How a Social Justice Instagram Weaponized Cancel Culture

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Speaker 1: There was a lot of screen time. There was a lot of Internet stalking and texting by the Ugandan numbers that I’ve been given and hoping that the right person was on the other end.

Madison Malone: Hi, I’m Madison Malone Kircher.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And I’m Rachel Hansen. And you’re listening to I see. Why am I?

Madison Malone: In Case You Missed It.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Live Podcast About Internet Culture.

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Madison Malone: Last week in an attempt to lift our own spirits, this was entirely selfish. We published an episode that was only fun things from the internet, and after we put that episode out, we got an amazing collection of other fun things from the Internet, from our listeners and we okay. Keith So what we’re saying is we’re going to share them with you or some of them with you. And I apologize if you do not hear your bit of Internet joy here, because truly there were many. And for that we say thank you. First up, thank you to Becca Liebe for sending us the wildest, I guess, PSA about the importance of not parking in designated handicapped spots.

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Speaker 4: I have to vigorously mia with this business, no value.

Madison Malone: If you don’t speak Polish, that’s okay. We have tweeted all of these from our account so you can go watch them with subtitles in English and scream.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Next up, we have an absolute gym from Etsy. Emperor Ashley, who I just want to say thank you so much for flagging this incredible TikTok account called Saks Squatch. And it’s exactly what you think it is, which is a man in a Sasquatch costume playing the saxophone, thus sax squatch.

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Madison Malone: And because this is in fact not a podcast about the Internet, but musicals. Sorry if you thought it was a podcast about the internet, you’re wrong. Thank you. Two at Yellow Jacket for sending us. Jonathan Groff singing Anything Goes. At the miscast gala in 2012. That sentence makes perfect sense to me, and knowing what we know about our listeners, I’m going to say it makes perfect sense to a lot of you to.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: The olden days.

Speaker 5: Stocking was looked on as something shocking. But now God. And it ain’t Guy.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: I do have to admit, I love the miscast version of Take Me or Leave Me From Rent, which features Aaron Tveit in Gavin Creole. It is just an instant bit of serotonin, but despite Madison said We’re not a musical podcast.

Madison Malone: Please keep sending the joy into our DMS. Truly it is. It is so nice. For the first time in possibly my entire professional life to check the damn request folder, which is where the people you don’t know go, which is where the, you know, harassing comments, pictures of genitalia you didn’t ask for. Just bad things go there and instead be just met with delightfully funny things. That is all the time we have for great stuff today, though, because we have a fantastic guest who is here to tell us all about something which, while not fun in the SpongeBob kind of way, is going to tell us a fun, riveting and wild story.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: On the show today, we have Jessica Lucas, who is back with yet another wild story. Y’all might remember her. And by my I mean you should remember her from when she came on to talk about her incredible piece on Whitey Nation. This time she is here to tell us about her piece, The Spectacular Implosion of Instagram’s No White Saviors. The story takes so, so many turns. You’re basically just going in a square round the block does right, turn after right turn at the right turn. And we end up back where we started.

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Madison Malone: To prime your brain ever so slightly. No white Saviors is an Instagram account that made its name by taking down bad white people. It claimed to be based in Uganda and turns out the white people it took down perhaps actually did nothing wrong, and the people behind it were pocketing tens of thousands of dollars, allegedly.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Some might call it an aura. Boris Cancellation.

Madison Malone: Only you. Rachel Maybe. Jessica Well, we’ll find out when we’re back with Jessica Lucas after just a quick break. All right. And we are back and also back. Jessica Lucas Jessica. Hello. We’re so glad you’re on the show again.

Speaker 1: Hello. Thank you. It’s lovely to be back.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: We are so excited. Not least because you have written yet another wild adventure about something involving white people.

Madison Malone: As we mentioned, the title of the piece is The Spectacular Implosion of Instagram’s No White Saviors. So, Jessica, I’m going to start with the impossible question. The broad strokes of the story. What is what is the elevator pitch? The two sentence version of what this story’s about?

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Speaker 1: I would say I’ve been trying to think about this, and I have no idea because no one, even I has the foggiest about what went on. But you’ve got these two Instagram activism founders who are fighting very publicly online but refusing to speak. I’ve had people tell me they can’t talk to me because they think they’re going to get sued or prosecuted in some kind of Uganda legal action like that. The whole thing is insane, but I guess essentially what’s going on in a nutshell is a Instagram activism account, which though its brand of cancelling people, may have fabricated those cancellations in order to attract money towards it. And then also, there’s a whole load of murky legal stuff going on, which essentially amounts to, you know, the money may not have been going towards what people think it was.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Okay. So the Instagram account that you mentioned is the no white savings account. How would you describe what the account did to someone who has never encountered this before?

Speaker 1: So no white Saviors boat was banned on canceling white saviors. So white missionaries and other folks that were doing aid work in Africa, often in the opinion of the no white Saviors account in a performative or problematic way to move the achieve clouds, or just because they were acting out of ignorance. So it was it was designed to call out problematic people and also educates, I guess, white people on the concept of white Saviour isms.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: So when did you first come upon this account?

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Speaker 1: I came upon this account a couple of months ago purely because and I’m giving away my strategy. So people were gossiping about the blog. So which is a Reddit sub? Yes, I like it a lot. Yeah. And I kind of thought, okay, you know something? Something’s going on here. People are talking about it. So I started looking into it and I guess that was the first time I came across no white Saviors was literally as it had started to. Blow up in a very bad way.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: So you came across this impending blow up on blog snark. There’s kind of a lot of stuff on that subreddit. What made you think? You know, I think there’s something here.

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Speaker 1: I guess it was because there was so much going on. I mean, there I went down this rabbit hole and everything was insane. You had these two women who had been best friends throwing insane accusations at each other about espionage, frauds, bullying, harassment. You had a load of people in shocked that a white woman had been running the account most of the time in the first place. That was a big thing for people. And then you had all of these other people coming out of the woodwork, many of whom I interviewed, to say, well, you know, yeah, this woman is bad. She she stole my husband and she falsely accused me of these things that ruined my life. And it was just nuts. It was you know, it was unbelievable. It looked like fiction. So, yeah.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Whenever someone tosses around the term, espionage is exactly when I start getting interested in it. And so we have the two founders of the No Saviors account, Kelsey Nielson, a white woman from America, and Olivia Lasso, a Ugandan black woman. And no what Saviors kind of builds their brand on bringing light to missionaries who come to Africa and perpetuate this really tired narrative. Could you tell us a little bit about the people that the no white savings account of targeted like Leona, who you mentioned in your piece?

Speaker 1: So Fiona is a travel influencer. She built a brand under name. How not to travel like a basic bitch. Yeah. And it was it was about respecting the cultures of the places you traveled to and traveling ethically. And she ended up in a world situation where she got in a dispute over pay with someone shit hired. This was happening in Ghana, I believe, and that person then started threatening her about how pay the police were involved and she was then canceled. By no way Saviors after all of this drama happened because she’d called the police and it was slightly bizarre. It was framed as though, you know, she’d called the police on a black man and put them at risk of violence without contextualizing that this all happened in an African country.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: So another person you mention in your piece is Page, who owns an NGO. And she was also targeted by no white saviors, right?

Speaker 1: Yes, she was. She was targeted through a medium post which they published on their blog. Huge list of accusations made against her, all of which have been proven to be false. And then they repeatedly went after her through their Instagram page as well.

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Madison Malone: And this was a pretty common tactic that no white Saviors was using these very significant allegations in Paige’s case, accusations of sexual and romantic relationships with minors, embezzling charitable funds, drugging her own guard. Like truly abhorrent and wild things.

Speaker 1: Yeah, the whole thing is insane. And I think this is a it’s worth mentioning that these kind of accusations were. I’m trying to give the white vote to these kind of accusations that were made against Rene Bach. I don’t know how many people will be familiar with her case. It went viral in 2009 ten. She was associated with the deaths of 100 Ugandan children and know what Saviors was behind a lot of these allegations. And Ariel Levy did an amazing job of looking at all of these allegations in The New Yorker and, you know, going on the ground in Uganda and interviewing people. And she got absolutely crucified for doing it.

Speaker 1: But it seems like she was 12 steps ahead of everyone else, which is the issues that she raised. And if I’m not wrong, I believe she deleted her Twitter after the black backlash because trust in no way savings at the time was so high that they all the same issues raised by victims. In the years since the Rene case happened.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: A lot of the victims that you spoke to seemed to kind of do their own digging into no white Saviors. What did they find about this organization and what did you find in your reporting?

Speaker 1: So as well as what they didn’t find, they didn’t there was just a lack of a credible trail that you would expect from an NGO in terms of finances and proper business licenses, permits, things like that. So, you know, you had all of these people who had false allegations aimed at them online. They were trying to sue over these allegations and there was no entity to sue. This company did not exist, but it was bringing in thousands in donations every month from Page John and Venmo and PayPal. So, you know, the question then became, where is this money going?

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Madison Malone: There’s a line in your piece from Guyana that I gasped at. She says there is $80,000 for a library in Uganda. I don’t know if you’ve seen the library, but it is a bookshelf.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s there’s a link in the article to a YouTube video which are completely unrelated influencer made where they did a tour of the library. And it’s a fairly nice venue, but there aren’t that many books.

Madison Malone: The money is where this story really takes off and things begin to break down for Norway. Saviors Because that’s the only trail you and also the victims are able to follow is, you know, seeing that, for example, the Go Fund Me for the library was raising money in Chelsea Neilson’s name personally. How interesting.

Speaker 1: And we were able to trace businesses back to, well, at least one business, back to Nelson’s home state of Pennsylvania. But it was an LLC set up with a registered agent, which essentially means that whoever owns it is protected from financial liability and also from being known to the public.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Seems just a little bit shady for a charitable organization.

Speaker 1: Correct? Yeah, it’s very weird. And there’s, you know, a lot of back and forth essentially know what Saviors. That’s a parent company called Christie Mama Africa. Christie Mama Africa is set up as an LLC and an NGO in the U.S. and through different states and also as an NGO in Uganda. And I tried to get the financials for the NGO in Uganda, but they still have not been released to me. I got a very cryptic text last night, weirdly, from someone claiming to be from the Ugandan NGO Embassy, contacting me unofficially to see if they could help me and said really weird messages. But that has also gone nowhere. So.

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Madison Malone: Jessica, you live a fascinating life.

Speaker 1: It sounds much more interesting than it is. It’s more based. I got a photo on my phone.

Madison Malone: Okay, so again, I’m going to ask an impossible question. What is the craziest turn of the drama in this story, to your mind?

Speaker 1: I would think the the past few weeks have been particularly nuts. So Kelsey Nelson got arrested in Uganda. It was unclear entirely what that was for. And there’s a lot of mystery around what the charges were. She then went on bail and fled the country. So she’s now in the U.S. This was shortly after footage was circulated of her allegedly assaulting people involved with no white saviors in a Ugandan nightclub, which was circulating all over the Internet. It. It just. And then she started accusing people of being sent by the US government to infiltrate. Know what Saviors as a movement, bring it down because it was a threat to society as we knew it.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Of course, casual, casual things. We’ll be back with more casual, casual things and Jessica Lucas after a short break.

Madison Malone: We’ve walked through a couple of steps of this story, very, very oversimplified. Cannot recommend more highly about everyone listening to this actually read this piece. We’ve got no white Saviors Instagram account. They’re perhaps raising money nefariously. And also the white Saviors they’re taking down perhaps didn’t need to be taken down. So where does that leave the group of victims? Because the part of the story where I was just like, you’re there’s no one to take legal action against. It’s where do we go from here?

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Speaker 1: Exactly. So I spoke to an LLC expert who essentially said that it is possible to take legal action, but you need a lot of money. It will take a lot of legal work, expensive legal work in order to trace someone who’s liable for all of this and in terms of someone who can be sued. So for them, it’s a case of, I guess, getting the funds in place and also asking themselves if it’s worth it. At this point, I think, or at least the impression I’ve gotten from speaking with people, taking legal action was less about getting compensation or money, more about having these posts removed and getting apologies and having their names cleared.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: So that hasn’t happened yet. But what did happen is the implosion of the no white savings account, which I think at least one of the people you spoke to said that that’s something.

Speaker 1: Exactly. Exactly. And I think it is, you know, at least helpful for people. Again, you know, when when I was writing this piece, I had my interviewees and also at one point Kelsey Neilson in the middle of the night telling me that I was going to get crucified for writing this. And that did not happen. And I think that is because trust in this organisation, you know, two years on from that article has dropped dramatically. So at least that is something at least people are now really questioning it.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: That is kind of a perfect segue way into our next question, which is one of your sources said that this has made her reconsider the people that she’s giving money to. And I’m curious as to what you think public kind of meltdowns like this do to the genre of online activism as a whole?

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Speaker 1: I think it’s damaging. It’s also not the first time it’s happened, and I don’t think we should necessarily, you know, lose faith in online activism, although that’s a whole other conversation in terms of activism and how much benefit does it really have. But it’s important to start questioning these things because I think now it’s so easy for us to get caught up in these online movements and hand over money because, you know, it’s exciting to feel like you’re part of something and it’s exciting to feel like you’re making a difference. And when making a difference amounts to just, you know, clicking something and donating $5, then it becomes very easy for that to be the niche related or just, you know, used by nefarious people.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Yeah, there’s this kind of language in the aftermath of many of the terrible events that happened in the world where the sentiment is, you don’t want to be a white saviour, just donate to the people who are actually on the ground. And then you have moments like these where the trust and the places that you’re donating to gets completely erased and you’re left with this idea of, okay, well, I’m non-expert, so I shouldn’t be getting involved. I want to give money, but also God knows where that money is going.

Madison Malone: They said they were on the ground.

Speaker 1: Exactly. I don’t know. What can you do if you have local organisations and you can see what they’re doing on the ground and you know where your money is going? I think it’s much more valuable to send it that way than to try or, you know, get caught up in these giant online entities that may not be spending in the way you think they are.

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Madison Malone: Jessica, you talked about sort of there were two parts of seeking justice for these victims here. One is financial compensation, may be sure, but the bigger part for them is clearing their names, getting their reputations back, if that’s even possible. So I am going to I’m going to invoke the C-word. We’re going to talk about cancellation. I what do you think about sort of the weaponization of cancellation that this account was engaged in? Because it certainly doesn’t help the argument that I think all of us would die on, which is cancel culture is not real asterisk.

Speaker 1: So we actually try to avoid using the term cancel culture in the article because it is now a taboo or a bit of a nothing word. I mean, obviously everyone’s but the teen cancellation with me. Yeah.

Speaker 4: So I think.

Speaker 1: So. Yeah, I did. I think the weaponization of cancellation is just I’m personally fascinated, fascinated by it in an Internet context because all of these. Brands. All of these accounts have built themselves up by canceling other people, whether it’s no white saviors or everyone that was involved in that tick tock saga that went on like a couple of months back.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Wow.

Madison Malone: I forgot about Jesse Hart until precisely this moment. The way you.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Excavated that from my brain.

Speaker 1: I’m sorry. You know, but they the the whole industry has eaten itself. All of these people end up getting canceled themselves. And I think. I dunno, speaks to something, doesn’t it, that if people are willing to build a brand on tearing other people down and terrorizing them and and trying to completely destroy their lives, whether it is justified or not, depending on the behavior target. They probably doing messed up things behind the scenes themselves. At least if it’s something that they are.

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Speaker 1: Building an online presence around. I think there’s a big difference between calling out problems when you see them. I’m making your entire kind of gimmick on social media canceling other people. Because then I think. The pressure to continue to create that content is how you get in situations where things get fabricated or blown out of proportion.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Mm hmm. And it’s the question of what is the actual outcome here, where if you’re calling out an individual problem, theoretically that’s solution. But when you make your entire brand canceling, you’re just going to find endless problems and you’re kind of your livelihood is based on finding them and on them not being fixed.

Madison Malone: And on that incredibly cheery note, Jessica Lucas everybody with another wild ride.

Speaker 1: Thank you very much for having me.

Madison Malone: But once again, that was Jessica Lucas. You can find her piece all about the implosion of No Way Saviors over at input mag and you can find Jessica on Twitter at Jessica Lucas writes.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: All right. That is a show. We’ll be back in your feed on Saturdays, so please subscribe. It is the best way to never miss an episode and never miss an absolutely wild story from Instagram. Please leave us a rating and review an app where Spotify and tell your friends about us. You can follow us on Twitter. I see why a minus score pod, which is also where you can see all the various incredibly fun things that we mentioned at the top of the show. And as always, you can drop us a note or a fun bit of Internet content or a wild story. It is. Why am I at Slate.com?

Madison Malone: I see my email is produced by Daniel Shrader, Rachel Hampton and me Madison Malone Kerger. Alicia montgomery is Slate’s VP of Audio. See you online.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Or at the library.