"Why'd you do it?" we ask Fake Google employee Max Bell Alper

The viral video of Max Alper, posing as a Google employee, shouting down protesters today.

Within a half hour of our original post on today's tech gentrification and transit protest, the Guardian learned that Max Bell Alper, a union organizer with Unite Here Local 2850 was the man shouting down Google bus protesters earlier this morning. We asked Alper what motivated him to impersonate a Google employee.

You can read the original post, with updates, here.

Alper maintained that he meant no deception, and that it was all "political theater."

"This is political theater to demonstrate what is happening to the city. It's about more than just the bus," he said. "These are enormous corporations that are investing in this community. These companies, like Google, should be proud of where they're from and invest in their communities."

And the effects of the tech boom are strong, are real, which the thousands of long-time San Franciscans priced out of the city can attest to. The Bay Guardian has covered this extensively, which is what led us to cover the protest. Unfortunately for the organizers of this morning's Google bus protest, all of their work may now be for naught. 

Some of the protesters feel duped.

"No I did not know him, he didn't tell me that he was going to be doing that," said Erin McElroy, who since January has led the Anti-Evitction Mapping Project. A part-time nanny and caretaker for the elderly, she's poured hours of her downtime into the project. The protest was supposed to highlight an issue that for the past year has been her life's work.

McElroy is the one being screamed at in this video:

"I'm really upset that this happened. We've calculated about 11,000 no fault evictions since 1997," she said. And the evictions only count units -- there's no telling how many people were in each unit. Many other tenants are bought out of their rentals as well, displacing tenants in what critics call "invisible evictions." The plight of long-time San Franciscans may be lost in the shuffle over Alper's deceptions.

When asked if he intentionally intended to deceive media, he replied "People are talking all over the country about what's happening in San Francisco (referring to evictions and displacement). That's the debate we need to have here. The more we talk about it, the more we think about it, the more we're going to see the tech companies need to contribute."

Alper said that he did not intend to engage in theater before going to the protest, but when there made the decision, "spontaneously," to stage the argument. When he maintained his story that this was political theater, we again asked why he did not verify his name at the protest itself -- and only after the story blew up in national and local media.

"This was improv political theater," he repeated.

Alper came to the protest in a backpack and dressed in a button down shirt, which some readers via Twitter and comments rightly pointed out may have been his "tech costume," suggesting he planned the theater beforehand. Indeed, his performance was impeccable, mirroring snarky and shallow comments made by tech luminaries like Peter Shih just a few months ago.

The Guardian noted this, asking him how he came to show up in near perfect costume for his tech theater. "This is what I wear everyday," he said. 

McElroy didn't want the larger story to get lost in the shuffle. "I understand it was a highly dramatic moment people were drawn to," she said. "But I wish people would pay attention to the larger systemic issue of tech capital creating a particular class in San Francisco that's displacing long-time residents."

Leslie Dreyer, one of the protest organizers, said that though Alper's shoutout turned out to be a deception, riders on the Google bus itself were making plenty of snarky comments of their own, which she captured on a camera she was wearing as she entered the bus. 

"People were shaming others for even talking to me," she said. "A person tried to read (my pamphlet) and people said 'no don't take anything from them!'"

In the Guardian's original post we clarified that though it appeared Alper got off the bus and was late to work, as he repeatedly claimed, we had not verified that he was an employee. We did identify him as an employee in the headline, which we quickly amended.

In fact, we actively asked for news tips as to his identity, listing the news@sfbg.com email address to solicit help. Tips flowed in within 20 minutes of the original post. Anthony, a recent San Francisco ex-pat, emailed us identifying the shouting man as Max Bell Alper, a union organizer. The Guardian took time to confirm this, comparing photos and calling other sources. Ex-Guardian reporter Yael Chanoff interviewed Alper during her extensive coverage of the Occupy protests some time ago, as some have pointed out, but as she no longer works here she was not around to identify him quickly. The reporter who covered the event today only covered one night of the Occupy protests, the night Scott Olsen was injured, and had no experience with Alper.

When we confirmed Alper's identity, we immediately amended our post. Many, including San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ellen Huet, asked if our tweet contributed to the mis-identification problem as well. We tweeted back "Mistakes should stand, and lets correct, not erase them."

That's exactly what we did. 

The story quickly went viral, featured on the blogs SFist and Valleywag. SF Weekly covered the aftermath. The time between our original posting and our correction was 56 minutes. 

 "Many people put hours into this [protest]," McElroy said. And many more San Franciscans are losing their homes. Let's hope once people are done talking about Alper, they talk about that. 


I moved to SF in 2004. I have lived in other cities. SF is unique in its insistence that natives ought to have more say than transplants. Last I checked...my vote was equal to yours.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 11:28 am

The SFBG got fooled by an imposter, plain and simple. Allowing this liar to get off easy by referring to his fraud as "improv political theater" is absolutely unbelievable. Frankly, the precedent it sets scares me.

Saying "Some of the protesters feel duped" is only half the story. Everyone who saw this story should feel duped as well. It bothers me greatly that I don't see a straight up apology from the Guardian for running this story without having the facts straight in the first place. A Tweeted (!) correction is not an apology, and this failure of reporting clearly warrants a retraction as well as an apology from the Guardian.

The Guardian is a newspaper, first and foremost. They have always had a higher standard to reporting than simply being first to the story. Truth and accuracy in reporting is the last advantage a weekly newspaper has in this new world of the immediate news cycle. Cavalierly surrendering the trustworthiness of this institution is an extremely dangerous move for the paper to make.

I worked at the SFBG many years ago and I don't believe for a minute the old guard would have tolerated this failure in reporting. I hope the new guard continues to evaluate this story and realizes the mistake they're making here by not taking proper measures to demonstrate their contrition in allowing this story to spin wildly out of control.

Posted by Anthony on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 11:48 am

And that is a massive credibility and confidence problem.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

In a separate thread on this blog Steven explains in detail about his exemplary journalistic performance in publishing the bogus story. He then goes on to say that, while it turned out to be untrue it still makes a good point.

Seriously. He has no clue about how bad the SFBG messed up. Actual journalists were Tweeting immediately after seeing the video about it being bogus.

Steven is also saying that Alper was on the bus while Fitzgerald is saying that he acted spontaneously after going to the demonstration. So if you, um, believe the SFBG then Alper went down to the demonstration, somehow was allowed onto the bus and then got off.

Which is an example of why nobody believes anything in the Steven T Jones SFBG.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Well stated. I tried to communicate the same sentiment on another thread, but got too emotional. Thank you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

As a liberal and a tech worker, I am very frustrated by this event, and by many of the comments making gross generalizations here. I had thought the tea party had cornered the market on hyperbolic generalizations, but it seems that is not the case.

In order to be heard, you have to be reasonable and also listen. Avoid logical fallacies, avoid cognitive biases.

For example, there is data about Facebook, Google, etc salaries - so those generalizing that all of these people on the bus a millionaires - think again.

For those thinking these companies could donate their transportation budgets to Muni and others...basic math and public data shows these budgets are a drop in teh bucket.

The displacement issue is a real issue - but it is a public policy issue, just as it is in other cities with housing shortages, sky high costs, etc.

What I'd love to see is the tech community and other people needing improved transportation to form a coalition. Lobby local governments for affordable housing. Lobby those who block public transportation improvements. Perhaps even provide seed funding to kick-start projects that help these actual issues.

On the flip side, I'd love to see the protesters take a new strategy. Drop the scapegoat and hyperbole mentality and show what community organization can really do in bridging public and private needs.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

Sorry buddy. I am with you 100%. The problem is, the existing progressive community here is pretty inbred, male, and not terribly smart.
in a nutshell: poor=good rich=bad

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

And too many of them think they are so much smarter than everyone else. It's repulsive. There was a time when I voted almost exactly as the SFBG recommended. Not anymore.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

"And too many of them think they are so much smarter than everyone else."

That the impression I got of you from your post. I believe that's called hypocrisy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

Interesting and revealing. I guess you didn't think through your comment before you excreted it. You made my earlier point for me by your derogatory words about "the existing progressives community" and what you negatively wrote about it. And that was in response to the fake "liberal tech worker." You have both revealed yourself for who you are: Frauds. Neither of you are "liberal" or "progressive" or "left" or any of that. You are both corporatists and corporatists are not liberals or progressives, even though some pretend to be. They are neocons.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

If you have to start out by saying "I'm a liberal" then you aren't one. Countless times I've read comments online by people starting out with, "I'm a liberal" or "I'm a progressive" and then they go on to write a comment which sounds like it was written by some rabid right-wing troll.

Just what part of your message is so-called "liberal?"

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

Luducrious! Ms/Ms Faux-Liberal.

And clearly the person I'm responding to has his/her head firmly planted in the upper colon of the parasitic, predatory Surveillance-State Tech Industrial Complex which is bumming off the city of San Francisco by receiving corporate welfare.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Spoken like a typical, all-knowing corporatist. As for the "liberal' part, LOL, yeah, many people see themselves as something they're not. I have a relative who for years has said about herself, "I'm socially liberal." I've never seen that part of her. It's just something that sounds good to her to say when she's around me.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

I read your comment to my neighbor who came over to visit. She couldn't get past the "As a liberal and a tech worker" part either. She said: Oh here we go with the I'm a liberal bull shit! That's the signature trademark of an imposter, she said. I agree. She then went on to say: I've never, ever read a comment from someone who started out by saying, "I'm a right-winger" or "I'm a conservative" and then wrote their comment as they were a real liberal or a real progressive or on the left. It's always the opposite: this "I'm a liberal" and then the comment sounds like some mealy-mouthed conservative corporatist who feels the need to lecture us on what we (protesters) must do.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

protester want to do. I would, however, tell him that if he or she interferes with a worker trying to support his or her family, then that protester can reasonably expect some pushback.

The problem with some protests is that they are less about free speech and more about harming others.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

You're a "Jack Kemp Conservative." Well that your problem. It seems to have impaired your ability to read/comprehend. My comment was not "WRONG." My comment was only about my (and my neighbors) personal experience from reading online comments where conservatives/right-wing nuts pretend to be "liberals," yet I (and my neighbor) have never read comments of a reverse nature. I said nothing about protests or protesters.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

Steven and Joe: Ignore the trash on here bullying you. Bullies have nothing better to do with their useless life. Gracias for your reporting on this issue.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

As long as you are convinced that you are right, of course, which Steven and Joe have no issues with.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

"For example, there is data about Facebook, Google, etc salaries - so those generalizing that all of these people on the bus a millionaires - think again."

I guess the people cleaning the floors and the toilets at those two companies aren't millionaires, but then I never assumed they were.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

This is why San Francisco and some of the surrounding places in the Bay Area are great big laughing stock of the world. I was in the city during the last 80's, worked at 1 Sansome Street, worked in the financial industry. Yes, even seen protest in from of our buildings, the so called progressive in the area were against businesses, Yuppies which seemed to be called hipsters today were blamed on high rents, traffic and being catered too.

Know people who rode the bus into work, yes lots of jobs in nice shiny high rises and other businesses, MUNI was clean and seemed to run on time or had its moment of lateness. The late 80's things seemed to go downhill.

I know loads and loads of tech workers or I would say workers who work in the tech industry, they are hard workers, just like those young stockbrokers I met. What is a matter with working hard and become a success. You might not become rich, own a start up or get a large IPO bonus.

You can get a degree from a 2 or 4 year school, gain employment, work hard and retire. It doesn't matter if you white, black, yellow or brown, just get in there get educated, better yourself and work hard.

Posted by Garrett on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

The corporatist shill and hack for The Hallowed, Sacrosanct, Sanctimonious, Parasitic and Predatory Tech Surveillance-State Industrial Complex (a.k.a. TIC) has dutifully spoken.

Oddly, I see nothing in that comment about the Tech Surveillance-State Industrial Complex bumming off the city by receiving corporate welfare from the City & County of San Francisco while being directly responsible for the ravaging of San Francisco.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

Don't leave out the corporatist parasitic politicians in City Hall who approved this damnable corporate welfare to these corporate bums called tech companies who contribute little or nothing to the city.

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 8:32 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2013 @ 1:42 pm


SF still smells of pot, urine and smugness, just the way we like it. It is far from "ravaged".

Posted by Usual Guest on Dec. 11, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

I'm looking forward to even more Ellis Act evictions and displacement of people who expect cheap rent until death.

Posted by GentrifySF on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

Thank you for being so honest and truthful about your gentrification agenda that many others on here and elsewhere have tried desperately to disguise with sweet words, Denial and by serving as shills and hacks for the tech companies. I suspect many people will wish that you hadn't been so forthright, honest and transparent with your gentrification agenda and feelings (and your hatred for those who are not the super-wealthy). You've made your corporate agenda quite clear by your comment and I suspect many are cringing from reading your words and whispering to themselves, "What a fucking idiot! I completely agree with GentrifySF on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 9:06 pm, but dude we don't say that or write that publicly. It's an unspoken agenda. Are you that damn stupid? I mean, we know that (what you wrote) and we want that, but we don't actually come out and say that like you did, dude. Are you a fucking idiot? We don't even write that as pro-tech/pro-gentrification trolls on online forums."

You just did.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:35 pm

That was a troll bait. Probably someone who is using the same tactic as the Fake Google Guy

Posted by Usual Guest on Dec. 11, 2013 @ 11:56 am

Then why are they using these tactics, denying they were even used, and when exposed, do obvious damage control?

With political activism in a democracy comes with accountability. If you refuse to be held accountable, you just prove you're not willing to play the democracy game.

This is extremely disturbing for me, a liberal who has grown up in a progressive household and has believed all his life only one side played fair.

We're still waiting for apologies and the truth, not some half-baked excuse.

Posted by Usual Guest on Dec. 11, 2013 @ 11:54 am

so bigotry against tech workers is the latest thing now? I hope that works out for you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 12, 2013 @ 8:02 am

The level of smugness is incredible in this comment section. As much as I agree with the many campaigns of liberalism. The comments above are the very reason I don't associate with "progressives".

Posted by AdamC on Dec. 13, 2013 @ 4:59 am

Does Max Alper realize that his "theater" may have caused people to be late for their jobs? Or take cops away from potential emergencies?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 18, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

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