For the last few days the feminist internet has been convulsed with outrage over the doings of Ryan Williams, aka “tampon boy”.
Williams is a self-proclaimed “meninist” who pissed off everyone ever by suggesting that lifting a tax on tampons is stupid because, well:
Cue approximately twenty thousand people online trying to explain the biological difference between urination and menstruation – to absolutely no effect because he is obviously trolling everyone:
Hey, Ladies let's all go practice controling our periods at Ryan Williams house, without tampons! https://t.co/Y8i6uK1xZH
— Charlene Centen (@Chars_A_Diva) October 19, 2016
— molly t! (@mollyadeux) October 16, 2016
Williams is part of a cynical online outrage machine, where people say ludicrous stuff on purpose, probably for money, and nobody questions it because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
It is literally incredible- impossible for a rational human being to believe – that Williams really thinks periods work that way and is too stupid to understand when corrected.
When Heat Street tried to contact Williams – who revived his story yesterday by “getting dumped by his girlfriend” – we were directed to his “press agent” at SWNS, the UK’s biggest content agency.
— The Independent (@Independent) October 24, 2016
SWNS (for whom, full disclosure, I wrote briefly) operates by finding “human interest” stories like this, writing them up, blasting them out to big websites and charging a fee for words and pictures.
It is relatively common for the subjects of such stories to be offered a cut of the profits in exchange for playing along.
When Heat Street asked, via SWNS, to talk with Williams, we were upfront about our scepticism. Unsurprisingly, they decided not to put us in touch.
When asked whether Williams makes money from these stories, SWNS declined to answer, because it is “personal”.
What of the other reporters who have reproduced his stories? Most reports – in some 35 outlets, from MailOnline to Teen Vogue – seem to be sourced solely from what the agency said, as is usual in online newsrooms. One reporter admitted they were unconvinced, but “it got hits, so no one here cares”.
Lifestyle site Konbini.com did speak with Williams, and had the following to say:
Considering Ryan’s press agent initially tried charging £100 for the interview, it’s convincing that this might be a young man pining for his 15 minutes of fame and, in the internet age, posting some controversial stuff on social media aimed at females seemed like the right way to go about it.
But, after informing me he’s got a strict contract with his press agency determining what he can and can’t say on the record, he denies this, claiming he’s neither a troll or a hoax.
Konbini writer Lydia Morrish later told Heat Street the tale struck her as “suspicious as hell”.
Almost all of Williams’ tampon outrage stories have appeared with the help of commercial press agencies.
Prior to that, he had been quoted once before – in a Metro story about Brexit voters who regretted their decision the day after. Williams also made a virtue of his stupidity here – telling them he was “definitely not informed”.
A cynical mind might see here an approach which got him in the news once – but would only go truly viral when combined with gender politics in the tampon story.
It is self-evident that if somebody is playing dumb you can’t hands-down *prove* that they are wrong.
But far more likely than that is that Williams is holding up a pose of ignorance because it’s easy, funny, lucrative, or all three. Nobody is truly that stupid – plenty of people are that much of a troll.
Meanwhile, the media is, by and large, all too happy to indulge him.