Click to expand: Email reporter from. Kurt Schlosser this week from a comedian and internet troll posing as Jackie Bezos, mother of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (Screenshot from.)
In my five-plus years in., I’ve often wondered what it would take to get Jeff Bezos’s attention and how I would react if the Amazon founder emailed me about one of my stories. I never thought it would be a random story about your purchase of a soft serve machine, or that the person sending the email would be your mom.
In the sea of releases and press releases I get from PR folks, an apparent note (above) from Jackie Bezos, president and co-founder of the Bezos Family Foundation, easily stood out this week.
No way, I thought. “This is not real.”
But the signature of the email with the foundation logo and address looked so good that I couldn’t resist pasting the note and conveying my enthusiasm to the Slack team at .. It got a couple of “Wow!” answers, and before I think much more about it or do any research, you know, journalism stuff, I just wrote “Jackie.”
I thanked her for emailing me, told her I love soft serve ice cream, my kids love Dippin Dots, and if Jeff ever wanted to talk about ice cream or anything else, she knew how to reach me. The next response said, “Absolutely!” – and Jeff Bezos was added to the thread via his real Amazon email address.
Suddenly I had visions of a car picking me up to take me to a private jet. I’d fly to Beverly Hills and tonight I’d be eating artisan ice cream in Jeff Bezos’s kitchen talking about Amazon, space, chocolate versus vanilla, and whatever else the richest person in the world talks about. I could already see my name in the new Journalism Center for Excellence. in Seattle, funded by the Bezos Family Foundation.
But I didn’t answer this time. And thankfully, I didn’t touch my story by adding a fake comment from the fake Jackie Bezos about his son’s love of ice cream. I fell asleep all over.
And the next morning, after listening to Amazon PR, as well as a New York Post reporter who was also attacked, I knew that I had been misled.
Looking for a reaction
Ben Palmer performs a stand-up comedy when he doesn’t mess with people online. (Photo courtesy of Ben Palmer)
“The point was not to mess with you,” Ben Palmer told me Thursday morning after calling me from his home in Colorado.
I wrote to Palmer after discovering that he was a fake Jackie and that he had been sharing, and has since deleted, responses related to his fake emails on a Facebook page he runs called Hope This Helps. Other notes to other media outlets went beyond the one he sent me, saying that Bezos’s new ice cream machine was already broken.
“I felt guilty when you answered; I didn’t want you to get too excited, like, ‘Oh man, we could get an interview with Jeff Bezos!’ Palmer said. “The goal is to get someone who represents Jeff Bezos to just get a reaction from them, because it’s very difficult to get a reaction from someone who is high up.”
And Palmer has been trying for some time.
The 35-year-old Air Force veteran has attracted 2 million followers on TikTok with his brand of internet trolling and comedy. On YouTube, his videos are a mix of his jokes, whether he’s talking about screenshots of his hoax on social media or on court television to litigate bogus cases.
Ben Palmer of Palmer Trolls in some of the videos he has produced detailing his efforts to get reactions from different companies and organizations. (YouTube screenshots)
Palmer, who has lived in Atlanta and Los Angeles, earns income from content he creates online and from his comedy tours. In fact, he is scheduled to perform in Seattle at The Rendezvous in Belltown on October 15, just a few blocks from Amazon headquarters. I told him that I planned to introduce myself and interrupt him for an hour, to see how he likes to be disturbed at work.
A former concert worker who has driven for Uber and Lyft and delivered food, Palmer addresses businesses, business leaders and corporate accounts via email or on social media. What interests him most is trolling in the name of workers’ rights and social justice.
“You feel the rage of being treated like shit by big business,” he said.
He has created fake quote memes attributed to Bezos or SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and will contact his representatives seeking comment on the legitimacy of the quotes. He often masquerades as a reporter for a non-existent Colorado newspaper, or as a reporter for a bogus CBS affiliate in Akron, Ohio. Getting an answer is part of the comedy Palmer hopes to convey to his fans.
He also poses as company accounts to go after users on social media who complain about things like a gay couple in an ad or the politics of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. He made headlines in 2016 for posing as Home Depot guest relations on Facebook and copying Fox News in a post’s comments. He went viral last year when he pretended to be Costco, responding to a customer complaining about the mask policy at the wholesaler’s store during the height of the pandemic.
Comments from Ben Palmer, pretending to be Costco responding to a customer on Facebook. (Facebook screenshot via Ben Palmer)
Palmer has addressed Bezos in various ways, trying to get a reaction. You’ve tried to book Bezos for a stay at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Or you will contact random places and say that Bezos plans to visit and needs accommodation for his exotic animals. Often times, if Bezos’ email is attached, the correspondence is intercepted by Amazon corporate communications.
Bezos’ immense wealth, the defeat of a unionization effort at one of Amazon’s warehouses, and Amazon’s new mission to be “the best employer on earth” fuel Palmer’s desire for a reaction.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “Apart from unionizing, there is nothing you can do about it when you work there. So I try to do all I can in a comical way to mess with them.
Palmer said he avoids impersonating real people and said emailing like Jackie Bezos was an exception. But it was not a phishing scheme. He was not looking for money. I was looking for an answer. But if the Bezos Family Foundation were to sue, he estimates it would be more publicity.
“A billionaire sues a poor comedian … maybe I don’t fully understand how lawsuits work, but what do you want, my 2014 Nissan Sentra for this?” Palmer joked.
A fake quote from a fake journalist in a fake newspaper Ben Palmer sent to Jeff Bezos, getting a response from Amazon PR. (Image courtesy of Ben Palmer)
Fast and fake friends
I laughed for a good half hour talking to Palmer on the phone. He said he was going to send me ice cream for my troubles and I suggested maybe an Amazon gift card.
I felt like we made a connection that I didn’t really make with the fake Jackie Bezos.
But in addition to wasting the time of journalists or corporate public relations representatives in the name of comedy, I asked Palmer if he is concerned about contributing to the scourge of misinformation that is doing real harm on the internet and in the real world.
“Yes, I try not to make companies that are actually doing a good service look bad,” he said.
Palmer clearly has some reservations about who is affected in his efforts to reach the top and reach people like Bezos or Musk or Mark Zuckerberg etc.
“Sometimes I feel bad,” he said. “It is a learning experience. I try to see how far I can go. It’s worth it? Who are you using in the process to do this? «
I ask if that applies to journalists who are only trying to report on ice cream machines bought by billionaires, and Palmer laughs.
“Sorry, Kurt,” he said. “This is my official apology to you. That should be the headline.