Social Media Monster (2022)
Directed by Peter John Ross
At the beginning, you might be as confused as the citizens of St. Joseph, Missouri were when their city and its political leaders fell victim to a coordinated online harassment campaign in 2018. That’s because “Social Media Monster,” a new documentary from Columbus-based filmmaker Peter John Ross, doesn’t bury the lede. The film jumps right in with an outlandish story—one about a nomadic activist, journalist, and Wagyu steak dealer’s inexplicable sojourn in small-town Missouri, a dinner at IHOP, and an interaction with police. The titular troll claims that one night, when he pulled up to an IHOP, he witnessed a woman being assaulted in the parking lot. When he ran into the IHOP asking for help from a table of men, he was rebuffed. They just wanted to eat their food. He yelled at the men, who followed him into the parking lot to exchange words. By then, the assault was no longer in progress. But the troll called the cops on the men, who he claims began harassing him (he does have video of them using slurs against him). When the local cops found no evidence to warrant an arrest or an investigation (since witnesses agreed that the troll started the verbal confrontation), the troll used his SEO knowledge to begin harassing the town’s police, City Council members, and reporters. He started a blog to write scathing hit pieces attacking these people. And he spent all hours of the night on Facebook, responding viciously to all comments on his posts.
By beginning with the bizarre motivating incident—an acrimonious altercation with cops in an IHOP parking lot—“Social Media Monster” misses an opportunity to lead off with who the troll is. Until I learned that, I couldn’t bring myself to care about what seemed on the surface to be an everyday case of someone unhappy with police inaction. The documentary states that the social media monster had trolled cities before, for instance. While a comprehensive report of all his questionable activity would’ve resulted in an obnoxiously long movie, mentioning some of his other trolling would have helped build the case against him. It’s also worth noting that Peter John Ross, the director, was once one of the troll’s harassment victims, so while his facts seem credible, I should say that the titular monster thinks the movie is bunk. But there’s no denying the effectiveness of a documentary that is rooted in the troll’s own words. He’s the type of ego-driven man who shares everything about himself on podcasts and Facebook Live videos, so even going by what he’s admitted to, you will quickly understand what kind of person he is. In one video, he says the quiet part out loud, admitting that things that wouldn’t hold up in court are much easier to handle on the Internet, where you can pretty much do and say whatever you want with little recourse.
I had never heard of this man before watching this documentary, but if you get the chance to watch the documentary about him, it’s just compelling enough to make it worth 90 minutes of your time.