EXCLUSIVE: Former Internet Shill Breaks Silence
by Ann Onimmus Meggett
I remember the afternoon well.
I was relatively new to Seattle, and this drab coastal Northwest weather was getting to me. I missed the sunny Yakima Valley. I missed the fresh aroma of my family’s organic hop farm and the varying brown hues rolling through the rugged Central Washington hills. I had come here to become a real journalist after a brief stint at my hometown Yakima Herald, but I wasn’t making it here in the big city. My outlook on life had become as dismal as the washing-machine cycle of my constant damp and grey environment. I had given up. I was going to return home.
I returned to my overpriced 420 sq. foot studio with the mindset of breaking my lease and just leaving back to daddy’s farm. At least I know I’d be welcome there. The feeling of leaving was one of defeat, but I didn’t care anymore…I needed to feel like I was a part of something again. The Herald would likely hire me back after my stellar review of the Yakima Gay Hooters. I could moonlight as a freelance blogger, I convinced myself. I had options, as mundane as they seemed.
I opened the door to my apartment, plopped on the davenport, and closed my eyes.
I may have been asleep already - I’m not certain - when the sound of my Obama phone jostled me. I answered. A man named “Todd” introduced himself and told me he had read some of my columns in the Herald and wanted me to come in for an interview. He said he was the Vice President for an outlet called “Komodo Systems”. They needed skilled ‘creative minds’ who could type over 69 WPM, and the pay started at $1750 a week with full benefits, as well as a multitude of bonus opportunities.
So I said “What’s the Catch”
He says “No catch, just keep it a secret”
He hung the phone up and I never heard from Todd again.
After three months at Komodo Systems, I had been promoted, had a company car, and they had set me up with a great place in the South Lake Union neighborhood. The only express directive I had was to “Keep Us a Secret”. The money was amazing, and the work was easy, so I didn’t even question that I never received an employee handbook nor a code of conduct.
I was the leader of a division called “Operation Undertow” in which I had 8 fake twitter accounts such as ‘@ObamaFan69’, and ‘@IdahoTCOTDad’. The gist of the operation was to create misinformation and confusion on social media. We had some that worked on facebook, others on reddit, and others on lesser-known forums. Each day, I was given a list of 81 “targets” to assign to my team. Some of them were recurring and others I only saw once. I would come up with a ‘battle plan’ for my team, and we’d work together to discredit the accounts on the target list.
After a while, I was promoted to “Operation Gungrab” where we focused on a few accounts on a regular basis with the agenda of making second amendment enthusiasts irrelevant. As someone who never owned a firearm, I actually enjoyed this and thought it a noble cause. At first, it started out like Operation Undertow, in the sense that we got into arguments to discredit staunch supporters of semi-automatic gun ownership and local militias, but then Twitter changed the blocking rules, and all hell broke loose.
*THE UNTAG GAME*
The Twitter team of Operation Gungrab were summoned into the main conference room the afternoon the Twitter block rules changed. We could no longer see the tweets of the users whom we were ordered to discredit. We were told “If you can’t figure out a way to get past the blocks, you’ll all be fired.”
I stayed late at the office that night. I couldn’t lose this job, my car, my apartment. I decided to create a new fake account to troll a user we often targeted named @icpbrad but was immediately instructed to “go make another fake f**k bot account.” Brad was a special case for me. Not only was he the smartest person on the internet, but he happened to be from my hometown of Yakima, where I learned he was previously a busboy at the Union Gap Applebee’s, as well as founder of a fraudulent publishing company.
I wanted to get to this guy. His blocking skills were impeccable, and he seemed too smart for me and my team. I started trying to get into his conversations via other accounts who were tweeting him, but I got minimal response. I fell asleep and woke up at 5am. I logged on and saw the message “Untag Please,” from a user who was part of our earlier operation. That is when the “Untag Game” came to me.
Over the next three months, we focused solely on @icpbrad, using the Untag Game. The Untag Game was simple, but genius: we would discredit Chad by adding his @name in a completely unrelated troll job until he got mad and nude. This worked better than expected. He even documented our job on some forums and youtube videos as proof of him getting extremely angry, thus discrediting his once extremely rational and not at all insane arguments and theories.
We had won, but at what price? I had become nothing more than a fake f**k maggot, making middle six figures owning gun nuts and conspiracy whack jobs on the web. I felt empty and all the sudden decided I had to get out of Komodo Systems and establish a legitimate career. Besides, I thought, I had built up some wealth during my 7 months as a shill, and I could use that to start that blog business I dreamed of.
Boy, was I wrong.
*THE DREAM BECOMES THE NIGHTMARE*
June 9 was another picture-perfect Seattle summer day. The birds were chirping, the city was alive, and the warm sun felt soothing. I strolled into the Second & Seneca building with a Cheshire cat grin adorning my face. It was my final day at Komodo Systems. I had spoken with my manager, Gary, the prior night, and had put in my two weeks notice. Gary told me he was sorry to see me go, and that since I had done such a good job, I could just come back the next day, grab my things in the AM, and went out to celebrate with me and the team that evening.
I couldn’t believe how accepting and understanding Komodo was of my situation, and it made me feel somewhat guilty for leaving. My mind had been made up though, as I got into the elevator and pressed “13”. When I got to suite 1337, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was gone. The desks, the computers, MY COWORKERS…all gone. The only thing that remained was a single cubicle…my cubicle… with a note that read:
IF YOU TELL ANYONE ABOUT US, YOU WILL REGRET IT.
Later that day, I found out I had been evicted, my phone no longer was in service, my car was impounded, and my bank account drained. I returned home to Yakima a shell of myself. I couldn’t tell my dad about anything…I couldn’t tell anyone. I was lost and alone and broke again. I had sold my soul and for what? I could hear the terrifying cacophony of @icpbrad, @deltoid_hunter, @gmart5info and other users I “owned” online laughing in my head at night.
I’ve decided to sell my story because I have nothing left anyways. I need to get the word out so that this operation gets shut down. I still have a fake account, but just for monitoring. I see @icpbrad battling these shills, most of whom I likely was employed with, and getting absolutely destroyed online, and it makes me sick. My only hope is that this gets out there so that we can rise up together against the machine. I can understand your hesitation if you don’t want to share this, for fear that you might end up like me. Change can happen though. When you make the big bully bleed…the others run away.
-The names and @’s in this entirely true account have been modified to protect the innocent.