Facebook Powerball Hoax: Nolan Daniels Tells Us The Full Story
Nolan Daniels. The Internet knows him as the Facebook Powerball hoaxer, who late last year posted a fake winning lottery ticket with a promise to give $1 million to a lucky Facebook user who shared the photo.
After the photo went viral and racked up millions of shares, the post was exposed as a hoax, inciting confusion, condemnation, and even anger across the Internet. In the months since, Mr. Daniels has been a subject of media interest with some outlets appealing to him for his side of the story while others lambast and harass this otherwise harmless and hard-working father of two.
In our post on the subject, we took a skeptical view of Mr. Daniels. After an op-ed written for The Huffington Post in which Daniels defended the Facebook Powerball hoax as a “social experiment,” we challenged him to come forward and answer some tougher questions about his motives. It was my belief that Nolan Daniels was attempting to sweeten a social prank that spiraled out of his control, and that his fundraising attempts for a woman’s out-of-control medical expenses were both a mea culpa and an earnest attempt at redeeming himself.
Mr. Daniels did respond to our challenge, and I was able to ask him several questions that no one else has really covered. It was my goal to get the whole story from Mr. Daniels before his 15 minutes ran out so that we could set the record straight before we closed the book for good and decided whatever we wanted to decide about him. We should at least know the whole story before we pass judgment, right?
Setting Up The Interview
We’re not in the business of sensationalizing anything here. Nolan Daniels has already earned a fair amount of controversy and criticism, so melodramatic character assassination doesn’t really benefit anyone at this point. Besides, it would violate our journalistic sensibilities.
We reached out to Nolan in good faith to get his side of the story, to ask him questions no one has asked him yet, to hold him accountable, but also to understand the man behind the Facebook Powerball hoax. As you can imagine, the story is a lot more complex than even I thought it would be, but it is my personal belief that Mr. Daniels has returned our good faith with an appropriate amount of his own.
Nothing you read below has been taken out of context to suit a narrative for or against Nolan Daniels. This is simply his story and a reflection on the power of social media, the viral nature of information, and the first-hand recollection of events from the hoax-master himself.
You can weigh the information yourself and decide what you think.
Talking With Nolan Daniels, The Facebook Powerball Hoaxer
Social News Daily: I said in my previous post that I don’t really buy the “social experiment” defense with regard to the Facebook Powerball hoax, but of course, I could be wrong. Was there ever at any point a “social prank” component or motivator to the Powerball hoax?
Nolan Daniels: Not at first. It started out [with me] being frustrated with always seeing this kind of stuff on Facebook and always seeing people share things that were obvious fake photos or scams. I came home after work and saw several friends sharing a Photoshopped Powerball ticket and asking to share. This one person said he was inspired by a book that allowed him to pick the winning numbers and shared a link to [an] Amazon site to purchase. I looked back after the event and couldn’t find the guy anymore … he deleted his photo [posted below]. He said the same thing, share this photo and I’ll give a random person $1 million. I knew it was a marketing technique and he would gain something from sharing that link. I thought it was a great marketing technique and free for him to publish.
The original Facebook lottery hoaxer?
It always boggled my mind as to why people want others to like or share their posts. I was on Facebook after work and 20 minutes away from leaving to go train at my Jiujitsu gym so I took a picture with my ticket, opened up Paint, and manipulated as little as possible so I had winning numbers. I knew the Arizona winner was a 10-pick, but I wasn’t looking for quality. I was looking to post online, share with friends, pull the same routine and see who fell for it.
I came home few hours later and most friends didn’t fall for it, as they know me pretty well. That’s when I decided to share it “public” to see how many strangers would fall for it. Yes, I did have fun with it: As friends started posting comments that it was fake, I deleted their comments. As some news sites say “I chastised critics” with “anyone who doubts the legitimacy of this photo won’t be included in the drawing.” That comment was for a friend, Alisa. I’m not sure why others couldn’t comment but the flood gates opened to comments once I allowed subscribers. Not sure how all this Facebook security/sharing truly works.
SND: We still don’t get it, either.
Daniels: But Thursday night the shares started to grow and some friends played along with the Vegas comments. I was still actually trying to fool friends at this point, as well with others playing along.
SND: Did you expect it to go viral as quickly as it did?
Daniels: Not at all. If I knew it was going to reach that level I wouldn’t have done it. I’m a type-A personality. I keep pretty private and am not the type that screams for attention. That photo was the only thing at the time that I’ve ever shared on public setting.
Charity: Attempt At Redemption, Or Part Of The Original Plan?
SND: Regardless of the negative reaction, you have turned your efforts toward social good. Tell me more about your charitable efforts.
Daniels: I had over 16,000 subscribers, so I figured I’d use that to spread the word for this fundraiser I started. I’ve been posting different things on Facebook and then trying to use the original photo spread the word.
For example …
Daniels: Just constantly updating my status and asking people to share as they shared the original photo. In one month, I was able to raise $2,675 for Brooke. I did the Jeff Probst show on January 16, and was looking forward to a national audience as he promoted the fundraiser and my gofundme link. But only $150 in two days after the show aired and nothing after.
Nolan’s interview with Jeff Probst
SND: Did the charitable aspect emerge later as a sort of “mea culpa” for the Powerball hoax?
Daniels: Not exactly. I don’t feel what I did was entirely too wrong. When I thought of the fundraiser, I did feel bad as many sent personal hardship stories, and some were difficult to read. I made a public apology on YouTube [embedded below] and I sent hundreds if not over a thousand personal apologies through email. I spent weeks responding to people. But at the same time they made a personal choice to share this information with me. I figured if I had some short-term fame, I could try and use the power of social media to help a person in need.
Sunday, December 2, the Soledad O’Brien show contacted me to be on the next morning, but I declined unless they mentioned the fundraiser I wanted to do.
Press Coverage And Personal Troubles
SND: You wrote a lengthy op-ed explaining your actions for The Huffington Post. Who reached out to whom?
Daniels: Gofundme.com people reached out to The Huffington Post trying to get me media attention to help the fundraiser, which in turn would help them. I was limited to 800 words, so couldn’t get into too much detail. No one else reached out except a savannahnow.com journalist, who was very nice and helped spread the word.
SND: Did HuffPo grill you at all?
Daniels: No, they allowed me to write my own blog and they published without edit.
Social News Daily: Tell me about the reaction you received over the Facebook Powerball hoax. What was the ratio between good and bad reactions? Did anyone laugh it off? Did anyone get the joke? Have you received any death threats?
Nolan Daniels: It was an even mix. I’m surprised at how many people go out of their way to send me constant hate messages and comments. No death threats that I’ve come across, just wishing death upon me or threatening harm. I’m actually extracting all the messages and will be organizing into categories. I’m personally very intrigued by all the data I’ve received in an sociological and statistical aspect. So far I’ve counted 30,000 messages and I’d predict it will be around 100,000+ when finished. I have to move all the messages one-by-one from my “other” inbox over to my “Inbox.” I’m using an auto-macro to do this, but it’s been processing for weeks.
Interesting thing about the “other” inbox is that I never knew it existed before December 4/5. Everyone criticized me that I should have stopped after I received thousands of messages, but in reality, I only saw 80 on Friday (November 30). Facebook threw the rest into “other” without notifications. I even have friends that discovered their “other” box weeks after I did, and they had messages from people trying to relay messages to me.
SND: Has your internet infamy affected your personal/professional life?
Daniels: It hasn’t affected my work. On Friday [after posting] I started getting a lot of LinkedIn connection requests and realized people were researching my name, so I deleted my current employer off my profile. My personal life, on the other hand, got very messy and complex.
Messy And Complex
Indeed, it did. I asked Nolan Daniels for more clarification on that last point, and he graciously explained the “short version” of what sounds like an incredibly difficult and emotionally trying time in his life, directly a result of the Facebook Powerball hoax, but having built up over time.
For sheer length and concerns of privacy, I won’t re-print the entire story here, but will offer a shorter summary of the events Mr. Daniels is referring to.
Nolan and his brother, Derek, are not on speaking terms. A failed joint business venture between the two brothers damaged their relationship, but the two have been completely estranged since August 2012 when Nolan told Derek that he had been seeing a girl named Megan (Derek’s ex, and Nolan’s current girlfriend). Derek and Megan broke things off in 2010, two years before she connected with Nolan.
Compounding the seemingly irreparable damage to the brothers’ relationship was a 2008 assault suffered at the hands of six “gang members” that left Megan with a permanent scar on her lip from facial lacerations, and Derek without his sense of taste or smell, as well as personality-altering brain damage.
“When this hoax happened it was ‘like Christmas’ (his words) for him. He sat by his computer 24/7 and waited for every article to be released about me and be the first to comment,” says Daniels.
Daniels continued: “He took every interview that came his way and passed on my information to the media when at the time I wasn’t talking to anyone except Brooke about [the] fundraiser.”
What followed was a massive hate campaign by Derek to “destroy my [Nolan's] name” by posting vitriolic messages about him online and taking every microphone handed him by any publication to damn his estranged brother.
You don’t have to take my word, or Nolan’s word for this. A blog post on Jeromie Williams Eats The Internet For Breakfast is evidence of exactly what Nolan is talking about. It’s an interview with Derek Daniels, in which he calls Nolan “selfish, dishonest, untrustworthy and disloyal” among other things.
Derek describes Nolan in the post as “the kind of man that only thinks about himself,” and says “He is a troller and I think he needs some attention to make himself feel better about himself.”
The blog post does touch on the ex-girlfriend drama as one of the primary motivators, but it makes no mention of Derek’s injury or personal grudge. Here, read Derek Daniels’ words for yourself. My conclusion? The article is pure character assassination. Jeromie Williams may like to think he “eats the Internet for breakfast,” but he’s clearly more interested in gossip and scandal than anything resembling the truth. If nothing else, it doesn’t look like he did any homework.
Anyway, the story concludes with Derek Daniels “never see[ing] his nephews again,” according to Nolan. Particularly troubling to Nolan was the fact that Derek’s public profiles meant that his 13-year-old son was constantly exposed to the hate campaign against his own father. Nolan and Derek seem only able to agree on one thing: They aren’t speaking to each other.
Back to the interview.
SND: Has anyone recognized you on the streets?
Daniels: Not one person has recognized me on the streets. I get all sorts of hate mail from people saying they want to kick my ass, or they’re looking for me, but not once have I been recognized. I’ve even made a public post to have people come to my Jiujitsu gym if they’d like to try and “choke” me out. Give my gym a little plug and have fun with the whole thing.
SND: There have been a handful of “Powerball copycats” who did something similar to what you did. Any opinions on that?
Daniels: I know Sokhavy Hilton got 200,000 shares or more doing the same thing the day after me. He reached out to me weeks later asking to work together on “changing the world,” but I saw his profile and decided I didn’t want to associate myself with him. I also had a lot of people pretending to be me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I took care of the FB imposters as of recent, but haven’t looked into Twitter or Instagram.
SND: What was wrong with Sokhavy Hilton?
Daniels: I went to his page and he didn’t look like he wanted to “change the world,” unless it was exposing booty claps and strip clubs to the world. I don’t know the guy, and I don’t want to judge. He could be a great guy with a good heart. Looking at his page, he was an entertainment promoter and had a lot of public posts telling people to f-off and was a bit vulgar. Just wanted to stay away from that if I’m trying to help a certain individual. He looked more like he wanted to promote himself.
SND: Do you regret doing the Powerball scam?
Daniels: I don’t regret much in life. I always feel you learn something out of any life experience, good or bad.
SND: You know, I shared your photo. Can I have $1 million?
Daniels: I’ll give you a million Nolan Dollars. I should have some professionally made.
As we said above, you’re free to think whatever you like about Nolan Daniels and his Facebook Powerball hoax. Whether he’s cruel, misunderstood, a mastermind, a victim, or even just a simple fame-whore … well, that’s up to you. We wanted to give you everything on Nolan Daniels and the Facebook Powerball hoax you could possibly ever want, and definitively tell his story. I think we did alright. I consider the case the closed.
I’d like to thank Nolan Daniels for participating in this interview, and wish him luck moving forward.
You can read his interview with The Broca Divide here, his interview with Savannah Now here, and his Huffington Post op-ed here. His charity for Brooke, who has a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation, is still up and running. You can donate or learn more at Jeff Probst’s website, the gofundme page set up for her, or at the non-profit American Syringomyelia Chiari Alliance Project, Inc. here.
We’ll conclude with a personal apology from Nolan Daniels for the Facebook Powerball hoax posted to YouTube.