I’m the guy who first tried to warn Hillary Clinton’s fans about the Pantsuit Nation scam

Numerous members of a secret Facebook political group called Pantsuit Nation are up in arms this week after learning that the creator of their group is planning to publish their stories in a for-profit book without their permission. They’re are outraged that their posts in the group, which they thought were private, are being publicly sold off – and many are wondering where the book profits are going. The Huffington Post is going so far today as to call the group a “sham.” I tried to warn people that something wasn’t right with that group months ago – and I got my head taken off for it.

The story goes like this: a friend added me to the Pantsuit group, which was purporting to be a secret group for Hillary Clinton supporters, in the first week of its existence. While I was initially impressed that it had gained around two hundred thousand members in its first few days, it only took me a minute and a half to figure out something wasn’t right. Based on everything I’ve seen by participating in various Facebook political groups over the years, the relatively paltry number of likes, shares, and comments on the posts in the Pantsuit group were more in line with a group of perhaps ten or twenty thousand members. There was simply no way it had two hundred thousand members. Nor could that many people have been manually added to the group by human fingers that quickly since its launch, without using computer scripts.

If you’ve been around Facebook groups long enough, you know these things instinctively, but you’re not going to be able to convince those who haven’t seen these things for themselves. I’d seen this same disparity in the past in another political group whose membership number was completely out of line with its post activity. In that particular group (which has fallen into such irrelevance that there’s no point in naming it here), I had been able to suss out that most of the “members” were actually fake inactive accounts from a handful of specific foreign nations which are notorious for manufacturing and selling Facebook accounts to groups on the cheap who want to pad their membership. I won’t post a link here to such disreputable sites, but if you google something like “buy facebook group members” you’ll see just how cheap and easy it is to buy fake members.

So I searched the Pantsuit Nation membership for the most common first and last names from the nations where those kinds of accounts are made and sold, and sure enough, it was chock full of fake foreign accounts that had almost certainly been purchased. In other words, Pantsuit Nation probably didn’t explode out of the gate with a huge membership because everyone was adding their friends. Instead, the creator of the group most likely purchased a bunch of fake members at the outset in order to create the appearance of soaring popularity, so that real Hillary Clinton fans would join what they thought was already an explosively popular group. Stupidly, I didn’t think to immediately take screen captures of these searches in order to document my findings. By the time I realized I’d need them, I’d already opened my mouth about it and been banned from accessing the group’s membership list.

Lacking the evidence I would have needed to report on this matter as a journalist and make a bulletproof case, I opted not to publish an investigative story on the matter. Instead I simply made a post on my personal Facebook page, warning the Hillary Clinton supporters among my own friends that they should be careful regarding the Pantsuit group. But the group’s creator got wind of it, and she made an inflammatory post within the group in which she encouraged the members to harass me on my personal page. And they did, for days on end, to the point that my friends who supported Hillary ended up telling them off and the whole thing became a food fight. During the course of it, various Pantsuit members vowed to boycott my news publication Daily News Bin out of revenge.

Over the past year I’ve reported the ugly truth on everyone from the journalist-murdering Vladimir Putin, to the media-harassing Donald Trump, to the corrupt Director of the FBI without an ounce of fear, even though these are people who could easily make me disappear. But the creator of the Pantsuit Nation group proved to be so dishonestly and viciously vindictive that she’s someone I’ve come to fear. Even now I hesitate writing this, for fear she’ll turn her remaining disciples loose on me again.

Last time it was hinted that I was everything from a secret Republican, to a secret Bernie Sanders fanatic, to a sexist who simply didn’t want women to have their own group. I’m not sure my professional reputation has ever taken as big of a dishonest blow as it did from the Pantsuit group creator. But as the Pantsuit saga grows darker, and more people now consider themselves victims, I feel that I have no choice but to speak up now and share my own experience. Some of those same members who had been harassing me on that day have now messaged me today to apologize, and to tell me I was right.

But at the time, there was simply no way I could have convinced her members that the whole thing was a sham. They would simply need to figure out for themselves that something wasn’t right. Sure enough, I knew that day would be coming soon when I learned that the creator of the group was filing for nonprofit status. The only way a Facebook group (which inherently has no revenue to begin with) would ever file to become a nonprofit is if it was planning to start having revenue coming in.

And now predictably comes this for-profit book deal, which various members of the group have privately informed me today that they first learned about in the New York Times, rather than learning about it from the group’s creator herself. In other words, she presumably didn’t want her members to know until it was already a done deal. There’s nothing wrong at all with creating a group and then profiting from it – but not by lulling people into a false sense of security and privacy, so you can turn around sell their stories that they thought they were sharing privately with like minded people. The question raised about intellectual property rights alone are astounding.

By the way, when I spoke up that day about there being something not-quite-right about Pantsuit Nation, even though I did it in low-key fashion, I heard from multiple people close to Hillary Clinton and her campaign who privately thanked me for having done so (no I won’t divulge their identities; off the record communication stays that way). To the best of my knowledge, the Clinton camp suspected from the start that something wasn’t right with that group. So when Hillary used her concession speech to urge the private Facebook groups supporting her to go public, it’s incredibly unlikely that she was referring to the Pantsuit group. There were (and still are) dozens of active and vibrant secret Hillary Clinton groups on Facebook; they just don’t seek out media attention, because that’s not what legitimate secret groups do. Hillary was almost certainly referring to those groups, some of which are full of influential people and have been supporting her in private for years.

I feel terrible for the Hillary Clinton supporters who got sucked into the Pantsuit Nation group and honestly believed they had found a private safe space for sharing their personal stories, which are apparently now being sold off for someone else’s personal profit. Perhaps I should have sounded the alarm more loudly early on, when I first figured out something wasn’t right. The only reason for a Facebook group to spend money on large numbers of fake members out of the gate is to create the appearance of popularity so a lot of real people will join, and if anyone was willing to pay for members up front, they were clearly planning from the start to get that money back in the end. So this kind of ending seems sadly inevitable.

But wow do the members sure seem to want revenge today on the Pantsuit group creator, now that they consider themselves to have been betrayed. There’s even a secret new Facebook group (whose name I won’t publicly divulge because that’s how “secret” groups are supposed to work) which was created by those former members of Pantsuit Nation who feel they’ve been scammed by it. Although I’ve received invites to join the protest group today, I’m not interested; I’m just a journalist, and this is a battle best fought by those who feel they’ve been wronged by the group.

I want to reiterate that to this day I still can’t prove anyone was buying fake members in order to give the group the initial appearance of popularity. But that’s the whole point. I saw enough that I personally had no doubt based on patterns I’d seen before. And I warned my friends in a personal capacity, which was my right, at what ended up being great cost to my professional reputation at the time. But those who fell for the Pantsuit scam were simply going to have to figure out for themselves that something wasn’t right. And now many of them have. I point all this out not to say “I told you so,” but instead so we might all learn from it going forward. The next time I point out such a scam, I’ll do it more loudly – and perhaps the public won’t be so quick to take my head off for it. Photo courtesy Global News.

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Bill Palmer
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