Pam Hupp · QAnon · Cell Phones

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I assure you that I did not plan this. Last week, I sent you towards The Search of a Lifetime, a new longread about a very old case. I mentioned in passing that the publication it ran in, Alta, was planning a webinar on the piece — and this week, host (and Best Evidence subscriber) Beth Spotswood asked if I’d join the interactive broadcast to chat about the extremely odd double homicide.

Of course I said yes. So, you should come! It’s a free event, at 12:30 PM PT on Wednesday, February 10. Sign up here. — EB

Renee Zellweger will bring Pam Hupp to the small screen. I’m not just writing about this because it gave me an excuse to use the above clip: Sarah first noted this Deadline piece, which reports that Zellweger will executive produce and star in a six-episode NBC adaptation of Dateline’s The Thing About Pam podcast.

The show will be the first product of a new relationship between Blumhouse (basically every horror movie in the last couple years) and NBC News, and is Zellweger’s “first starring role on broadcast TV,” Jason Blum says. Zellweger will play Hupp, about whom I won’t say too much in case you’ve somehow avoided the podcast or its surrounding coverage. Additional casting, or a release date, has yet to be revealed. — EB

How would you even start to build a true-crime property out of the QAnon phenomenon? It’s a question that’s been rolling around my head since I read this AP story on how some former adherents of the QAnon set of false conspiracies are now seeking support groups in an effort to quit the movement.

According to Newsweek, there are about 118,000 people in the Reddit community QAnon Casualties, which offers “emotional support, resources, and a place to vent” for folks with “a friend or loved one who's been taken in by the QAnon conspiracy fantasy.” Everything you find in this stories is familiar to folks familiar with cult behaviors — from how the group offers a sense of belonging to folks seeking a connection, to the way it provides a “simple” explanation for the ills that have befallen them.

But…is it a cult if it doesn’t have an actual organization, hierarchy, or leader? Is it a cult if there’s no leader at the top? Is QAnon the world’s first completely self-inflicted cult?

Obviously, with the assault on the Capitol only a month behind us, true-crime content creators are still sifting through evidence to bring the QAnon case to various platforms, from podcasts to books to TV. But how do you structure a story that’s really built around people reading words (or watching YouTube), then believing everything they consume? Is there a way to do that that builds a compelling narrative and still explains why people all over the country seemed to fall for the group’s lies, that came from…one source? All its members?

Obviously, I don’t even understand this thing, so it’s ripe for a clear-cut explainer. But is there room for other adaptations of the rise of QAnon, be they documentary or dramatic? How would you want to see the QAnon story play out across the true crime genre? — EB

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Speaking of QAnon…for many folks, their first introduction into the evidentiary nature of cell phone pings was Season 1 of Serial, when information from area cell towers was used to help convict Adnan Syed in the slaying of Hae Min Lee — as well as a reason that he should be granted a retrial, as back in 1999, cell phone pings weren’t considered reliable when it comes to determining location status.

Well, things sure have changed. While Syed had a cell phone that probably made phone calls and did little else, these days our tiny pocket computers are telling everyone where we are, all the time. There’s no better example of this than this recent New York Times piece headlined “They Stormed the Capitol. Their Apps Tracked Them.

According to the Times, an unnamed source has provided them with a data set “following the smartphones of thousands of Trump supporters, rioters and passers-by in Washington, D.C., on January 6.” The data “showed what some in the tech industry might call a God-view vantage of that dark day,” reporters Charlie Warzel and Stuart A. Thompson write, including “about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building.” With just that data, they were “able to connect dozens of devices to their owners, tying anonymous locations back to names, home addresses, social networks and phone numbers of people in attendance.”

But before you applaud this as a great way for law enforcement to track down these folks, think again. Here’s what the Times has to say:

There is an argument to be made that this data could be properly used by law enforcement through courts, warrants and subpoenas. We used it ourselves as a journalistic tool to bring you this article. But to think that the information will be used against individuals only if they’ve broken the law is naïve; such data is collected and remains vulnerable to use and abuse whether people gather in support of an insurrection or they justly protest police violence, as happened in cities across America last summer.

The data presented here is a bird’s-eye view of an event that posed a clear and grave threat to our democracy. But it tells a second story as well: One of a broken, surreptitious industry in desperate need of regulation, and of a tacit agreement we’ve entered into that threatens our individual privacy. None of this data should ever have been collected.

The amount of information the Times was able to accumulate just from this one data dump is remarkable — and it also suggests that our willingness to give up our privacy could shape the face of investigations in ways we could’s have imagined in 1999. You should read the whole piece; it’s here. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Sarah wants to rap with you.

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