Jeff Bezos’ mom did not email me: How I got a troll to apologize, and why we might be friends now

Click to enlarge: An email to GeekWire reporter Kurt Schlosser this week from a comedian and internet troll posing as Jackie Bezos, mother of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire screen capture)

In my five-plus years at GeekWire, I’ve often wondered what it would take to get Jeff Bezos’ attention and how I’d react if the Amazon founder emailed me about one of my stories. I never thought it would be a random story about his purchase of a soft ice cream machine or that the person sending an email would be his mom.

In the sea of ​​pitches and press releases I received from PR folks, an obvious note (above) from Jackie Bezos, president and co-founder of the Bezos Family Foundation, caught my eye this week.

“No way,” I thought. “It’s not real.”

But the email signature with the foundation’s logo and address looked so good that I couldn’t resist pasting the note and conveying my excitement in GeekWire’s team Slack. It brought a few “Wow!” Answers, and before I thought about it a lot or did any research – you know, journalism stuff – I just wrote “Jackie” back.

I thanked her for the email and told her that I love soft ice cream, that my kids love Dippin Dots, and that Jeff would know how to contact me if Jeff ever wanted to chat about ice cream or anything else. The next answer was, “Absolutely!” – and Jeff Bezos was added to the thread using his real Amazon email address.

Suddenly I had visions of a car picking me up to take me to a private jet. I would fly to Beverly Hills and eat handmade soft ice cream in Jeff Bezos’ kitchen that night and talk about the Amazon, space, chocolate vs. vanilla and whatever the richest person in the world is talking about. I could already see my name on the new GeekWire Journalism Center for Excellence in Seattle, funded by the Bezos Family Foundation.

But this time I didn’t answer. And luckily, I didn’t touch my story and added a false comment from Jackie Bezos about her son’s love for ice cream. I just slept through everything.

And the next morning, after hearing about Amazon PR and a New York Post reporter who was also attacked, I learned that I had been deceived.

Looking for a reaction

Ben Palmer plays stand-up comedy when he’s not messing with people online. (Courtesy photo by Ben Palmer)

“The goal wasn’t to mess with you,” Ben Palmer said to me Thursday morning after calling from his home in Colorado.

I wrote to Palmer after I found out he was a fake Jackie and that he shared and since deleted replies to his fake emails on a Facebook page called Hope This Helps. Other communications to other news outlets went further than the one he had sent me, saying that Bezos’ new ice machine was already broken.

“I felt guilty when you replied; I didn’t want you to be too excited like, ‘Oh man, maybe we get an interview with Jeff Bezos!’ said Palmer. “The goal is to find someone to represent Jeff Bezos, just get a reaction from him because it’s really hard to get a reaction from someone who is high up.”

And Palmer has been trying for a while.

The 35-year-old Air Force veteran has attracted 2 million followers on TikTok with his style of internet trolling and comedy. Over on YouTube, his videos are a mix of his gags, whether he’s talking about screenshots of his social media fakes or actually going on Court TV to litigate fake cases.

Ben Palmer of Palmer Trolls detailed his efforts to get feedback from various companies and organizations in some of the videos he produced. (YouTube screengrab)

Palmer, who has lived in Atlanta and Los Angeles, makes a living from the content he creates online and from his comedy tours. He is scheduled to perform in Seattle on October 15 at The Rendezvous in Belltown, just a few blocks from Amazon’s headquarters. I told him I plan to show up and disturb him for an hour to see how he likes it.

As a former gig worker who has driven and delivered food for Uber and Lyft, Palmer targets companies, executives and corporate customers via email or on social media. He is primarily interested in trolling in the name of workers’ rights and social justice.

“You can feel the anger at being treated like crap by big companies,” he said.

He’s created memes with fake quotes attributed to Bezos or SpaceX founder Elon Musk and he will reach out to their representatives for comment on the legitimacy of the quotes. He often poses as a journalist for a Colorado newspaper that doesn’t exist or a reporter for a fake CBS subsidiary in Akron, Ohio. Getting an answer is part of the comedy Palmer hopes to deliver to his followers.

He also pretends to be corporate accounts to track users on social media complaining about things like a gay couple in an ad or the politics of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It made headlines in 2016 for posing as Home Deport Guest Relations on Facebook and tearing Fox News in the comments on a post. It went viral last year pretending to be Costco when responding to a customer complaining about the wholesaler’s mask policy during the height of the pandemic.

Comments from Ben Palmer, who pretends to be Costco, replied to a customer on Facebook. (Facebook screen capture via Ben Palmer)

Palmer targeted Bezos in a number of ways to get a response. He tried to book Bezos to stay at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Or he will turn to random locations and say that Bezos is planning a visit and needs shelter for his exotic animals. When the Bezos email is attached, the correspondence is often intercepted by Amazon’s corporate communications.

Bezos’ immense fortune, the defeat of a union organization in one of Amazon’s warehouses, and Amazon’s new mission to be “the best place to work,” all add to Palmer’s desire for a response.

“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “Aside from organizing, there is nothing you can really do about working there. So I try to do as much comedy as possible to mess with them. “

Palmer said he avoided posing as real people and said emails as Jackie Bezos were an exception. But it wasn’t a phishing scheme. He wasn’t looking for money. He was just looking for an answer. But if the Bezos Family Foundation were to sue, it would, in his opinion, just be more publicity.

“Billionaire sues poor comedian … maybe I don’t understand how lawsuits work, but what do you want my 2014 Nissan Sentra for?” Palmer joked.

A fake quote from a fake journalist on a fake newspaper that Ben Palmer sent to Jeff Bezos and brought in a response from Amazon PR. (Image courtesy Ben Palmer)

I laughed for a good half an hour when I called Palmer. He said he would send me some ice cream for my problems and maybe I suggested an Amazon gift card.

I felt like we made a connection that I didn’t really get from the wrong Jackie Bezos.

But without wasting the time of journalists or corporate PR agents on behalf of comedy, I asked Palmer if he was concerned about contributing to the scourge of misinformation that is really causing harm on the internet and in the real world.

“Yes, I try not to make companies look bad that are actually doing well,” he said.

Palmer clearly has reservations about who is affected by his efforts to get to the top and get to people like Bezos or Musk or Mark Zuckerberg and so on.

“I feel bad sometimes,” he said. “It’s a learning experience. I’m trying to see how far I can go Is it worth? Who are you using? “

I ask if that applies to journalists just trying to cover ice machines bought by billionaires and Palmer laughs.

“I’m sorry Kurt,” he said. “That is my official apology to you. That should be the headline. “

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