Earlier this week, Stanton Friedman, widely known throughout UFOlogy circles as one of the leading experts on unidentified spacecraft and their inhabitants, popped up on popular social news website reddit.com. He started an AMA (or Ask Me Anything) thread with the intent of addressing any questions the curious few might have about what it’s like being what he calls a “UFO physicist”. As you can probably imagine from the fact that I’m even writing about it, this engagement did not go as planned.
Now, before we continue on the journey into Friedman’s internet nightmare, we need to explain what exactly reddit is for the few that aren’t familiar with it.
According to Alexa, Reddit is ranked as the 46th most popular website in the United States. It boasts an active user base that consists of over 8 million people, made up of mostly of college level males, all of them contributing to the ultimate purpose of the website: rating content. The whole idea behind reddit is about submitting new, unique content to the website, be it in the form of news, videos, images, even jokes. That content is then voted on by the users, who can choose to upvote or downvote your submission. A link with a higher number of upvotes is usually pushed to the front page for millions to read, while particularly poor posts end up “buried” in a mountain of downvotes, banished to the recesses of reddit, only to be read by a few.
To help your chances of the content being upvoted, you can always submit your content to “subreddits”, individual sections of the website dedicated to particular interests. Like videogames? There’s a subbreddit for that. Consider yourself a skeptic? There’s a subreddit for that. Do you enjoy seeing brighly colored, anthropomorphic animals having sex with one another? There’s even a subreddit for that.. but I don’t suggest you visit. You get the idea.
This particular model has led to its fair share of problems, but ultimately it’s proven to be an effective way to deliver fresh (or long forgotten) content to the people who want to see it most.
So where does Friedman come in? Tuesday afternoon there was a post in the UFO subreddit inviting the readers to come ask questions to Stanton Friedman. The post was titled “I am Stanton Friedman, Nuclear Physicist, and world renowned expert on UFO phenomena.“
From the post:
I am a flying saucer physicist and lecturer. Since 1967 I have appeared before the UN twice, testified before Congress, and lectured about the UFO phenomenon at more than 600 colleges and 100 professional groups in the United States, Canada, and 18 other countries. The US government told us that Apollo 17 had to be the last Apollo mission because there was no budget for an Apollo 18. What you might not know is that both Apollo 18 and Apollo 19 were paid for and astronauts trained. Was Apollo 18 secretly launched? I worked on several top secret programs and can address this and other issues relating to black budgets and hidden programs.
Off to a good start. People are interested, lots of questions start rolling in. The first, and arguably most logical question to be asked is simply, “if you had a paragraph to provide a convincing argument that flying saucers exist, what would you say?” The response was.. not what anyone expected.
Read the first chapter of my 2008 book “Flying Saucers and Science ” which reviews 6 large scale scientific studies which fewer than 2% of the attendees at my more than 700 lectures have read…
Ok. Maybe the question is more complex than can be answered in a single paragraph. We can give that one to him. What about a question regarding the nature of government cover ups?
Chapter 4 (26 pages) covers the cosmic watergate . There are many TOP SECRET UMBRA CIA UFO Documents on which one can read several words.. everything else is blacked out.
Hmm.. that doesn’t really help much. Well, maybe for the sake of people without immediate access to his books, he could provide a quick summary of the information. Surely that can’t be too much to ask.. in an “Ask Me Anything” thread..
You expect me to condense a 25 page chapter into 2 paragraphs? How ridiculous.
As you can imagine, things did not end up going very well from this point out. What had initially been a thread that began with plenty of upvotes, it was buried at zero within the next four hours.
Have a question? Well if you want the answer then you had better buy the book. Unless of course you want to know if Stanton Friedman watches The Simpsons, how many hecklers he’s dealt with over the years, and whether or not there is an alien base on the dark side of the moon (answers being no, 11, and ‘”could be, not enough data’” accordingly).
But the weirdest part about the AMA (aside from hardly answering a single relevant question) were how many times he was mentioning the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. A bizarre amount of references to the unplanned space flight were seemingly peppered into responses at random, but it wasn’t until one redditor made a connection that the pieces fell into place:
Turns out the entire thread was part of a viral marketing campaign put forth by the advertising team behind the big budget “found footage” movie Apollo 18 (apparently about space ghosts on the dark side of the moon.. and not the hilarious ones). The AMA was later amended by Friedman to admit this fact, though he insists that he wasn’t being paid for his time and hadn’t even seen the movie (worst marketing team ever, or best?). This did little to quell the internet shit storm that he had created. The damage was done. No longer was he fielding questions about UFO conspiracies and the theoretical technology behind interstellar travel, but instead was barraged with questions like:
There’s plenty more where these came from. Within a short time span, people who might have initially been keen on the idea of picking up one of Friedman’s books or heading down to the local cineplex for a screening of Apollo 18 were left with a bad taste in their mouths regarding both. Any of the thousands of interested parties who poked their heads into the thread didn’t see answers to questions about alien life. Instead, they were met with the discoveries of hundreds of angry internet sleuths digging up the fact that Friendman does not, in fact, have a PhD and hasn’t worked in nuclear physics since the 70’s. When you’re selling books based on appeals to credentials, this is not the kind of thing you want your potential buyers to see.
Coincidentally, two days after this appeared, the owner of the Ask Me Anything subreddit announced that because of threads very much like this one, he was shutting it down effective immediately (he eventually reneged on the decision).
There is a lesson to be learned here for UFO Physicists, marketing teams, and anyone touting extraordinary claims. If you want people to buy your books, watch your movies, or believe your stories of the incredible, you better give them a good reason to, and more importantly, you had better not treat them like they’re stupid.
As copinglemon said:
To read the entire saga (albeit without the deleted posts and after edits) check out the official AMA thread. Not a redditor yet? Do yourself a favor and drop by the /r/paranormal subreddit and get started. It only takes a few seconds and you might run across a few of the WF? Gang while you’re there.