they agreed to represent me through the arrest, but after that, they would need a retainer that would be difficult to afford. I was way over my head.
My family held the bond money and had it ready to go assuming the police would come, and then they did. Two Boulder police officers came to my house in a car on November 15th and told me I was under arrest.
Though I was released four hours later after $1000 was posted, it felt like an eternity and it was definitely scary, but it wasn’t until I got home and read a copy of what they had charged me with that caused a type of sinking feeling I will never forget, due to the severity of the types of sentences that were being issued for such charges. I faced twelve years in jail.
This means something very different to me now than it did prior to going through this experience. When I would read news stories about people being sentenced, or threatened by a sentence of many years in jail, I had no comprehension of the significance of that threat. When I posted above, e.g. the criminal codes that I believe Anna broke, and see that it could add up to many more than twelve years, I wonder if you as a reader take this lightly. It never registered for me how big of a threat to your life this can be. I’ve never faced a more difficult threat, ever.
I don’t expect you to read this and understand that threat either, and I don’t want it for Anna, or Mona, whatever they were trying to do. My point with detailing this story is not to say they should go to jail for what they did as if that would somehow be justice for me, it wouldn’t.
Christopher Osher from The Denver Post was on hand that day to post my mug shot as part of his arrest story. This second story by Osher that appeared in the Denver Post was syndicated to my own local town in Boulder through the Daily Camera as the top, big bolded headline story on the front page, above-the-fold, with my mug shot arrest photo available in the story for everyone. I was downtown with my son that morning when I first saw it through the plexiglass window of a physical newspaper stand.
In the article, Osher took credit for the arrest, noting the significance of his prior reporting regarding Anna’s claims and his own investigative determination, as it was portrayed, that 100% of all funds that were contributed to Humanwire were supposed to go to the beneficiaries, and thus, according to his conveyances, which resulted in the related charges that were filed, the reader could infer that I was intentionally frauding donors anytime I spent money on operating costs because there could be no operating costs, and in addition, the conveyance that the commingling of funds was the mechanism for a scam to steal over a $100,000 personally for myself. He also didn’t mention anything about being released, as if I was still in jail. Yet, he did know that I had been released, he just opted to keep that information from the reader. “I’m doing an article on your arrest today. Do you want to make any comment?”, Osher wrote to me in an email.
The threat of being separated from my son for the rest of his childhood had finally broken me, and I became fully overpowered. This combined with a feeling of incompetence in explaining myself was the most terrifying situation, where the feeling alone took me to the lowest place I’ve ever been in my life.
With the weight of twelve years in jail hanging over my shoulders, everything took on a different state. With each little item I saw, no matter how regular of an item it was, such as a drinking glass, I became acutely aware of it, and wondered about the freedom of the person who made the glass, and how they were so lucky to be able to make such a thing, and that I was so lucky to have it, but that it might all be taken away from me. I might not be allowed to make or have even such a little thing anymore. Looking around at the world all I saw was the system and everything that people make and do, a system that I suddenly might not be able to live in anymore.
Listening to music and watching people laugh was literally impossible. Even as I played with my son, there was a period where I could no longer experience any joy, not even for a moment as hard as I tried. I felt I had completely lost control of my life and my destiny was in the hands of a legal system I knew nothing about and had never participated in before.
How could I have reached out to any of my friends or colleagues for help with these stories out there about me? Even feeling innocent, I didn’t feel I could call anyone or look anyone in the eyes. You can’t just say that the stories from an investigative journalist that led to your arrest were wrong or that the whistleblower is not being sincere and expect that to be enough. When my friends called it was hard to accept. I knew they loved me and I would be there for them just the same, but if I read the articles in the Denver Post about someone I didn’t know so well or only knew of, I would never want to talk to that person, ever. The writing was too persuasive, and the authority was too strong.
It was especially scary for me because I couldn’t just open up my file cabinet and pull out the books to show how everything reconciled, as this was left incomplete. I had a grip on accounting via the software I had written, and I knew where things stood from being deep into everything every day, so while I was confident, I was not sure how it would become communicated. Feeling completely incompetent and failing to explain with all my transparency what I thought would be so easy for me, I literally physically shut down.
The funds were eventually raised through my extended family to hire the experienced defense firm I found that guided me through the arrest and that was enough to revive me out of the panic as I felt for the first time in months I would have a professional look at the information and then speak the right language.
Before ever making a plea or preparing for a trial, the case continued for an entire year as my lawyer worked with the Boulder District Attorney’s office to come to terms with the accounting. Forensic accountants put all of the accounting together and traced literally every single penny. When they asked me for all the records including all the banking, Stripe, Paypal, and Western Union records, and all of my personal and business accounts, they would not accept a download or PDF, they would only accept a login.
After they made their determination by reconciling all of the records, they went back and did the entire set of books a second time working backward. The main thing they were looking for was any indication that I had personally taken any money, or to find a pattern that indicated I was trying. There was none.
The end result is that over the entire span of Humanwire’s operations from the day it launched until the day it shut down, I received a total of zero. It wasn’t a total of $130,000. It wasn’t a total of $100,000. It wasn’t a total any. It also wasn’t the case that I ran around at the last minute after the fact to make amends. In total, I worked over two years of my life without any money and absorbed many, many kinds of losses beyond just monetary losses, trying to get it from scratch to a sustainable place. I was the only person who took on all the risks, and the only person who stood up and took accountability for anything and everything. To clarify, again with an intent to clarify in no uncertain terms, I did not steal any money from Humanwire, I certainly didn’t have any intention to, and my personal earnings totaled out to zero.
With regards to the use of restricted and unrestricted funds, no restricted funds were allocated towards unrestricted purposes and, to the contrary, unrestricted funds were used for restricted purposes even when Humanwire was not obliged.
There were some misallocations, for example money from one family going to another family, though when it became clear to the prosecutors that I had not taken anything, and also that the information the District Attorney obtained from the Denver Post was incorrect regarding the portrayal that all money was supposed to go to the beneficiaries (it seems the prosecutors discovered this truth on their own when they saw that restricted and unrestricted funds were recorded in the software ledger from day one and separated at the level of Stripe and PayPal), my lawyer suggested we go to the District Attorney with a no-guilt, deferred sentence proposal as the quickest, least expensive mechanism to dismiss the case.
I first wondered why we couldn’t go back to the District Attorney and ask them to simply drop everything and call it a day. My lawyer said that was an option to propose and we weighed the pros and cons of his idea vs. mine.
The biggest problem with my idea is that to do so would require quite a bit more time and discussion with regards to the roles of Anna, Justin, and Mona’s involvement in this case and the crimes that they may have committed. For many reasons, it’s technically much easier for a prosecutor to accept a deferred sentence than to drop a case. This is a complex story to unwind and I’m only just now connecting all the dots, even still learning as a result of sitting down to write this, for I did not know what had truly hit me at the time. The case is ultimately financial in nature, not a he-said-she-said type of case, however, Anna said a lot that was not true, and it would need to be addressed. The additional legal expense would be enormous and the threat hanging over me would continue on. I was paralyzed in my life and in complete fear.
I found my lawyer’s proposal wise, as it would be much less expensive with time and legal fees, it would be a proposal that would carry much less risk due to the relative ease in which it could be considered, but that the end result would be the same for me with regards to my only goal at that point: to remain free to be there for my son. I just wanted it to end so I could be with him and move on. The lingering threat of being locked up was so intense to endure for such a lengthy period, while also being rejected by just about everyone in my life, rightfully so based on the way I was portrayed by the Denver Post, there was no question.
As a reader of the news, in my life, I had come to assume that anyone who makes a no-contest plea was basically guilty and using it as a mechanism to not have to say it out loud, but now I know that it has little to do with being guilty or not. It should in no way ever be assumed that anyone who takes a no-contest plea deal is guilty or innocent on the face of such a plea, it would depend in each case on other factors to formulate an honest opinion. It’s a lot like negotiating a business deal, which is typically an enjoyable process, a process that flows organically based on what tends to be desired, good, efficient, and effective for all. Nothing about this process was enjoyable because of the level of threat to my own self and my family that remained on the table. Going to trial to face twelve years in jail was the threat against me for not being able to negotiate a deal that the District Attorney would accept.
We did, however, go through each and every financial claim from every donor with the District Attorney. And Anna, Mona, and Justin each applied as victims, seeking money to be paid to themselves as their formal restitution claims. None of their victim claims were legitimate and they received no money. Again, after all that, Anna, Justin, and Mona received zero dollars for the claims they made because they were not true, and they were themselves in no way victims of me or Humanwire. There were a few others who predictably came out of the woodworks with bad-faith victim claims who were also easy to show as false.
The agreement we struck led to the full dismissal of all charges. All charges have now in fact by legal definition been fully “dismissed”. Further, as a mechanism to help compensate for the undue stress to me personally, the court sealed the records.
To be the most crystal clear and specific on this important point as I can be, Anna, Mona, and Justin all applied seeking restitution for claims stating that I should personally pay them each an amount for what they claimed was criminal behavior against them personally, as a result of an investigation that they brought on, as a group together, each joining the group with a claim for personal gain, and with each individual seeking an amount that would be thousands of dollars they would each keep for themselves personally. Anna, for example, made a claim that she was personally a victim to ~$50,000 that she demanded to be paid to herself personally to keep, not for any beneficiary or a result of any money that was from a donor. And in each of their claims, after being scrutinized ever so closely, they were universally rejected, and none of them received a penny from what was returned to donors after the District Attorney allowed us to unlock the remaining funds held by a motion to freeze our accounts after Anna’s criminal complaint led to my arrest.
It’s no secret that Anna was the one who created the false police report:
Throughout the documents I obtained from discovery, Anna wrote emails directly to the police investigator and the District Attorney with extensive fabrications. For example. She showed them a cease-and-desist email from me and then said that I subsequently sent her 25 emails harassing her, when in fact I only ever sent one email to her with a formal legal tone insisting she stop taking funds and I have still to this day never written to her again. Saying that I wrote 25 emails when I only wrote one is the type of exaggeration she seems to make and to say that I was harassing her in this way was a direct lie to a public investigator that is of material matter.
She also lied to the detective in saying that I stepped down as CEO and was no longer in control of Humanwire which was beyond bizarre. She lied in writing to the investigator about the status of Humanwire being a non-profit when she joined. She lied to the detective in saying we told the refugees in Greece not to speak with Anna or her volunteers after she quit but it was the opposite, as we communicated that they should feel free to communicate with Anna if they wanted to, but that Anna and her volunteers were no longer with the company and that we were there for them via Layla. She lied to the detective by stating that we were still collecting funds for families on the website that were no longer in need, to convey to the detective that I was taking money with no intention of ever delivering it to the campaigns. She lied to the detective about the first staff meeting she joined where she quit in front of all the directors, writing that I was hyping up how great Humanwire was doing at that time, when in fact the purpose of the meeting was to discuss how difficult things were at that time which I spoke about at the meeting while taking accountability for the difficulties, and I provided updates on the types of improvements we would make. She incriminated herself when she admitted to the detective that she was working with her colleague in Athens to keep using the ATM card to withdraw as much money as she could, despite that she was not authorized. That’s no small mistake or misunderstanding from a few words here or there. There is no way of looking at it without viewing it as a serial.
In Colorado, although “Perjury” most commonly occurs within a formal proceeding, there are other instances in which an individual can be charged with second degree felony perjury or false swearing, specifically, when providing a false, sworn report to a law enforcement authority outside of, or independent of, an official proceeding. Knowledge of the materiality of the statement is not an element of this crime, and the defendant’s mistaken belief that her statement was not material is not a defense.
Though Anna misled entire departments within the city of Boulder costing Boulderites what almost certainly added up in professional hours to far more than she ever falsely claimed and demanded for herself or anyone else, most of her defamation came at me in the form of libel and happened on Facebook. Even after it was publicized that the theft charges were dropped by the court, she continued on.
I did not blame Anna, any news organization or anyone else, I only wanted to say that I was not guilty as charged, and show that I was accountable for my mistakes. But it wasn’t enough.
Again, the comment above was made after the theft charges were dismissed by the court and it was shown by the forensic accounting that I took nothing.
The above comment was also made publically after it was shown where this money went and the theft charges were dropped by the court, and it‘s still distressing to me because she lives right here in my own town, she is tied in closely with the city council, the local news writers, and local political activists.
After I was jailed by Anna’s formal actions with the Boulder Police, and even after it was shown her accounting was wrong and the charges were dropped, she still wanted me removed from the town and literally, physically beaten by the refugees in Greece, she wrote above in a message to the world.
Such off-the-cuff comments reach much deeper in their influence than you might think, for as you can see they are the same as the comments that she used to get the attention of the Boulder Police and The Denver Post in the first place. They are the comments that the parents of my son’s friends hear in his class. They are the comments that make their way effortlessly through a small town and they affect me and my son to this day.
I never noticed anything that made me think Mona and Anna conspired together, and while I gave Mona the benefit of the doubt as much as I could, Mona made multiple false claims that she was a victim at my expense that are even more serious than Anna’s, and only later was I able to put the pieces together.
After I had written to her friend Ayman (see above) hoping he might want to help her out, she collaborated with Ayman to place a formal victim claim with the District Attorney against me for an additional $37,478 in donor contributions which were provided by Ayman.
In the chart above, the first $17,000 they attempted to claim, from their own list they submitted, you can see was sent right to Mona in Lebanon via Western Union. In other words, she received that money in Lebanon to manage and spend. As for the rest of the items on the list, she accepted and managed all the funds too, completed all the distributions, emailed me and the donor each time to give a report on her distribution progress along with the actual receipts, and then she posted about all of them on Facebook after she completed each one. To be clear, Mona posted photos on Facebook about the successful distributions of these funds that she herself distributed and she showed pictures of herself doing the distributions on formal Humanwire posts on Facebook. They falsely claimed to the District Attorney through perjury, in an attempt to reward themselves with tens of thousands of dollars they knew definitively they were not entitled to, that I took these funds specifically for myself in an attempt to have me pay them this money in cash, on my way to jail for 12 years, as my punishment for stealing it from them.
It was hard to fathom that they were making this claim since Ayman, the donor himself, traveled to Lebanon to help Mona distribute the funds they claimed I took. The post below was written by Mona and the photos show both Ayman and Mona distributing the specific funds that Mona and Ayman claimed on the spreadsheet above that I stole:
The funds which Mona and Ayman claimed they were the victim of also included another distribution event where Mona used the funds to purchase heaters and heating oil certificates. After the event, Mona emailed me and the donor to detail how the money was spent per the donor request, and then Mona posted photos of the event to Facebook:
This claim from them also included the school-start up which went directly to Lebanon for Mona to spend on school allocations, and she did spend them on those allocations, and I have the receipts and photos of the equipment as she sent all of these records to us over email in her formal report when she completed it.
An interesting side-note: at the time they submitted this claim for the $37,000, based on the discovery I have, I believe they were under the false impression created by Anna that I was about to be convicted and sentenced to jail.
Mona also filed a report with Boulder County Human Services (BCHS) claiming she was the victim of wage theft. She claimed the same amount that she claimed as a victim to the District Attorney, which led her to file, not one, but eight wage claims in the Boulder Municipal Court for wages she had never asked for previously until she quit and included those same claims for the months that she was here working in the U.S. under her B1 visitor’s visa. With each of her eight claims for wage theft, I faced paying her the money I already offered to pay her in a debt document with a personal guarantee, plus 90 days in jail, times eight.
In the report she submitted to the BCHS, she wrote that she tried to get me to sign a debt document but that I “altered it”. She didn’t say in her report how it was altered, just that it was altered likely misleading the BCHS to think that I was somehow trying to trick her since I did not “alter” anything. When the investigator at the BCHS asked for my defense specifically to her wage claims in an attempt to help us settle our case out of court, I told the BCHS that I did not dispute her wage claims but that I would like more time to pay it, to deal with her other case first. When the BCHS investigator took this proposal back to Mona, she refused to consider any schedule for payment. So I proposed mediation. When the BCHS took the proposal of mediation to Mona, she refused to mediate. I wasn’t sure what else I could do. Since the BCHS was unable to settle it for us, they sent the case to the City Attorney’s office and they decided to prosecute in the municipal court on behalf of Mona as a victim of eight counts of wage theft, and the counts were filed against both Humanwire and me personally, wherein I faced a second criminal case, this time threatened by two full years in jail.
I had no choice but to take on the wage claim case myself, pro se, as I couldn’t afford to pay another lawyer to handle it and I was not going to be able to raise any more money from my family or anyone else, especially as everyone assumed I was a refugee thief due to the news.
I spoke directly to the City Attorney myself and said that I would plead not guilty with an “affirmative defense”. With an affirmative defense I planned to say that the company admittedly owes her the wages, but that as her employer, I did everything an employer must legally do if a company falls apart and can not pay, including offering to sign a debt document. The law provides a very specific list of criteria on what an employer must do in such a circumstance, and the courts recognize a fair defense when you can prove you met the list. This is the opposite of a regular trial where the strategy would be to defend yourself from whatever the prosecutor charged you with. In an affirmative defense case, instead of defending yourself from what you didn’t do, the strategy is to prove what you did do.
I then went before the judge pro se and gave a not guilty plea to all eight of Mona’s claims.
Due to the ease in which I was able to prove the desolate financial state I was in at that time, the brilliant lawyers at the CU Law school I was assigned to by the judge allowed me representation so that I would not be required to mitigate the significant risks of 2 years in jail on my own.
Mona claimed that she had not been paid for the year and that was not true, but while I was focused on the particular months she was paid to show what happened over the months of her claims, my lawyers had the great idea to go all the way back and calculate every penny she had ever been paid from beginning to end, for all the time she worked over the full two years at Humanwire, since we first met. Mona was the one in charge of the accounting on herself, so it would be important to reconcile her work and understand not just what dates she was paid, but how each payment was accounted for.
I was surprised then to find that she had been paid for everything already, including the months she was in Boulder, she just didn’t document it properly in her books. In each case over the two years, there is a record where she requested funds in writing, I responded that they were approved and that she could take them or that I had sent them, she replied that she got them, and there is a banking trail.
My lawyers filed a series of motions that led to the dismissal of my case however based on a different concept, unrelated to her actual wages, noting that the totality of the eight criminal claims against me was too significant and important in size to defend in such a municipal court setting and that Mona should file her claims in another forum, to allow me a more suitable system for a fair defense. In other words, it wasn’t dismissed because the judge found Mona’s claims to be false, my interpretation is that the judge thought Mona might still have a valid claim and that her claim should be treated fairly despite her lack of citizenship. Granted, the judge had no discovery from my side yet, we had not revealed any facts related to my defense, she had only heard Mona’s side of the story, which was the same for the City Attorney and BCHS. The judge cited the city council as a relevant body for laying out the fair limits of defense within a municipal court. In my opinion, the judge took quite a bit of time to clarify the thought and justification. It was a stark contrast to the lack of time and justification that went into the work by The Denver Post with regards to getting at what was true and what was fair. No one ever reported on this second criminal case launched by Mona where I faced two years in jail.
The City Attorney then appealed the case on behalf of Mona and won the appeal! The case returned to be reset for trial based on the determination that the municipal court was the appropriate forum for the particular claims in my case. Trial in the municipal court seemed inevitable.
My lawyers had not yet revealed a single fact or element of discovery — not one — with regards to the defense or affirmative defense we would take to Mona’s claims. Just before moving on to the trial, my lawyer opened up a conversation with the City Attorney for the first time and offered to continue the case so that we could discuss a breakdown of the finances with him, and show him for the first time our records that Mona was not telling the truth about the payments that were made to her, nor was she truthful about the offer I made to her with the debt document.
I went into the case thinking that Mona was owed salary but by this point, I had come to see that she was not owed any. We provided the City Attorney with a list of all her payments from the company from day one till the end listing exhibit numbers, dates, and banking transaction record identification numbers to match the set of accounting records Mona created for the company. They were all transactions to her for salaries that could not possibly be confused with distributions.
After the City Attorney showed this document to Mona he came back and said he would agree to settle all her claims of $19,000 and two years in jail for just $1000 and an apology letter.
The apology letter would not be from her however, it would be from me. An apology letter was an unusual type of request to go along with such an amount in such a situation. An apology for what? My lawyers did not say it outright, but I think they wondered if I wouldn’t do it as if she had finally gone too far. I wrote a sincere apology to the world for being in charge of something great and failing to make it work, which is totally how I feel, and I replaced the word “world” with “Mona”, wrote a check for $1000 and the case was dismissed before ever going to trial. It would be ridiculous to refuse the offer considering the moment before I faced 2 years in jail away from my son on a separate case while mitigating 12 years in the other case, a payment of $20,000 she was not owed, plus the additional time I would consume from the CU lawyers who had already worked so hard for nothing.
Her rationale for not moving forward with a nearly assured work visa that her friends said they would help pay for on behalf of the struggling company under attack by Anna and Justin, her intent to never sign her own debt document, her alligations of theft and fraud to the District Attorney, the eight fabricated criminal wage claims in the municipal court, the associated claim of theft for $37,000 she had already spent herself with Ayman as seen in the photos above, her public claims that I was a thief and she was my victim on social media that make up her Denver Post profile with a professional back-and-white Ghetty victim photography shoot, to my friends and collegues behind closed doors, and even to my own wife who felt so threatened that she too would be arrested and that our child would be left alone, as well as her demand for an apology letter, may have each been an attempt to support her application with The United States Homeland Security department stating that I implicated her in an embezzlement scheme and that she ended up in the United States a victim against her will, in hopes of obtaining a U-Visa which would allow her to live and work freely in America with few restrictions.
The document above which I found in discovery was prepared by Mona at a time prior to any determination with my case. If I had committed a crime (I did not), I already provided her with multiple, formal, written documents with legalese acknowledging she had nothing to do with such claims. You read one above that is comprehensive and salient. And even if I did commit a crime (I did not), that would not be enough to justify a U-Visa, for her U-Visa application is dependent on her being implicated for that crime. I made it through all of these cases without ever once pointing the finger at Anna, Mona, Justin, or anyone else, and I did not ever go after anyone, I only defended myself with verifiable facts from the claims that they brought on.
The U-Visa has several important criteria that Mona would not qualify for had she submitted a non-perjured application. First and foremost, the applicant must be a victim herself. She was in no way a victim of any kind by me, though she made many attempts to obtain that status and put in an application specifically as a victim of having been implicated for a crime that she said I committed. If she was actually suffering, perhaps she was truly a victim of Anna and Justin, or The Denver Post.
If she did not reveal the document I produced above to Homeland Security that cleared her of all claims at Humanwire in her application for the U-Visa, that would be a significant omission on her part with regards to the integrity of her application. More importantly, it should at least be required for her application that she show evidence of how she was a victim, in particular how it was that anyone implicated her in any embezzlement scheme for a crime that she did not commit.
Another criterion for a U-Visa requires the applicant to be useful to investigators, which requires that the applicant not perjure herself or lie for her own purposes within that process. Misleading and lying to investigators, and submitting false claims for money can not be considered “useful” if it mischievously leads official investigators down the wrong path. The U-Visa is an excellent resource for victims of crimes yet the design seems to prove useful for abuse.
While the U-Visa does not require that it be too dangerous to return, such that staying in the U.S. would be critical for her personal safety, she did use this application to warrant that she could not return to Lebanon because it was too dangerous…though in the same written communication she had with the police that I later found through discovery, where she wrote to the Boulder detective that she was planning to apply for a U-Visa, she included that she was first going to return to Lebanon to visit her family. She then did go back to Lebanon to visit her family months later, posted photos about it, and then returned back to the U.S. to continue working on her status as a victim who could not safely return to Lebanon.
There is another factor that is related to her access that is not transparent in this application. Even if it were too dangerous for her to go back to Lebanon, she is not here in the U.S. on her Lebanese passport, she is here on her Brazilian passport and she can safely go to Brazil which was part of her plan well before we ever met. The claim she put into Homeland Security pretends she is here on a Lebanese passport to justify the need to remain in America to avoid persecution in returning to Lebanon. In 2016, around the time she obtained her new Brazilian passport, she wrote “The good thing about getting a Brazilian passport is I have visa-free access to many countries” which indicates that she is free to go to many countries in addition to living and working in Brazil for her safety as a citizen of Brazil.
Authorities from the various departments in Boulder did not piece any of this together. I only learned about Mona’s actions recently, after the fact, from all of the cases she’s waged which resulted in all of the discoveries I was provided. Even to this day, I never filed any complaints with The Boulder Police, Homeland Security, or any other department and I do not wish to file any complaints. But I can’t continue to fear that she will come back to harm me one day when I am down while she lives her life in my town under the presumption that she has been victimized by me. That’s not right.
The purpose of my article is to defend myself from these public accusations, especially as they are related to the articles in the Denver Post (which are unfair and should be retracted) and their own public libel which remains on their various posts all over social media today, especially in the case of Mona as the company accountant stating matter-of-factly that I stole over $100,000. I tried for years but I could not live with myself without addressing the significant allegations that linger in the Denver Post articles due to the perceived authority of that information.
The narrative victim piece on Mona Ayoub in The Denver Post written by Osher can be summarized thusly:
After making excuses and not paying Mona her salary for almost two full years, Andrew then lured Mona to the U.S. for the specific purpose of harming her. When she arrived in Boulder, she began to ask for her salary but he rebuffed her, telling her she was an investor and thus wasn’t entitled to anything. After she found out Andrew had stolen over $100,000, that’s when he turned on her and started doing really bad things to her, including threatening to sue her. So she secretly started recording him and handed the recordings over to the police. When Mona confronted him one last time and demanded her $19,000, he said he would pay it, but he never did.
It’s the least substantiated of all his articles in that each material conveyance he makes is fully unsubstantiated, and also verifiably false. I believe the editor should look at their records and see that they have no information to substantiate a single conveyance in Mona’s story against the information I’m providing here along with the outcome of two criminal cases that she waged which were both dismissed, and then they should ask Mona to provide them with one of her secret recordings, or an email, document, or anything that provides any glimmer of truth to anything she’s said to substantiate this story, especially with regards to information about how someone blamed an embezzlement scheme on her and how that led her to do all the things she did. They could ask her for a low-hanging fruit such as a grouchy or rude remark I made to her, or show where I acted in a way that was not completely truthful or empathetic to see that she can’t provide anything. I was directly kind to everyone at Humawire. I never yelled at anyone even once. I never lied to anyone about anything big or small, I was reliable and I was accountable. Even when people were bullying me and I became defensive, I had empathy for them not just in how I spoke to them, but with the actions I took towards them.
There is nothing to substantiate her narrative about her salary, theft of funds, or anything of any kind in the article. After two years of working day in and out together as documented thoroughly in daily writings, after she finished mitigating her debt document, after she broke the terms of her Visa to be in the U.S. by demanding payment for work she knew she was not allowed to be compensated for, after she resigned, after all the recording she did, after she demanded ~$20,000 in a matter of days or else, after she threatened to sue me on November 4th, 2017 and demanded half of the payment by November 9th (a demand of $10,000 in just 5 days) when she wrote “If upon Thursday (November 9) in the morning, the funds have not been received, this failure will constitute a violation of “timely payment” according to both Colorado and Federal law. Expect legal actions to the full extent to be employed in pursuit of these monies”, after the morning of November 9th passed, after she published to Instagram and Facebook as the accountant that I was a thief and stole over $100,000— after all that and only after all of it — did I one time threaten to counter sue her, after all of that. But a review of her emails, any tapes she recorded of me that I know about or do not, all of the communication from day one until the end, daily logs of Instant Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, contracts, and any audio or video will only show that I spoke about, and then acted on, empathy, sympathy, professional and personal accountability for everything, and a sincere intent to lift her up due to my trust in her over time, based on her performance, such that she became a partner with little to no liability or risks, and with an opportunity to share in the rewards. She can not produce a single instance otherwise, and thus neither can Osher or The Denver Post.
Just before publishing this report, I noticed that Justin Hilton has since created his own charity site, called Safe Place International, registered it as a 501 non-profit, and has been soliciting donations using photographs that were originally from my website, for as I mentioned he commandeered away the project he was donating to in Turkey, hiring multiple Humanwire staff to work for him after they quit from fear they would be prosecuted as a result of his actions. I had a look at his donation process and there are no terms listed of any kind on the site. All donations seem to be unrestricted and go to him personally despite being advertised for specific campaigns and causes. The site indicates he is involved with building many shelters around the world though his 501c3 annual reports reveal his charity has zero liabilities.
He has a list of partners on his partners page and recently had Hilton Hotels listed as a partner, along with a Hilton Hotels logo. I learned that after Hilton Hotels was contacted to verify the authenticity of their partnership, the next week the Hilton Hotels logo was removed from his site. The same was true for Patagonia, I also learned. Apparently after Patagonia was contacted to verify their relationship, the partner image for Patagonia was removed from the site. As with Anna, I wonder who holds him accountable for the charity funds he makes under these kinds of conditions when he was so anxious to prosecute me for his misunderstanding that I was doing the same thing.
Did Justin, Anna or anyonementioned above commit any crimes, actually? I do not have the authority to make such a determination. It seems to me that they did. Due to the extent of the damage to me which I only now admit to myself is much worse than I could have ever imagined this many years later, I’m here to protect myself from their libel which they and others continue to use against me. If you wonder why the Boulder D.A. or the Boulder police would not care about their acts, it’s because they did not know because I did not defend myself by placing blame on anyone else, and the discoveries I received came from different departments at different times. I only pieced this together myself recently, after the fact.
I took accountability for everything and I have suffered from this for years but hardly, because my life is privileged and my problems are faint compared to others who were again lost to the world in this story, the people Humanwire were effectively supporting. It would have continued to work, but ultimately, it did not because of me. I am sorry. I know that another person with more experience and insight would have handled these challenges differently and they would have succeeded in mitigating the obstacles I failed at.
Though I made many mistakes, I am here to clarify the false record that was portrayed through the perceived authority of The Denver Post and Daily Camera. This, combined with the libel that still permeates the internet from Anna, Justin, and Mona to this day, as shown in the screenshots above, justifies the need to clarify my side of this story and why I have taken the time to provide so much detail. One day, my son is going to come of age and find those damning Denver Post articles. I don’t want to have to sit down and tell him the truth in private and then have him wonder why I couldn’t stand up for myself in public. The same is true for anyone I love or may want to form a deeper relationship with in the future.
I will begin with the first Denver Post story and what first set me off that something wasn’t going right beyond a simple correction. The information below is not an isolated or complete account, it requires the prerequisite information of Part I.
The four articles produced at The Denver Post were created by one reporter named Christopher Osher and they are listed specifically as works of investigative journalism that all together form a single “investigative series”.
Chris Osher started off his first story about Humanwire detailing the lives of two displaced families at Humanwire. He spends some time setting up a visual scene and relies on these two families as the primary examples of things going terribly wrong. Before the article was released, however, Osher emailed me to ask about these two particular families, which were perfect examples of things going perfectly right. Osher wrote in his email to me:
The Faten family had issues in their campaign related to the costs to get them to German [SIC]. The donor had to make arrangements to pay for the lawyer and also made arrangements to pay for a month of rent. In the end, the family had to borrow money to pay off a volunteer who picked up the airfare. The donor says $1,200 of the amount she had raised was not delivered, and she disputes that Humanwire paid for the airfare to Germany or paid the lawyer off.
None of these statements were sincere and I had the material to prove it, so I responded.
Chris, when you first called and agreed to stop by our office, I thought whatever story Anna and Justin have created to make it appear that we are not doing our job, our best strategy for showing that we are doing a good job will be to show the facts on the families. Especially because I knew they have been misrepresenting us to others in this area.
When you did come by, we ended up saying a lot, but we didn’t get to actually showing the hard facts/records as they actually are, visually, for any families. I am not here to say we are perfect or flawless - not at all - but I felt certain that whatever families you mentioned, we would have the records on the spot and be able to see what was going on together. I knew that at the very worst, we might be a bit behind with a non urgent matter with some family you identified but nothing serious as Anna keeps describing to people. We take good care to be sure we are not causing any harm for people no matter what daily business problems we might have.
You mentioned a couple of families finally in your email below and in fact they are quintessential examples of what Anna is doing to us unfairly with her “stories”, and thus I want to first jump right ahead to these questions and show some facts. Not only are Anna and Justin unfair to us by making the claim that we are not supporting these families or doing our job, but these examples show that literally, they are being mischievous in how they handled us and these families, and especially mischievous for using these examples to say we are not acting above board.
I’m going to start with the first family you mentioned “Fatem and Family”. This is a perfect, perfect example of us being there and doing everything we could possibly do to remain front and center for this family, it shows the mischievous behavior of Anna with her interference in our business, and it also reveals how it is that we are dealing with the unaccounted for funds in a fair and forgiving, conservative manner.
“Unaccounted for funds” refers to the money that Anna took from our bank and our attempts to figure out what she did with it.
Please let me know which records you would like to see and Ill send over PDFs showing all of the following:
1. Faten has received all payments, on time.
2. Faten’s expected, due payments for July and August were paid on time by Florence when she was working at Humanwire, with Humanwire funds. Regarding the theft of the $9000 in July, as I mentioned for tax and practical purposes, we do not know where this went and its unaccounted for, however so far, we have triangulated three payments that were made with the stollen funds, and one of them was Faten’s August rent, which we reduced from our stollen column. We call it the “Tent to Home July Fund” (the stollen $9000), and when we can confirm a payment that was made by Anna, we reduce the theft amount from the $9000. So to clarify, Florence took the money from the ATM in July before she “quit”, and then made the payment to Faten and the landlord Nick with HW funds in the last days of July, and then again later in August.
3. We contacted Faten and surveyed her on Aug 3rd, immediately after Florence had left, to get an update.
The following survey was recorded in google docs with time stamps. The questions were part of our standardized form that we asked all of the families in Greece, and the answers, in this case, were from Faten herself, translated by Layla from Arabic to English after speaking with each in Arabic on the phone. This was the family hosted by Jenny, who also lives in Boulder and who Osher used in the article, but did not ever mention that she was connected to Anna. The date of the form answers written by Layla below was August 3rd:
1. Is your situation on rent urgent with regards to a past due payment on rent, or an upcoming payment that you were expecting from Humanwire? Tell me about anything that is currently late or due immediately, with rent or other distributions:
“I have to pay August rent on 18 August and pay August electricity and water bills $118.62 on 31 August”.
2. What are your future plans? What is your expectation for what will happen to you in terms of citizenship? Do you think you will receive asylum soon in Europe beyond Greece? Or do you think you will stay in Greece for a long time? Or will you go back to Turkey or Syria one day? What is your expectation for what will realistically happen in the future?
My husband lives in Germany. We applied for the reunion and we are accepted. We will travel on September, but i’m scared because i’m pregnant (7 months) and as i know they don’t allow pregnants to travel.
3. If not obtaining asylum, what will you do when the Tent to Home program runs out? We want to be thinking of ways to help beyond the campaign so that it’s not just over and you have to go back to lesser living conditions if we can. So when do you expect your campaign to run out, and what will you do?
I don’t know what i have to do and when will the campaign end. I wish i can travel before this problem
4. List the top three needs that you wish Humanwire could cover for you that are not expected, that is not being covered by Humanwire or anyone else?
I have to pay $355.75 to the lawyer I have hired to expedite the family reunification proceedings 2. Food 3.clothes and diapers for the upcoming baby
5. How would you rate your experience with your representative from Humanwire’s Tent to Home program. What improvements could we make based on your experience?
I just can say,without your help i would be in a bad situation
Each time Layla returned a set of answers for campaigns in Greece, I would provide Layla with a follow-up (as recorded also in the doc) on any action or response that should be taken or communicated.
As a result of the pregnancy concern, after reading the report, I reached out to Faten’s lawyer to understand the legal requirements around her pregnancy and learned that the pregnancy would not interfere with her asylum. The following detail is what I added to the document at that time after speaking with the lawyer:
Please tell Fatima that she should not worry about her baby interfereing with her chance to go to Germany. If They call her to go to Germany, and she is not ready because she must have her baby first, it will be okay. She can have her baby and then when she is ready to travel, she will be able to travel. We do not expect that they will tell her that she can only travel on a certain date. She will have time to travel when she is ready. We have one question: Does she have a prenatal doctor? And does she know where to go when she is ready to deliver? - Andrew
Layla continued with the document after speaking with Fatima:
She has a doctor works with Médecins Sans Frontières and every month she visits her for free. She has an appointment on 31 August to indicate where and when she will deliver the baby. -Layla
I provided all of the above information to Osher and let him know that I can substantiate it with the docs and emails if he would like to see it. I also detailed to the reporter the interaction I had with the host of this campaign, Jenny, whom he had been speaking with. The following excerpt is from my email to Osher. In my email to Osher below, I was not leading to an argument that was meant to undermine Jenny (who I found to be sincerely trying to help) but to show that some of what Jenny said was possibly driven by misinformation from Anna.
6. The host “suddenly” got involved in August and started to email me exhibiting the exact same out-of-course pattern of behavior that a few other Tent to Home hosts who are friends of Anna exhibited after becoming “alerted” by Anna to Anna’s claims. Its always the same: She called up out of nowhere for the first time since TTH campaigns are run by us, not hosts, said she wanted all of the remaining campaign funds released to her personally (which makes no sense and would not be appropriate, she didn’t contribute the funds) and to remove “her” family from the site. She also happens to live in Boulder.
7. The host began to complain about July rent payment (which had already been paid), and she complained about the legal fees which was not part of the budget, for as you can see above Faten did not expect HW to pay for the legal fees.
8. I invited her to stop by the office and explained that we were having a problem with our staff in Athens, but that it was not effecting the success of her campaign and that everything was in order for Faten. I showed her all the records that everything was fine and up to date, that we were in direct contact with Fatem, etc. and not to worry. She seemed to be fine with everything at the time.
9. But then a few days later, despite the meeting and lack of expectation or orders, the host started complaining again, this time that the legal fees were past due again, because of HW, and that as a result, Humanwire was going to cause Faten’s lawyer to stop working for Faten, and would thus jeopardize her asylum.
10. The lawyer is Fotoni, who as a matter of fact, I had been emailing with only a week before and she said nothing about Faten or any bills at the time. She was not under any expectation that HW would pay for the legal, and she never asked. Fotini is a very nice and bright person IMO, and Anna had suggested we hire her for the role of director. When I interviewed Fotini months before for the role, I felt she would be great to work with and she was my first choice, however, she is a practicing lawyer, and director of HW would not be the right fit for a long term position.
11. So I contacted Fotini again and asked her if she had been doing work for Faten (because even though the host was emailing about the legal fees, no one else was) and she said yes, but by now, Anna had apparently sent her stories to Fotini, so Fotini had changed over night with her communication, and was instantly cold and rude to me. She said that yes, she did work and that I should send her the money immediately for her work.
12. I told Fotini that the payment wasnt expected but that I wanted to make sure it got paid so that this would not jeopardize Faten, and asked Fotini to send over an invoice.
13. To show a bit how cold she had suddenly become (which you can see in the emails), she also responded that I should just send her the money first, right away, and then she will send an invoice.
14. Thats not how business works. You have to send the invoice first. I didn’t say that to her, I just responded and asked if we could chat on the phone, and that I only wanted to get a good understanding of what work she actually did for Faten and how she came to be hired so I can have a record of it, and Fotini refused and has never responded again.
15. The host asked me again with a followup if the lawyer got paid, and I explained that I was in touch with the lawyer and ready to pay her but still waiting to speak with her at least once about her work, or get a proper account of what she has done.
16. I never heard from anyone including Fotini or the host about this ever again. I.e., I told Fotini that I was prepared to pay for it, but just wanted to speak with her once about it and learn more about the work she did, and she has yet to ever contact me again. I told the host that she was probably paid from the Tent to Home July Fund, and that we were thus going to account for it that way (and reduce the $9000 theft from Anna further) and that if anyone cared to let me know what was actually going on - e.g. who paid her, and from where - because Im sure she got paid or was told by Anna not to contact me back - then I will update that with the new fact.
17. Next, the host emailed me out of the blue one day after all of that to say that she has great news, Faten had her papers and we were ready to buy plane tickets to Germany. I emailed back to say great, let me know when you find the tickets you want to purchase (or if you want us to find the ticket), and Ill be on standby ready to purchase the tickets with the campaign fund.
18. Then she writes back a couple of days later and said that the ticket had been purchased by “volunteers” and she sent me a copy of the invoice for the ticket, and asked that I send her the funds personally (ie. send the funds to the host, not the person who purchased it)
19. I said, oh, ok, who are the volunteers that purchased it? Because they are not working with us. She did not say and I still don’t know. So I said to her, I see on the receipt it doesn’t show who purchased the ticket nor does it show a credit card or even four digits from a card, who bought this ticket (this info had been purposely not on the receipt)? She said the volunteers again but would not tell me who.
20. I am nearly certain that Anna paid for the ticket, and that she used stolen funds from HW, so I explained to the host that I have closed out the order, and that the airplane ticket has been probably been paid for by the Humanwire Tent to Home July Fund, but if whoever actually bought the ticket wants to contact you or me, Im absolutely willing to reimburse that person, so long as its not Anna. I have never heard from anyone again about it.
21. The host came back again after she dropped the concern over the ticket.The host said that she was in touch with Nick the landlord of Faten and that there was a remainder of rent that needed to be paid, due to the extension of the lease. Faten’s lease has expired by now, but its been extended and the host wanted to use campaign funds to extend the lease. Like the legal fees, I said sure, Ill send the funds directly to Nick, the landlord.
22. She emailed back to say to send the funds to her, but I persisted and said I would send directly to the landlord.
23. She emailed Nick to ask for an invoice but he never sent her one. I then emailed Nick (and ‘ccd her) and asked him to send me an invoice - twice Ive emailed - and he has never responded to either of us.
24. After all of that, I sat down with the campaign dashboard for “Faten and Family” and note that all records are there and can be seen (just like the Denver fund) in order by number, with photo receipts, and that $8 remains in the account.
25. Anna took to Facebook and posted about how great she is and what a wonderful job she has done on her own, without Humanwire and without Humanwire’s money she stole, in getting Faten to Germany.
You can see I told Osher above I had the records to validate what I was saying and that he could come over and see, or I could send him any document he would like to verify or question anything, but Osher never responded, and decided to present this family as the prime example of a family who was suffering because of me. The reader takes away that these two families wouldn’t have made it to asylum, maybe not even in life, if not for Anna’s valiant work saving them from the complete disregard of an apparent refugee thief. The article conveys this primary take-away, and it’s simply not true.
Osher asked me about this family because he believed that this family was treated in a way that supports his portrayal that refugees in our care were put in “harm’s way” (his words) and despite what I sent him above, which is all documented in writing and I know shows the extensive effort I personally took to care for the particular details of families under my watch, which goes way beyond what anyone ever expected or would get to hear -but what else for this is the purpose of my work - even while I myself was put under extreme duress by Anna Segur, and despite having the system records and financial activity ready to back it all up, Osher decided to ignore it all, and move forward with this case as being representative of things going wrong based on pure hearsay by Anna. It became apparent to me that Osher had never communicated with any displaced family, not via a translator, nor on his own via any attempt to send through questions.
Because Osher ignored my side of this story and my availability to show the written documentation to back it up as much as he would want for this family and the other family he named that was also perfectly taken care of, another story very similar that shows how we were there every step of the way in a secure and accountable manner that goes beyond the expectations of what anyone would expect, the article is not truthful to the audience as they could only take away one opinion which is that I disregarded the families and they were practically suffering.
His story relied on the notion that these two families were validated examples of the kind of “harm” that I personally caused though he is not able to substantiate a single problem that either family underwent. Upon verifying the email correspondence from me I already sent, from Jenny, Nick, and the lawyer, while also asking Anna to provide any evidence to the contrary which she will not be able to do, this should be enough to warrant taking down the article, though there are other reasons too.
The following, specific statements made in the Denver Post article are incorrect:
“About $1,200 of the $5,000 Jenny Otto of Boulder donated to and raised for Humanwire to help that family was never delivered” — As described above, this is false. Otto did not raise the funds for the airline ticket through Humanwire, she said she would pay for that herself as a result of not meeting her own goals. But I offered to pay for it anyway because I knew that it was their ticket to asylum and time was of the essence. The family lived comfortably in Greece from the moment Humanwire began raising funds for this family and this family made it on to Germany without any concerns of any kind. Humanwire took extra care to assure this family’s particular needs were always met. Any type of argument that suggests $1,200 was never delivered should first ask to who it was never delivered to and why that entity never came forward.
“And the refugee family, already struggling to survive in a foreign country, went into debt,” — This is false. The family never went into debt and The Denver Post can not substantiate this. It’s possible that Anna Segur went into debt or used the money she took from Humanwire and itemized it as a debt, though no person ever communicated to the family that they were in debt, and they were never in debt. This is a verifiably untrue statement.
“volunteers who say they now feel misled by its promises, still prominently displayed on the website, that pledges would go directly to needy refugees with “0 percent” going to operational costs,” — A volunteer may have said this but it’s a verifiably false technical matter. This false conveyance that “0 percent” would go to operational costs reflects the tragic misunderstanding the reporter had about Humanwire’s operating costs including costs raised at the point of sale in every transaction where donors decided what % they wished to allocate of their final donation to Humanwire for operating costs. It can not be argued that the material conveyance was vague enough to be journalistically viable or could be interpreted by anyone as truthful. Neither I, nor anyone at Humanwire, ever received a complaint or expression of a misunderstanding from anyone related to this, Osher was the only person who ever made this claim, which resulted in a misunderstanding that will affect me negatively for the rest of my life.
It‘s also worth noting that while this reporter had never seen such a style and technique for a platform to allow users to pay 0% to operational costs, as there had never been one before, two weeks after my arrest, the GoFundMe company announced that they changed their entire business model to the exact same model, previously demanding 5%, now taking 0%. While all four articles in Osher’s series mentioned that 0% goes to operating costs, he never once mentioned in any article that users have the option to give money to operating expenses. In the article above describing GoFundMe’s adoption of this method, it would not be fair to anyone if the writer failed to mention that GoFundMe has a method of attaining operating costs. If it did, the article should be retracted, just as this article from The Denver Post should be retracted for not mentioning that Humanwire had multiple revenue streams for operating costs.
“Those jeopardized…Facing eviction from the apartment due to a lack of support from Humanwire, the Alrahmouns now probably will have to relocate to a more cramped apartment provided by United Nations relief workers — one they will have to share with another family, according to former Humanwire volunteers.” — This is false. The family never faced eviction, and The Denver Post can not substantiate it. “Volunteers” refers again to Anna Segur. A review of the campaign finance records shows a detailed history for this family. The move to UNHCR housing was the result of a positive impetus to extend their support while their asylum was delayed, and because they only raised $500 total which was spent on food and rent already. Nevertheless, they did have rent paid for them by Humanwire that was not obliged, and thus the truth is the opposite to what The Denver Post wrote.
A review of email correspondence from Anna about this family shows an example of the significant types of accounting errors Anna made. In her emails on this family, she claimed in this family was due $4,835 which was their goal, though the family only raised $500, actually. In May and June, she requested rent for this family in a table of expenses, but then followed up her email later to say that she was unaware that some distributions had already been completed, so she updated her spreadsheet with the rent expense removed. Then later when she followed up to push for distribution, the rent appeared again on the table as she had put back in the old table again, and thus her new total reflected the rent which wasn’t due anymore. I also discovered that her table did not match the correct order numbers on the system and that her claim in this case for $4,835, was the result of both an organizational mistake on her part (if not yet another intended extraction), as well as a deep lack of understanding over allocations due to being a volunteer who was not in the loop over allocations. In the end, the family was paid significantly more than the $500 they raised.
“The volunteers say they’ve moved 47 refugees in Greece out of Humanwire housing and into units provided by United Nations relief operations and started relying on other nonprofits.” — This is a true statement but the actual act of moving families into UN housing was designed by Anna and myself, not because of any problem with Humanwire funding which is an idea that this sentence is placed to support, which thus makes it an incorrect use of the facts. The cause for moving them was a delay in their asylum applications. The correlation between moving families was not related to being jeopardized by Humanwire. The action was correlated to their applications process becoming uncertain and was put into place as a result of the extra care that we were taking in assuring that the funds they had would last over an extended period. Humanwire never caused anyone to become jeopardized and The Denver Post can not substantiate any of what they published regarding whoever these “47 refugees” are, likely including a group of single-mother refugees Anna found, but never raised any funds for, and never signed up through Humanwire.
“About $40,000 donated to Humanwire to help 149 refugees in Greece was missing from the $157,225 that had been raised for them, according to an August spreadsheet a volunteer prepared.” — This is false. First of all, this is another example that incorrectly conveys there was yet another volunteer who was a part of a concern, but this volunteer was already named in the article, and so it‘s misleading to say “according to a volunteer” without noting that its one of the volunteers that was already named. He named all three of the volunteers, the same three that they were working as their own team, against the Humanwire team.
Nonetheless, all money to Greece was allocated properly to Greece and the related claims by Anna to the District Attorney were dropped after looking closely at each individual one she rounded up from individual donors. As described in the accompanying report, Anna came up with a variety of different totals for the same claim and this was yet another total that contradicts all her other totals and was also false. When she made this claim, she did not provide any evidence, she only had a spreadsheet that she made and said it was true. The Denver Post can not substantiate any of her totals, even if she had a spreadsheet that she created to back up each one. I opened up all of the company records to the Denver Post that could be verified as true evidence but they choose not to request or look at any.
“Anna Segur, who helped Humanwire launch the tent-to-home program in Greece, quit in July over concerns pledges weren’t going to the families.” — This is a true statement. She did quit, as described in the accompanying report. Though The Denver Post never found it compelling to report that she continued to withdraw money from the business after she quit, nor did they find her legal demand letters compelling to detail, as described in the accompanying report.
“Hilton said at least $6,000 of that money remains unaccounted for by Humanwire,” — This is false and can not be substantiated by The Denver Post. We provided Hilton with a specific breakdown with receipts of how his claim for $6000 was spent, based on his own direction. The breakdown that was provided to him was validated by our director in Turkey who helped me with the facts for the record, as he was the one who managed the money at my direction for Hilton, in the correct manner, for which all of it was fully allocated toward the project properly, and none was allocated anywhere else. All funds were spent and they were spent legitimately for the cause they were raised for. I offered documents but The Denver Post did not take the time to look. Hilton also made this claim of $6,000 to the District Attorney, where he played a material role in trying to send me to jail for my life, but he did not provide the list of receipts apparently even though he had them, and his claim was rejected a second time after the DA’s office did have the time to look. Hilton did not receive any money for this false claim.
“Baron told him [Hilton] during those conversations that he used some of Hilton’s donations to pay other expenses and that he planned to eventually reimburse the organization, he said.” — This can not be substantiated by The Denver Post because it’s hearsay and also false, and is irresponsible of The Denver Post to include without looking at the list of receipts that account for the claim he made, which Hilton was provided a copy of.
“He’s paying back his investment in the forprofit as a form of sweat equity with payments from the non-profit.” — This statement is grossly false. I never said anything like it and The Denver Post can not substantiate their statement. I fully understood my own business structure and was well versed in articulating the structure and I never said anything like this at all. This is a misunderstanding he had or a conveyance he wished to make that was not true.
“During the recent issues regarding the distribution of campaign funds, refugees have been lining up at the office, calling and messaging us at all hours, threatening and begging us,” — I originally misunderstood the reference to this event and did not believe it happened, though I later found it was a result of Justin Hilton’s visit to Turkey, where he was active in promoting his claim that I stole money from campaigns. This group began to complain though they were not complaining about any specific distributions that were due to them, they were responding to Hilton’s rumors that the leader of Humanwire in America was using their faces to steal money, and they were demanding answers, which was the purpose of a call I was handed, also mentioned in the article to support the notion that I didn’t care when it was the opposite, I showed up to take accountability. The contractor who was himself a refugee in charge of this group began working for Hilton after Hilton convinced him that I was a thief, and the contractor did not communicate his status to me that he had stopped working, which compounded the problem that Hilton created by going to Turkey and telling people they would be accused too but that he would take care of them.
Other material problems with the article come into question naturally because the story is based on the oral testimony of Anna Segur and those she persuaded with information and opinions that they obtained through her. For example, the Greece accounting was not managed by the other volunteers, it was Anna’s job for them, and they followed her accounting. So when Osher is presenting the volunteers, in each case, they are simply regurgitating what they were told from Anna.
Osher presented Anna and Kayra as if they were two separate volunteers who were unrelated, even though they were business partners, and joined in the legal demand letters to take over the company.
The article did not clarify the relationship between Anna Segur and Jenny Otto, either. If Osher knew that Anna or her own new team member bought the ticket, he hid that from you by naming “a volunteer” but not the volunteers that he already named, Anna and Kayra. Humanwire did not have any other volunteers in the company, everyone else was a paid worker.
Since the entire article was like this, filled with example after example of wrong facts, and since the hour-long interview that Osher conducted with me in my office was recorded, I contacted Lee Ann Colacioppo, the very top editor in charge of the entire Denver Post, and I asked if I could come in to show her what Osher had not yet seen. She said she was too busy to meet herself and handed me back to Osher and his editors who refused to meet.
The editor felt it necessary to include as justification for their stance their conviction in Osher’s prior work, noting their comfort level with the sentiment that he must be “accurate, fair and thorough” because that’s how it’s been in the past.
So I asked for a copy of the tape, so that I could show that my vocabulary was misunderstood and that my points were taken out of context, but they said they don’t release “work product”, even though Osher and I were the only two individuals on the tape. After I asked to buy a copy of the tape, in case it would be a process for them to generate a copy and send it to me, Colacioppo wrote sharpy as the final words of her email to me:
“We will not give or sell you the tape.”
They would not provide the tape which should have been harmless to them, and they put up a wall. I can’t rest with this notion that they were trying to harm me on purpose. I couldn’t come up with an explanation that I believed in for why I was being treated this way by professional journalists, though my best guess was that they all lacked the time and interest and had already made up their minds.
I couldn’t understand what was happening to me that no one was willing to look for the truth even though it was right there and available to be seen. It was understandable that they wouldn’t have the time to focus on me because I’m just one minor dot in their universe of stories, but they didn’t seem to understand the impact and power they were having over human life.
After the Denver Post article came out, Anna’s lawyer wrote to me about the criminal complaint that Anna filed, which was supported by the Denver Post article: “Given the seriousness of Mr. Baron’s current legal situation, and Humanwire’s corresponding dreadful predicament, we well understand Mr. Baron must now be acting under tremendous stress and almost unbearable pressure”.
DENVER POST STORY II of IV
The second story Osher created was “the arrest story” and this story did not provide any new information aside from this one fact that I was arrested and naming counts, but conveyed how Osher’s first story was key in leading police to the arrest, based on his own personal portrayal that Humanwire could have never had any operating funds. Since I was in fact arrested for this, the reader is led to assume he was right. The story also states that I was arrested for taking over $100,000 which turned out to be false, though The Denver Post never reported that it was false. This second story was self-congratulatory and became syndicated to my local Daily Camera paper, on the front page, above the fold as the top headline for the day in the largest font size. The story made no mention of me being released four hours later, or ever. This was the most popular story about me in my community and remains so today.
DENVER POST STORY III of IV
Osher’s third story in the investigative series was a “victim piece” about Mona that could be summarized thusly:
After making excuses and not paying Mona her salary for almost two full years, Andrew then lured Mona to the U.S. for the specific purpose of blaming his evil plot on her, so that she would be arrested instead of him. When she arrived to Boulder, she began to ask for her salary but he rebuffed her, telling her she was an investor and thus wasn’t entitled to anything. After she found out Andrew had stolen over $100,000, that’s when he turned on her and started doing really bad things, like threatening to sue her. So she secretly started recording him and handed the recordings over to the police. When Mona confronted him one last time and demanded her $19,000, he said he would pay it, but he never did. But now that Baron has been arrested, you can assume he will be there for a long time because The Denver Post again never mentioned that he got out.
This is exactly what this story conveys to everyone in my hometown and anyone who may ever want to work with me in the future, which is not fair at all and based on the accompanying report, should be retracted without a second thought. I lived for a year in my hometown while most people assumed I was in jail.
Journalistically speaking, this particular article is the best place to start to unwind all of Osher’s articles because it’s the least substantiated no matter how much anyone may want to wiggle around a broad use of a particular word’s meaning. Each and every material conveyance is 100% unsubstantiated, and also verifiably 100% false. Full stop. I believe an editor should take the time to look at their records and see that they have no information to substantiate a single conveyance in this story against the information I’ve provided in my accompanying report. There is zero about this article that is in any way true. If The Denver Post ever did ask Osher or Mona to provide something to substantiate this story, after they are unable to do it, they should remove the article do the severity of each conveyance being wrong.
Osher did provide a comment from my lawyer in this third story, as if it was balanced, even though my lawyer told him we would not comment for this story. When Osher called to say he was doing a third story, this time on Mona, just days after his arrest story, we formally declined without hearing what his angle would be because there was no new information in our case so soon. But Osher didn’t say in his article that we did not comment, he decided instead to use a quote from my lawyer that was provided for the second story that he did not use at the time, another instance that misleads his audience into thinking that we had something to say about it, which obviously fails to act in defending my position on the new story about Mona. This is unfair, for this is the material response that Osher used to address these allegations by Mona, though there is no connection to the material matter of this story in and of itself.
As the reader is reading the third story about Mona, the only possible conclusion to make is that I am still in jail and that I am likely to be there for the next twelve years due to the way in which I was intentionally portrayed as obviously guilty.
I could write another article of equal length to this one that illuminates Osher’s method of creating unfair false conveyance, which can even be seen in the most minor details. For example, in his third story, the victim piece, he wrote:
“Weeks after her arrival in Boulder, she defended Baron, agreeing to accompany him when he met with a reporter wanting to know why promised aid for refugees had been delayed.”
That reporter is himself. He is the only reporter who has ever contacted me. Not a single reporter from anywhere has ever contacted me. Even to this day I have never been contacted about this by a single reporter. You would think at least one other reporter from another company somewhere on Earth would have contacted me about all of Osher’s stories. He was the only person who ever contacted me. He was the only person who came by the office and she accompanied me. He was the only reporter who reached out to me to meet, and he was the only reporter we ever “met”. Perhaps he decided that he wanted to influence you to make it seem like there were many other reporters following his lead, or perhaps he had some reason to hide from you, but in fact his position is critical in this story. Whatever his motivation, he did in fact become hidden here. He had a point he wanted to convey in this sentence, else it could be removed. It’s one tiny example that would be hard to explain away as an editor’s last-minute reworking-gone-wrong as if the editor was attempting to hide him which would not be fair either, it’s part of a consistent method in the details of conveying a message that is not fair or honest. This is not just an affront to me, this is not truthful to the reader, or the world, such that the world would never be able to formulate an honest opinion about what was going on with me, Mona, or Humanwire…or the Denver Post.
DENVER POST STORY IV of IV
Almost certainly, the method behind the last, fourth story that Osher published on me will illuminate intended methods behind the Denver Post’s investigative journalism department.
The first sign I saw that Osher was going to write a fourth story on me for his series, after not hearing from him for approximately a year, was via an email from my lawyer. My lawyer forwarded the following email on a Monday around lunchtime:
I thought for sure Osher would have made himself available to attend “The Sentencing Hearing”, but no, he never showed up to any hearings on any case ever. He didn’t even know it was happening despite that it was publically listed. So I wrote back to my lawyer to give Osher a call and explain what he missed and my lawyer’s paralegal wrote me to confirm my lawyer would call Osher that day.
With the three stories so far, the reader and all the members of my community in Boulder would assume I’m still in jail a year later, so I assumed this news would at least help the reader infer that despite appearing to be in jail for a year, I would at least be released in the news. And that the theft charges were dropped.
But we quickly found out it was too late for Osher had published his story less than two hours later without waiting for my lawyer. Why rush? My lawyer always returned his calls. There was never a single time my lawyer didn’t respond to him. There was no competition, for no one else ever called to write a story, and it had already been a few days since the update he missed the prior week which was that my case would ultimately be dismissed, and why.
He had literally no knowledge of anything, whatsoever, from the day after he reported on his work towards my arrest and featured Mona in a victim piece, to a year later with no new information about anything, and yet he went ahead and posted a story anyway.
Since he’s done so many big stories, including the front-page above the fold story, helping to charge me with twelve years in jail as an evil refugee thief who stole $130,000, you would think the outcome should have been of interest for anyone interested in his work, why not take a minute to find out what actually happened? Especially since he is an investigative journalist and not a breaking news reporter. But the substance of his report is nothing more than a typical daily breaking news crime report one writes with public information they can find on the internet, just reporting on a docket and without having spoken to anyone with knowledge of the case. He didn’t even get the counts that were dropped correct, actual factual errors about the charges which were not changed until the next day.
I later noticed a message in my Facebook message requests. Osher had my phone and my email, which is how we communicated in the past, but we had never connected on Facebook, so I didn’t get an alert, I just found it after all this in the “other messages” request section by happenstance. In his Facebook connect request message which he sent to me about the same time he sent an email to my lawyer (he should not have sent me a message, he should have continued to just speak directly with my lawyer since I was represented and that connection had already been made and was effective), but he said in his Facebook message: “I did a story and would like to interview you. Could you call me when you get a chance…” You may want to read that sentence again. He said he already did the story. But how could he have already done the story if he hadn’t spoken with me, my lawyer, or the prosecutor, and doesn’t know what happened? He hadn’t spoken with anyone in the DA’s office who knew what was going on, and Anna and Mona didn’t know what was going on as they were led to falsely believe I was going to be convicted when they were asked to round up restitution, he wouldn’t know anything about the actual story, and it certainly wasn’t in the court documents, but it would have been clear from the hearing had he attended. Had he showed up to the actual hearing, he would have heard it right from the prosecutor’s mouth, the judge’s mouth, and mine, as I spoke there too.
When asked by the judge if I had any final words before he made his determination, even though I was not prepared, I said yes and it was related to this very topic. I said that I wanted to thank the police and the D.A., and Boulder’s criminal justice system in general for taking the time to stop and have a look at what no one else would, and then coming to make their considerations based on the actual reality of the facts, even though those facts turned out to be different than what they originally thought. Osher missed speaking with my lawyer who was ready to explain the financial breakdown. He could have spoken to the prosecutors to ask them more about the positive comments they made to the court about me through the process.
Later that day when we saw his story come out with a purposefully twisted headline again chasing down the wrong angle, conveying that 100% of all revenue was advertised as going to the beneficiaries, my lawyer said he would still call to explain if I wanted, but we decided there was no use since the story was already published and they already showed, time and time again, that they were not seeking the truth with me. They hadn’t changed or updated anything in all of the other stories that were wrong, why would they now?
Meanwhile, in parallel, on that very same Monday, my local paper The Daily Camera decided to run their own story. Two stories this time about me on the same day, from the same business group of people even though no one knew what was going on. I received a message from the Daily Camera crime reporter, Mitchell Byars, and he indicated he was writing a story based on a court document he saw come across the docket and asked me for “any sort of statement”, to which I responded “Off the record, please try not to do me more harm. Thank you.”
Aside from the fact that he didn’t know what had happened either, he published wrong facts that were completely material: He didn’t mention that the theft charges had been dropped! He stated that I plead no contest to theft charges! That’s no small mistake. I never once did. That was just one of many problems with his report.
So this time, I contacted Byars’ local editor, Matt Sebastian. Sebastian then updated their article and then again after two separate complaints by me, long after everyone who I know in my town read it. I was so exhausted of them by this point now with story number five, and in the end, they still didn’t get it right and missed the actual story about my results because of their tactics.
Perhaps the most profound insight I got about Osher that confirms to me that his writing was not to investigative journalist standards, despite him carrying that title as an investigative journalist on the articles and acting on behalf of the professional investigative journalism unit at the Denver Post, was from my twitter DM exchange with Sabastian that day, where he wrote ” It is not uncommon for us, and other media organizations, to post initial versions of stories and then flesh them out with further reporting. Which is what Chris tried to do. Did your lawyer respond to Chris? I’m seeing here that he reached out to you in multiple ways, and you apparently chose not to respond, and now you’re taking issue with the story.”
The editor explained that Chris Osher had not fleshed out his story but it was fine to publish it in an unfleshed out state, which is where it remains, because Osher couldn’t wait, as part of Osher’s four-part investigative series.
Sebastian went on to write in his Twitter DM that he didn’t see anything in the court records from that day that confirmed that I didn’t steal and thus he was comfortable with the story (i.e. guilty until proven innocent). This was despite the fact there was no guilty verdict and that my case was dismissed.
Sebastian also said that I could send him the forensic accounting documents and that he would take a look at them. By this point, I felt like I was being lured into a van where I would be chopped up for character assassination stories number six and seven, as if I was going to just send him a box of all my accounting documents at this point so he could take a gander and come up with some new conclusion on his own that was going to be helpful for me.
What I find so disappointing is that all of them in their communication with me seemed completely cold and inhuman with regards to their nonchalance about me, the truth, and the potential damage that they could have been responsible for by being incorrect in their pursuit at a public trial, while admitting to a method of publishing while not having things fleshed out. They all put up a wall before I was even contacted the first time.
I was always in good faith and I was good to everyone at Humanwire. I never yelled at anyone, I treated everyone with respect, I was excellent with customer service and partners, I communicated, I never lied, and I know that those who worked with me will tell you that I was good to them, transparent, and good at what I did for the position I was in, but in all of the four stories, there was not a single representative from my side of the story, since my side of the story itself was not included on purpose. Not even in one of the four stories.
None of my allegations against anyone were ever reported on still to this day, it was never reported that I got out of jail, and then it was never reported by The Denver Post that in January 2020 I returned to court and withdrew my no contest plea, and my case was 100% dismissed. It was never reported that by March 2020, my case was confirmed sealed and no longer on my record in any department. It’s my legal right to state in any court that I have no criminal record and that I have never been arrested. The reader would not ever be allowed to know. The court recognizes and has a method to handle the kinds of problems that The Denver Post and Daily Camera can cause people in helping to extinguish unfair criminal stories, while The Denver Post and The Daily Camera do not.
After his articles on me, I noticed Osher wrote one more article for The Denver Post before leaving, an obituary. After leaving the Denver Post, Osher began working for the Colorado Sun, but no longer in the capacity of an investigative journalist and instead as an education reporter. Several months later, Osher was removed from The Colorado Sun website but he still shows himself as working there on his Facebook bio where he also posted his newer job at a smaller local newspaper, the Gazette in Colorado Springs.
As it turns out, there is an entire industry around the problems created by the media getting it wrong and not being accountable, and in particular, a colleague pointed me to the Principal Post, a journal that will look into the facts. They have a large pool of journalists working as a team to vet stories. Since my story was financial in nature, they published a story around the actual accounting facts after looking into the accounting from my case, to show that I did not take any money. It was simple: it was in the Western Union account.
But as long as the old articles remain from The Denver Post, even with the new article from the Principal Post, people will forever use them against me and that’s the lingering part that is not fair because the articles are wrong and incorrect. The harm happens when there is a discussion that involves a difference of opinion, regardless of the topic.
Murdock (not of the Murdoch family) was trained at the CU Boulder Journalism school too, just like Mitchell Byars, the crime reporter at The Daily Camera who made multiple errors in his story about me and stood by as his colleague attacked me on numerous occasions as a result of Byars’ work.
When Murdock tweeted this out (the second time he has dropped into a thread I was in to make it known to everyone there what I had been accused of that was unrelated to the discussion) I saw it as the perfect example of the indisputable, persuasive conveyance of Osher’s articles that misled his audience from being able to ever get at the truth, practically blocking them from any other outcome. Osher’s writing style, though never saying that I embezzled, misled this particular man to live a false truth so specifically that he was willing to put his own integrity as the Sr Editor of the Huffington Post on the line for it. You simply can not read the Denver Post stories and come to any other opinion, and the strength of the authority behind the incorrect information makes it ironclad for the outspoken Murdock’s of the world.
Though I was unprepared myself for this attack, for I have no plans to ever contact anyone at the Denver Post or my local paper ever again, perhaps because it was his buddy and he was unrelenting, I took it up with Byars.
Only after I called upon two of my friends in Boulder who both responded was Byars persuaded to consider an update.
So I sent Byars an email about the update. My case was financial in nature so I did not mention anything about Anna or Mona.
He never responded. To this day there is still no reply. After weeks went by, I noted on Twitter that he decided against the story and wasn’t going to write me back to let me know, and he responded that I didn’t send him the actual accounting records in my email and that thus I was “playing games” with him. I was stunned.
He told me that I should stop asking for a correction and that what I should ask for is an update, which is what I asked for. However, the fact of the matter is, they wrote all these stories that turned out to be wrong. It’s not about the correction of one single little sentence or the need to change one word to be less misleading, nor is it about the need for an update as if there is another chapter in this story, the whole thing is just wrong.
Despite the difficulties including all of the above, I loved Humanwire, and others loved it too. It was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. There is no question that there is a need for it, even more so today. My overall mistake was growing too large, too soon. Some would say that’s a good problem to have but it isn’t for me, because it puts me up against many of the limitations I know about myself. I think I was on the right track. I knew where I needed to be – in design and development – and I was getting there pretty quickly, because the product itself was the right product, and Humanwire had the right spirit. Over the last year I found myself rebuilding the software, taking into consideration lessons learned, as this could have all been avoided with a technical solution, too. I built it exactly to spec with the new designs that were created from the original investment and it also tracks where each donation is along its journey so that each sponsor and admin can see where each donation is physically resting, e.g. in a Stripe account, and so they can see the history of when it leaves and arrives in each account until it becomes available to be ordered, withdrawn and spent. I have two charities in Lebanon that I have been giving it away to for free. I was considering reinstating Humanwire but I don’t think I’m interested in running this kind of company myself. I plan to shut it down fully. If things work out with the charities I’m working with pro bono, I’ll look for a partner or company that might be interested in taking it on.
About this article, Part II: In 2017 I was falsely accused of theft related to my startup, Humanwire. Those charges were dismissed. The work above clarifies the roles of the Denver Post and Daily Camera.
About this article: In 2017 I was falsely accused of theft related to my startup, Humanwire. Those charges were dismissed. The Denver Post wrote a series of articles that did not properly convey the material matters. The work above clarifies how Humanwire operated. For the short version of this story, see https://www.principalpost.com/in-fairness/andrew-baron