What happened to the 15 people the Internet hated most in 2015?
Scarcely a month went by in 2015 without the christening of some new “most hated” person: whether “pharmabro” Martin Shrelki or cancer-faking blogger Belle Gibson. The people change, but the rage cycle remains pretty standard: indignant news coverage, petitions, a tidal wave of online shaming … and then — at last, eventually — nothing.
The Internet’s rages are passionate and deeply felt, but very quickly forgotten. Which is why, as the year wraps up, it seems important to recount them. Where are these people now? What changed, if anything? And does that tell us anything at all about how we should express ourselves and our grievances in a year that promises to be ripe for outrage?
Probably not, but: We can dream! Below, an admittedly subjective ranking of 15 figures that incited the Internet’s outrage in 2015 — and what happened to them since, if anything.
15. Ellen Pao
The villain: The former interim CEO of Reddit, the “front page of the Internet.”
The offense: Closed three subreddits, or forums, for violating the site’s anti-harassment policies — a move that Reddit has taken only rarely in the past. While Pao was not solely responsible for shuttering the subreddits, and while many users agreed with the decision, thousands of others began demonizing Pao as a dictator and demanding her resignation. One petition to remove her as CEO racked up more than 200,000 signatures.
Where she is now: Pao did indeed resign from Reddit in early July — though since then, it’s become increasingly clear that she shouldn’t have had to. Most mainstream commentators and Redditors now agree that the anti-harassment rules were good; in fact, Reddit has taken them further since Steve Hoffman became CEO. On top of that, more details have emerged about the severity of the threats and harassment Pao received during that time — details that make Pao look less like a villain than a victim. She’s been writing about harassment and women in tech, and has said she may eventually write a book.
14. Sam Rader
The villain: One half of the popular Christian vlogging duo “Sam and Nia.”
The offense: Posted, in quick succession, a viral pregnancy announcement and an equally viral miscarriage vid. The timing and set-up of the clips, as well as the fact that the couple ran ads on both of them, fueled suspicion that the pregnancy had been made up for profit. As if that weren’t controversial enough, Gawker dug up Sam’s Ashley Madison account in late August. Days later, he was kicked out of a vlogging conference for “threatening violence,” at which point the couple’s channel took a long hiatus.
Where he is now: Against all odds, Sam is still married, still on YouTube, and still making viral pregnancy videos. The couple announced a new pregnancy on YouTube on Oct. 23. Since then, they’ve returned to their daily vlogging schedule, though they average far fewer daily views now than before controversy struck.
13. Kevin and Crystal O’Connor
The villains: The father-and-daughter owners of Memories Pizza, a small pizzeria in the one-stoplight town of Walkerton, Indiana.
The offense: Appeared on ABC57, a local TV station, and proclaimed their support for a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration” bill. The pair said that Memories Pizza was a “Christian establishment,” and would thus refuse to cater a gay wedding if asked to. The comments, which went nationally viral, were taken as symbols of intolerance and discrimination.
Where they are now: As infamous as the O’Connors became in liberal circles, they were quickly crowned heroes by many in the conservative movement. A crowdfunding campaign for the restaurant raised more than $840,000 in 48 hours, which the O’Connors said they would use, in part, to make improvements to the restaurant. While Memories Pizza still suffers from bad Yelp reviews, it reopened to crowds on April 9.
12. Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky
The villain: A 33-year-old Instagram comic, author and self-proclaimed “Z-list celebrity.”
The offense: Plagiarized jokes from a number of other writers and comedians, most of them significantly less well-known than he is. While the accusations of joke-stealing had circulated since 2014, they came to a head in August, when Ostrovsky signed to the Creative Artists Agency. Outraged comedians took to Twitter and Facebook en masse, encouraging fans to drop him and calling him a “thief.”
Where he is now: Ostrovsky remains a fixture on Instagram and Twitter, where he has a combined 7.5 million followers. He’s apologized for plagiarizing and promised to credit recycled jokes going forward. In November, he released an autobiography — “Money, Pizza, Respect” — which does not appear to have sold terribly well. But he’s still got a side hustle in the wine business AND a plus-sized modeling contract.
11. Sam Pepper
The villain: A perennially controversial British YouTuber and former contestant on the reality show “Big Brother.”
The offense: Published a “prank” video in which he pretends to shoot and kill a man’s best friend in front of him. The genuinely violent and disturbing prank earned quick condemnation from YouTube commenters and from one branch of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, who, in late November, told Pepper to take down the video lest they “unleash f***ing hell.” Instead, Pepper — already infamous for a string of sexual assault “pranks” last year — posted a video promising to take the murder prank down if viewers gave him $1.5 million. A petition on Change.org with more than 214,000 signatures demands that YouTube disable his channel.
Where he is now: Both Pepper and his channel appear unscathed; in fact, there are currently almost 8.7 million views on the murder prank. “I’m off out to live my life!” He tweeted triumphantly on Dec. 12. “Keep doing your Internet s***!”
10. Belle Gibson
The villain: The 24-year-old Australian blogger and entrepreneur behind “The Whole Pantry” app.
The offense: Rose to fame, in large part, by claiming that a healthy diet and alternative medicine had cured her metastatic cancer — when, in fact, she’d never been ill. Gibson also repeatedly said that a portion of the sales from her app, The Whole Pantry, and its accompanying cookbook went to charity, though later investigations suggested that she’d pocketed those funds. Gibson’s fan base imploded almost overnight, and both her former fans and outside observers began demanding explanations.
Where she is now: Since March, Gibson has been under investigation by a regional Consumer Affairs department, which, per the Herald Sun, is looking into claims about her fraudulent fundraising practices. Gibson’s publisher has withdrawn her cookbook and Whole Pantry is gone from the app store. In a June interview, she told “60 Minutes” she had “lost everything” — an admission for which she was reportedly paid $45,000 (Australian).
9. Josh Duggar
The villain: The eldest son of the Duggar clan, (in)famous for TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” and the executive director of FRC Action, a conservative PAC.
The offense: Molested five underage girls, including four of his sisters, when he was 14 and 15 — roughly a decade ago. The abuse came out in May after In Touch acquired a series of police reports on the incidents, and instantly cast doubt on Duggar’s reputation as a crusader for family values. That reputation suffered further in August, when Duggar’s name surfaced in the Ashley Madison leak. Site records suggest he’d been a paying member of the infidelity site since 2013.
Where he is now: Duggar resigned his position at FRC Action in May and entered a “long-term treatment center” in late August, according to the Duggar family. At the time, he apologized for being “the biggest hypocrite ever” and said he was “ashamed of the double life I have been living.” In a recent interview with TLC, his wife, Anna, said the couple was not planning to divorce. She is caring for four young children while Duggar completes treatment.
8. Julia Cordray
The villain: A Calgary-based HR executive and tech entrepreneur.
The offense: Developed an app called “Peeple,” the so-called “Yelp for people,” which would allow anyone to publicly rate anyone else on a one- to five-star scale. After the Intersect flagged several of the concept’s problems — including the inability to opt-out and a lack of planning around harassment and moderation — the app went internationally viral, with thousands of petitioners and social media users demanding Cordray shut it down. Cordray, for her part, complained on social media about the harassment she herself was receiving, and deleted negative comments from Peeple’s Facebook page — two acts of apparent hypocrisy that only seemed to fuel online outrage.
Where she is now: Cordray has repeatedly said she’s still working on Peeple, and that the app is garnering more investor interest than ever before. In light of the public outcry, however, she’s overhauled the app, paring it back to what is, in essence, a variation of LinkedIn’s professional endorsements. (Her personal website now calls it “the next generation of recruitment.”) She recently told Entrepreneur that the new Peeple could launch as early as next month.
7. William Leonard Dodson
The villain: A 41-year-old South Carolina man.
The offense: Taped the mouth of his 15-month-old pitbull mix for two days, causing serious damage to her lips and tongue that required plastic surgery to repair. The heartbreaking images of the dog, named Caitlyn, sparked national outrage after the Charleston Animal Society posted them to Facebook; a petition demanding legal consequences for Dodson earned more than 440,000 signatures.
Where he is now: As of November, Dodson was in jail awaiting trial on charges of animal cruelty. He had previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Caitlyn, meanwhile, has recovered after several surgeries and has since been adopted. Her story has helped the Charleston Animal Society raise thousands in donations.
6. Doug and Carla Alcorn
The villains: The Ohio parents of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl who committed suicide on Dec. 28, 2014.
The offense: Repeatedly refused to accept their daughter’s identity in the weeks before and after her death, leading thousands of onlookers to blame them for it. Alcorn’s suicide became an international media phenomenon after her suicide note went viral on Tumblr; in it, she described her growing sense of isolation and alienation as her socially conservative Christian parents tried to convince her that she “would never truly be a girl.” Despite the note, Alcorn’s mother Carla referred to her daughter as “my sweet … son, Joshua Ryan,” in a Facebook post announcing her death, and later told CNN that “we don’t support that, religiously.” Both parents were subsequently doxed by online vigilantes, and several popular petitions called for them to be legally prosecuted.
Where they are now: The Alcorns, their two dogs and their three remaining children still live in Kings Mills, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, where they’ve kept a low profile since January. In the family’s last remarks to the media, Doug told local TV affiliate WCPO that “we love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death … We wish to grieve in private.” The family has not participated in any of the subsequent advocacy dedicated to Leelah and other transgender teens. A friend of the family told WCPO that the online reaction had been difficult for the family, who “truly thought they were doing the right thing.” Cincinnati recently passed a law banning gay conversion therapy.
5. Chuck Johnson
The villain: The litigious, inflammatory 26-year-old blogger behind GotNews.com.
The offense: Tweeted a link to a fundraiser to “take out” Deray McKesson, the prominent Black Lives Matter activist. The apparent threat got Johnson suspended from Twitter, and GotNews.com was briefly downed by hackers. Previously, Johnson — a gleeful troll on Twitter and off it — doxed two New York Times reporters, incorrectly claimed that Newark mayor Cory Booker (now a senator) didn’t live in Newark, and blamed homosexuality for the 2015 Amtrak derailment. In October, he also released controversial, secret recordings of Planned Parenthood executives, in violation of a federal court order. Johnson has since been sued by the National Abortion Federation over the incident, which is an odd change of pace for him: Johnson is notoriously litigious, and a countdown clock, chuckcjohnson.info, exists for the sole purpose of tracking his lawsuit threats.
Where he is now: Johnson is still publishing regularly on GotNews.com amidst his “legal fight” with Planned Parenthood and the NAF. (His latest “scoop” is a lengthy statement from George Zimmerman, explaining why he doxed his ex on Twitter.) Johnson himself has not returned to Twitter, though he maintains an active presence on Facebook: “(Expletive) these savages,” he posted recently, of Muslims. Johnson is currently crowdfunding a legal defense fund, and has raised $3,622. He lives in Clovis, California, with his wife and dog.
4. Kim Davis
The villain: A county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky.
The offense: Refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that it violated her Pentecostal Christian beliefs. Davis maintained that position even when mandated to issue licenses by both Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and court order, resulting in a six-day jail stint in early September. Davis has since been released from jail on the condition that she not interfere with the work of her deputy clerks, who are issuing same-sex licenses without putting Davis’s name on them, as is typical. In September, she further enraged her critics by meeting privately with Pope Francis.
Where she is now: Davis’s legal saga still hasn’t ended: She has repeatedly appealed a lower court’s decision forcing her office to issue licenses, and both the state of Kentucky and the American Civil Liberties Union have indicated that they’re worried about the validity of the altered certificates that Rowan County has been issuing. Davis, meanwhile, is still basking in the glow of her fame: On Dec. 8, she attended the inaugural events for Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, who on Tuesday issued an executive order to adjust marriage licenses to accommodate county clerks who oppose same-sex marriage.
3. Racheal Dolezal
The villain: The former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.
The offense: Claimed to be African-American — even alleging discrimination and hate crimes based on her race — when she is, in fact, of German and Czech ancestry. Dolezal’s real background came out in June, when a reporter at Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Press first published allegations that Dolezal was white. As more reporters and acquaintances dug into Dolezal’s story, they found further lies: Among other things, the 38-year-old claimed that her parents had abused her, that her father was actually her step-dad, and that her (black) adopted brother Izaiah was her son. It also appeared that she used those lies to maneuver into a number of leadership and teaching positions.
Where she is now: While Dolezal has said she lost most of her friends, as well as her positions at the NAACP and Eastern Washington University, shortly after her story broke, she’s remained in Spokane with her son, Franklin. (Dolezal divorced Franklin’s father in 2004.) Dolezal told the Guardian she’s been unable to get a job, but has been doing braids and weaves out of her home. She’s expecting a baby, to be named “Langston” after Langston Hughes; needless to say, she still identifies as a black woman.
2. Walter Palmer
The villain: A dentist in suburban Minnesota and a recreational big-game hunter.
The offense: Shot, tracked and later killed Cecil, a 13-year-old lion beloved far outside his home in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Palmer reportedly paid $50,000 to a professional hunting guide, who helped him lure the animal out of a wildlife sanctuary and fatally wound it with a bow and arrow. Though Palmer apologized, claiming he hadn’t known the lion he hunted was the world-famous Cecil, critics called for an investigation into the hunt and sweeping reforms on trophy hunting in general.
Where he is now: Zimbabwean officials chose not to prosecute Palmer for illegal hunting, and in September, he returned to his dental practice. Things have not, however, been smooth sailing since then: In November, Minnesota state officials investigated Palmer for “herding” deer onto his hunting land, and a group of persistent critics have managed to keep his Yelp rating to a mere one star. The website for River Bluff Dental, his practice, is currently offline.
1. Martin Shkreli
The villain: A 32-year-old hedge fund manager and pharmaceutical executive.
The offense: Raised the price of Daraprim, a medication used by AIDS patients, from $50 to $750/pill in September. Shkreli affected an infamously smug, unapologetic attitude in interviews, repeatedly saying it was his job to seek “profit” and that he should have raised the price of Daraprim higher. As if that weren’t enough, he then went on to send a series of fantastically trolly tweets (“50-100 date solicitations a day for me, the world’s most eligible bachelor”), get in a well-publicized spat with Bernie Sanders, buy the sole copy of Wu-Tang’s $2 million special edition album, and begin a fantastically self-involved YouTube channel.
Where he is now: Shkreli was arrested on securities fraud charges Dec. 17. Before that happened, however, Shkreli was actually doing … pretty OK. The stock price of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, his publicly traded company, hit an almost two-year high in late November. And some of his critics — including the HIV blogger and activist Josh Robbins — had begun to rethink their earlier positions.
© 2015, The Washington Post
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