Inside A Sprawling Fetish Misinformation Campaign
Read to the end for a real good tweet
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Alright, Let’s Talk About The FemLife Thread
A lot of you sent me this thread. It’s probably the most-requested piece of content that’s come across my inbox since this newsletter began. It is also one of the more complex and, frankly, outrageous things I’ve seen on the internet in a long time. And before trying to really delve into what is happening here, I wanted to talk to Eliza Gauger, the artist and self-described “terminally online” researcher who first stumbled across this. It took a few days, but we connected on Discord, and I was able to ask her some questions.
As best as Gauger can tell, this is a sprawling online misinformation network created not for political or financial gain, but to promote a very specific fetish — women with incredibly huge breasts. It appears to have been running since at least 2016 and parts of the misinfo campaign were accidentally picked up by major outlines like Teen Vogue and Seventeen. It also may have actually impacted real scientific studies. WARNING: There’s going to be a lot of boob talk in this.
In October, Gauger came across a website on Google Images called FemLifeUSA.com. It’s currently down, but you can check out an archived version of it here. It’s not NSFW per se, but it was wholly dedicated to promoting the fact that American women have the biggest boobs on Earth. The site includes photoshops of women with impossibly large breasts.
“One of my twitter mutuals had made a throwaway jokey post about how, ‘big naturals didn't exist before 1980’ or something like that,” Gauger told me. “I offered a rejoinder — there have always been models with large breasts in the photographic record, for example Tempest Storm. So I was image searching for pics of one model, Elaine Reynolds, and in the image search results I spotted one vintage picture that had been very obviously retouched to give the model even larger breasts than what she started with, which is fairly standard for modern pictures, but it's weird for someone to find pinups from the 1950s and retouch them. So I clicked through to see what the image was hosted on and found FemLife.”
Poking around FemLife, Gauger said she noticed the site was also promoting a very fake looking scientific study.
“The study claims the average American woman is a 40DD,” she said. “I imagine most of your readers, and you, don't know a lot about bra sizes so I'll briefly explain: The number is the band size, which means the measurement around your rib cage under the breasts. The letter is the cup size which is, and this is confusing, the difference between the band measurement and the breast measurement. The letter describes the RATIO, not the absolute size. Popular culture thinks ‘double Ds’ are ‘huge’ or even ‘the biggest,’ which is one clue this guy was full of shit.”
Gauger kept digging into FemLife and found a Facebook page associated with it, as well. And one of her followers also discovered that the donation link on FemLife’s homepage was connected to a Finnish LLC-equivalent that was managing a couple other sites, including a jam company.
Gauger posted all of her discoveries on October 31. The thread went a little viral, but not huge. She updated it on November 28, however, posting screenshots of emails she received from someone claiming to represent the jam company connected to the huge boob network, accusing Gauger of defaming them. She said that she hasn’t received any followup emails since. And all of the sites she was tweeting about have vanished off the internet.
It gets weirder, though. The fake boob study that FemLife was promoting was hosted on a site called sciencedatabaseonline.org (currently offline). Here’s a cache of it. The study seems to have been the only original study on the site, the rest of the database was just scientific papers pulled from other places to make the big boob study look legit. Gauger found links to sciencedatabase.org posted all over Quora, 4chan, and Reddit. She believes there is a network of sock puppet accounts — usually with avatars of young blonde women — being used to promote it.
Gauger believes she knows who is responsible the network of huge boob sites and asked me specifically not to name him because she is still researching everything. But she said he’s a middle-aged Finnish man who appears to just be very dedicated to this particular fetish. She said WHOIS records confirm the Finnish man is the owner of all of the sites, including sciencedatabaseonline.org.
“It is a pretty typical level of detail for a hardcore fetishist,” she said. “I've seen lots of websites that were this detailed about specific things, and Big Boob Guys are a really common type of fetishist. These dudes will get obsessive about their little internal worlds and start building on them. If you start on something like this when you're 12, by the time you're 50 and divorced it will be incredibly intricate. A lot of these dudes will maintain web presences for their very specific sexual interests. So that wasn't terribly weird, I've seen it before anyway.”
But like anything that gets out of hand on the internet, this doesn’t just exist inside its own bubble. When it was posted to Reddit, most users laughed it off, but it has had quite a big life on places like Quora and 4chan. Gauger also sent me a screenshot of all the legitimate scientific studies it’s been cited in.
Which, I would say, is probably not good.
It was also written up by legitimate publications like Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Although, shout out to The Manilla Times for calling B.S. on the whole thing back in 2016.
And yes, before you ask, this network was also pushing pro-Trump content. It seems as though the only thing Jennifer is as excited about as American breast superiority is her hatred of foreigners.
Though, Gauger said she doesn’t believe this misinformation network was overtly political. “This is extremely usual for big boobs fetish guys; they are obsessed with conservative values and tradwife shit,” she said.
The whole thing, though, is an interesting case study. We tend to think of online misinformation as a newer, targeted phenomenon, usually built for political propaganda or to make money, inadvertently amplified by huge corporate platforms like Facebook and YouTube. But I’d argue the FemLife network is something older and possibly more innate to how the very architecture of the internet is constructed.
“The fake boob study had very little success on social media, with the exception of Facebook, which I don't know about because it's harder to search,” Gauger told me when I asked her if platforms had any particular impact on this thing spreading. “Whenever this study was posted to Reddit or Twitter, a bunch of people would immediately spot it as a fake and call it out. On 4chan’s /pol/ it was a complete success, no one caught it because everyone on /pol/ is 100% primed, mentally, to accept the worldview presented in the paper. Ditto for Quora.”
Gauger said she’s still trying to figure out how this fairly self-contained Finnish fetish ARG ended up getting cited in real scientific studies and aggregated by American women’s magazines.
“Part of the Big Boobs fetish MO is humiliating or denigrating women who don't have massive knockers, like that's part of the thing that turns most of these guys on,” she said. “So seeking wider audiences for the fake study with the intent of having women and young girls read it and feel bad about themselves probably got him off big time. But I'm making a supposition, because we haven't found out yet how these news sites got ahold of the study.”
Brazilian Keanu Reeves
A Brazilian Garbage Day reader named Luke sent me this video and I think it’s breaking my brain. His name is Marcos Jeeves (not his real name) and he did an interview with the Brazilian GQ in April.
“I'm single and looking like Keanu Reeves really helps me,” he told GQ at the time. “Some women praise me in the comments on my Instagram photos. But I always maintain a respect and do not use the fact of looking like him to take advantage of any situation, including my followers.”
Well that’s good!
I think I vaguely remember a few tweets about him going around last spring. He’s getting a lot of attention right now, though, because of the real Keanu’s prominent role in the new Cyberpunk 2077 game. From what I’ve read, he’s about the only good thing about the game, but also, I’ll confess that I basically only play JRPGs on Switch and can’t really follow mainstream video game discourse.
Anyways, Marcos has an Instagram if you want to check it out. It’s a trip.
An Actually Good Harry Potter Thing
This was sent to me by a Garbage Day reader named Erika. The video comes from a TikTok user named @claudiaalende. And if you click through on the tweet, there’s a bunch more there, as well. Yes, these are extremely cringe. But also they are very well-executed.
Most importantly, this means that we’re at a place, technologically, where we can actually make My Immortal on TikTok. Might be my big 2021 project.
YouTube Announces They’ll Start Moderating Election Content Now That Election Is Over
Yesterday, we passed the deadline for the federal election safe harbor, which essentially locks in the electoral votes of a US presidential election. Joe Biden will be elected president when votes are counted in January. Doesn’t mean Trump World will stop jamming up the works in the courts, but it’s basically a wrap.
Today, YouTube released a 2020 election report. According to YouTube, they’ve “terminated over 8000 channels and thousands of harmful and misleading elections-related videos for violating our existing policies. Over 77% of those removed videos were taken down before they had 100 views.”
This is interesting because, by all accounts, YouTube was by far the worst platform for election-related misinformation.
Included with the report today, YouTube’s @YouTubeInsider Twitter account made an interesting announcement:
“Yesterday was the safe harbor deadline. Now that enough states certified their Presidential election results, we’ll remove any content published today (or anytime after) that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the 2020 U.S. Presidential election outcome.”
If you click through to the quote tweets, you’re going to see a lot of right-wing users extremely angry that YouTube is censoring them. And, yes, it’s very good that YouTube will, going forward, be taking down any content alleging widespread fraud. But, also, how completely toothless this all is!
We’ve spent the last month living inside of a digital house fire that YouTube has allowed to burn freely. We know the misinformation on their platform can radicalize and lead to real violence. And they waited until there were no longer any stakes to take some real action against this stuff. This isn’t actually useful community moderation. This doesn’t help anyone. They let malicious videos circulate on their platform during some of the most politically precarious weeks in America’s recent history.
If it wasn’t clear already, the major corporate social platforms like Facebook and YouTube have emerged from the Trump era with the same playbook: Wait until the safest, least impactful moment to proudly announce they’re going to uphold and reenforce whatever the status quo is.
A Good Tweet
And A Very Very Very Cursed Video
I saw this on Reddit at like 1AM the other day and it really bothered me. So now you get to look at it too!
P.S. here’s another real good tweet.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***