Rich Kids Of The Internet: Inside The Astounding Troll-Hole That Is Elite Daily

by Brendan O’Connor

The website Elite Daily is “the premier online destination for aspiring men and women alike.” It is the first true editorial product of the post-sex-tape era. It specializes in two kinds of attention-trawling: Luxurious images of beautiful people doing things that require a lot of money, like looking at each other on yachts and driving along cliffs and also frank and sexist outrage trolling. One article informs the reader, “How To Always Get What You Want,” while another offers “The 10 Signs She’s The Perfect Mistress.” The site’s original slogan was “How much is enough?” The undeclared nouns there were things like money, women, cars, boats, sex.

It first came on the scene in late 2011. In June of this year, the site relaunched with a very smart redesign and got two pieces of press. “Elite Daily’s articles resonate so well with youth,” wrote Business Insider, “because the headlines and content are a combination of Thought Catalog’s realness and The Huffington Post’s breadth.”

“Reddit and BuzzFeed are two of the most popular websites on the Internet right now. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for disruption, right?” asked TechCrunch.

David Arabov, Elite Daily co-founder and CEO, graduated from Pace University’s Lubin School of Business in 2012. He grew up in Forest Hills, and although there is almost no mention of it anywhere, he is surely the son of Jacob “the Jeweler” Arabo, once a popular rap subject, who served two-and-a-half years in prison as part of his plea deal to get out from under accusations of conspiracy to launder $270 million in drug money for the early-90s Detroit-based “Black Mafia Family.” (Arabo shortened his professional name by one letter, and changed Yakov to Jacob.) He is a likable and impressive man with an incredible story. He was released from prison in April, 2010. Ben Arabo, Jacob’s other son, is also at Pace, and works at Elite SEM, a “search engine marketing” firm that is located in the same building as Elite Daily. Ben has worked for Jacob & Co. and contributed to Elite Daily.

Jacob Arabo is still in the jewelry business, and doing well, although the Post noted earlier this year that his Forest Hills home was “currently” subject to a tax lien. Elite Daily has done a decent job of covering when and where Jacob & Co.’s goods are worn: Elite Daily’s music editor Max Grunner has written on at least two separate occasions about the older Arabov’s product.

Writer Ashton Tyler has also done a good job of cornering the Which Celebrities Are Wearing These Very Specific Shiny Things beat: some recent Jacob & Co. product sightings include Rachel Roy, Justin Bieber, and Salma Hayek.

Ashton Tyler’s bio says that he is “one of the most prominent journalists in the world of entertainment”: “From doing cocaine with Lindsey Lohan in her heydey to giving Justin Bieber his first joint,” his bio reads, “it is safe to say Ashton has done it all and seen it all.”

Hiring a journalist with that kind of access is a pretty major coup for a young site like Elite Daily. I wanted to read more of Tyler’s work. Top Google results for “Ashton Tyler” include a PDF of court documents from an Oklahoma court case in which an Ashton Tyler was found guilty of sexual assault. There is also a model named Ashton Tyler. Another result is an Ashton Tyler Elite Daily story aggregated from BBC Radio 1 about that time Mila Kunis was sarcastic with an interviewer. That’s about it.

The author photo he uses seems to have first appeared on a street style blog, shot at fashion week in Australia this April. Is Ashton Tyler really a prominent entertainment journalist? A better question: Is Ashton Tyler a real person? Actually: Exactly how many of Elite Daily’s writers are not real people?

Elite Daily is partnered with two early stage investment capital groups: Black Ocean and SamStella. Black Ocean and Elite Daily “built the property together,” a source told me. He would not comment on the size of the initial investment.

“These guys are slick,” a former Elite Daily contributor wrote to me via email, “and were able to gather a few whale-sized investors off their personal connections, then, later, the write ups.”

The relaunch story told to TechCrunch goes that Arabov, Adams, and Francis “started the publication in a dorm with no funding to date.”

The Business Insider relaunch story, published the same day, relayed some of the same narrative, but with a radical difference: “After graduation, the duo teamed up with Gerard Adams, a serial entrepreneur, and self-made multi-millionaire who was willing to take a chance and privately invest in the publication.” Adams’ own magnificent bio says that he “co-founded, invested in, and developed the management team” of Elite Daily.

Andrew Reis is listed on Elite Daily’s CrunchBase profile as an “investor.” Reis is a managing partner at SamStella, and a co-founder of Black Ocean. Miguel Burger-Calderon, who “runs the numbers and is responsible for building the community” at Black Ocean also heads up business development for Elite Daily.

Both Black Ocean’s New York office and Elite Daily have the same address. Their previous address was 242 West 30th — where Elite SEM is on the 9th Floor. Their current address is next door, at 240 West 30th Street, a gorgeous four-story building that belonged to the New York Board of Fire Underwriters until 2009. A lease was recently signed between the new owners and an unidentified tenant for the entire building dated yesterday, with a projected move-in date of mid-September, at a total monthly rent of $30,975 (before utilities and taxes). The building was recently painted a matte grey-black. There is a Ducati motorcycle parked inside the front window.

TechCrunch wrote that Elite Daily “sees between 120 and 150 stories cross the home page” every day. Elite Daily actually posted an average of 43 stories a day from June 26th to July 24th. Their highest post count was on July 8th, when they posted 88 stories; their lowest was Sunday, June 30th, when they posted one.

According to the internal statistics that they provide to advertisers, Elite Daily receives more than seven million unique visitors a month. TechCrunch said that Elite Daily saw 8.5 million uniques in May.

A representative from comScore — an Internet analytics company — told me that Elite Daily received 1.024 million unique visitors from the United States in June, slightly down from their 1.1 million in March, but “up from 256,000 in July 2012 when we first started reporting on the site.”

TechCrunch also relayed that Elite Daily has a 25-person editorial team. There are 17 writers and editors listed on the site’s masthead. Their leader is editor-in-chief — or “(Pr)Editor-n-Chief,” as her Facebook page has it — Kaitlyn Cawley.

I reached out to Elite Daily COO Jonathon Francis via Facebook, asking for an interview. “Of course man,” he wrote back. “Always great to have a conversation with our peers.” David Arabov was also receptive to being interviewed.

Kayla Inglima, Francis’s assistant, contacted me via email. We coordinated schedules and set up a meeting. I was to meet with Francis and Arabov at the Elite Daily offices; afterwards, I would grab coffee with Kaitlyn Cawley.

Two days before it was to take place, I received an email from Francis cancelling the interview.

“We also ask that you refrain from contacting our staff and writers in regards to this process,” he wrote. “No one from Elite Daily will be available to participate in any interviews or conversations. We will be in touch with you if anything should arise.”

He did not respond to my subsequent email asking what his concerns were.

West Coast editor Alyssa Arapicio stopped replying to emails after agreeing to be interviewed. So did a former employee, who wrote, “I have been advised by the Elite Daily team to not answer any questions at this time.”

Shortly after she finished her M.Phil. in Comparative Literature at Trinity College Dublin, Kaitlyn Cawley was hired. She describes herself as “a (the) female editor at Elite Daily.”

Cawley’s author page only has two author credits. Many of her pieces — like “Why Jay-Z Is A Traitor To Bachelors Everywhere” — are published by her colleague Preston Waters. Cawley’s name appears at the bottom of each of these articles but the byline belongs to Waters.

Unlike Cawley, Waters doesn’t use a picture of himself. The photo attached to the byline “Preston Waters” is a photograph of this French model, Anthony Vibert.

Preston Waters’s author page URL is, instead of his name, just the letters “jsp.” “Jsp” appears as a logo on Elite Daily COO Jonathon Francis’s Facebook page. Jonathon Francis’ Twitter handle is “jspworldwide.”

This Preston Waters — unburdened with the duties of an editor-in-chief, perhaps — is much more prolific than Cawley, producing stories like “Why Good Girls Have Become Unicorns” — an especially lyrical articulation of the Madonna-whore binary — and “The Ghost Is Coming To Jacob & Co.,” his contribution to the Elite Daily As Vehicle For Jacob Arabo Marketing Strategy.

Waters isn’t the only Elite Daily byline to use a photograph of a model as his own.

Eddie Cuffin, the trolliest troll of all, uses this photograph of model Alexander Ferrario for his author page and this one for his Twitter avatar. Eddie Cuffin probably isn’t a real person either.

It is a funny possibility though that Elite Daily has male models writing for them as freelancers under pseudonyms. There are (at least) two female models on staff: Alyssa Aparicio and Elona Voytoyvich.

“Writing for Elite Daily has allowed me to be the change I wish to see in the media,” Aparicio’s personal website proclaims. “Empowering females and underlining the importance of pussy power is my mission statement.” Despite being the site’s West Coast Editor, Aparicio does not have an author page on the site: her articles are either posted by other writers or under the generic byline “Contributing Writer.”

Arapicio and Cawley also often collaborate under pseudonyms as “Spicy” and “Kgazm,” respectively. Writing things like “The New Age Slut,” “Disney Princesses Didn’t Fuck Me Up” and “VDay < BJ,” Arapicio and Cawley perform a kind of hyper-sexualized liberated femininity for the titillation of themselves and male readers who might remember hearing about Simone de Beauvoir through their hangovers in Sociology 101 but probably didn’t retain much.

Meanwhile, “Women Editor” Ally Batista explains “The Difference Between Men’s And Women’s Brains.”

Paul Hudson, who describes himself as “a young writer, philosopher, music producer and DJ,” wrote one post with the headline “Why Men Aren’t Really Men Anymore.”

“People no longer feel that they have a need to meet in person to discuss their differences; they can now troll each other online,” Hudson wrote. “People are using the Internet as a shield, hiding behind IP addresses in order to speak their minds.

“For some reason, men now prefer to hide their faces behind their monitors,” he continued. “Every time I use the term ‘men’ in such context I quiver.”

Despite suckering a Middlebury professor into a response in Psychology Today, it is not Paul Hudson, however, who produces Elite Daily’s most misogynistic content, but the model and/or model-impersonating Eddie Cuffin. Cuffin is not listed on the Elite Daily masthead, so he could be shy, despite his busy Twitter presence (223 followers). He could be among those 250 unpaid contributors. Or he could be any, or all, of the staffers.

Cuffin’s listicle “15 Easy Steps To Managing Your Mistress” synthesizes Elite Daily’s class aspirationalism with its obscene misogyny so harmoniously as to seem parodic. To “manage” a mistress requires money — lots of it. And of course, if you have money — lots of it — a mistress is one of the “things” you will spend it on. Keeping a mistress is part-and-parcel of the kind of conspicuous consumerism articulated across this website. (Only this part, presumably, one hopes is not too conspicuous.)

“Eddie Cuffin is most likely not one person,” the former contributor wrote. “When I joined, it really seemed like a group of intelligent, diverse, young people trying to do something different,” he wrote. “Now it’s Playboy meets GQ. With no standards.”

One of Cuffin’s latest, End It Now: The Ten Signs She’s Not Wifey Material, however, seems to show the author growing tired with these games. Reason ten is “she’s over 19 years old,” and there’s a bonus reason: “she doesn’t look back at it or cup the balls.” The main performance artist presumably behind the Cuffin persona has grown inured to the pleasures of trolldom. It reads like the hilarious Kaitlyn Cawley phoning it in. (So does “We’ve All Been There: These GIFs Perfectly Describe Having An STD Scare.”)

Still, the piece got a rise out of some. “This made some good points until the end. I’m fully irritated by the whole feminist movement, but this made me want to jump on the bandwagon,” commented one Jennifer Siletzky. Perhaps that’s the plan: Fomenting a feminist revolution by means of assaulting the Internet with ridiculous, misogynist content.

This slick Elite Daily promo video, “Elite Daily Is The Premier Destination For Generation Y,” was published in early July and has 132 views.

What the presentation of Rich Kids of Instagram satirizes — stripping this lifestyle of context and laying the decandence of its aspirants bare — Elite Daily valorizes.

There is a reason images of Leonardo DiCaprio are used to illustrate numerous posts on the site. Nobody in Gatsby is to be admired, least of all the titular character himself. Fitzgerald eviscerates him; we are not supposed to want to be like Gatsby. It seems the Elite Daily editors have missed the actual book.

The site is the flagship of ill-making consumerism, the rap video-inflected fever-dream of the suburban upper middle-class who can catch a glimpse of the actually famous but can only dance on the tables near them. It creates a world wherein the only measure of value is money. But this conception of having money refers only to spending it, to purchase obscenely expensive cars and acquire ludicrously beautiful women (“bitches”). It is part of the wider cultural death-rattle of a segment of society that believes America is a meritocracy and that access to fabulous wealth might be a question of working harder and wanting it more but also mostly comes to those who deserve it. These are infantilized, stunted people who expect to receive the natural riches that rain down because society recognizes their specialness, their inspiration, their vision. It is a world of spectacularly limited and decadent imagination, an imagination whose scope is defined by music videos, movies, and, most of all, commercials. This is a world in which most of its denizens were given some access, who did go to college, but for whom college was a place to party, with their degrees just a necessary check-mark on the path towards some high-up office with all-window walls in which they would do… something. It is a world of willful intellectual poverty. It is a world of child-people who think think they are elite, or that they will be elite, but mostly don’t actually comprehend that there is a gaping chasm between them and the truly elite, that there is a another world of the real elite for whom power comes first, with money being the happily created byproduct.

The lone former contributor who would talk to me estimated that about a quarter of the stories he submitted were published. “I left Elite and am honestly not sure if anybody there has noticed or not,” he wrote.

“I can’t speak for all contributors but my pieces were always self-edited and never given more than a quick glance during reformatting prior to posting as far as I know.” This writer filed his stories with Serge Efap — described as working in Business & Development on the masthead — or Jonathon Francis. As for his ostensible editor-in-chief, he “never knew or followed her comings and goings.”

Things used to be different. “I came to Elite to write articles I hoped would empower and enlighten people, not the trash that’s posted every five minutes… It just makes all us young folk look like damn fools and arrogant ones at that,” he wrote. “Elite is now a bully pulpit for those who’d take it.”

Asked what precipitated this decline in quality, he attributes it to ego. After the articles in Business Insider and TechCrunch were published, he wrote, “Everybody’s head got too big.”

He speculated that most of Eddie Cuffin’s articles are written by Paul Hudson. “I haven’t met him but we have corresponded in various digital forms,” he wrote. “Less skeptical of him than others.”

Paul Hudson uses a cropped version of this photo from shopping site Indochino as his avatar on Facebook, Twitter, and Elite Daily. He writes articles like “Why You Should Stop Judging Yourself” and the aforementioned “Why Men Aren’t Really Men Anymore.”

“Paul’s a DJ and outgoing person who has lots of plane rides to write BS inspirational articles,” the former contributor wrote. Paul Hudson does have six mixes on Soundcloud, where he has 12 followers.

Whether or not Paul Hudson or Eddie Cuffin or Ashton Tyler or Preston Waters are real people might actually be beside the point. In the most generous possible interpretation, this is a group of profoundly cynical people who have decided that this aesthetic — exemplified spectacularly in the made-up “personal brand” of the jet-setting DJ writing dispatches on life from around the world — was one towards which young people are striving, and that they could be exploited for web traffic. Web traffic, of course, is the least elite of all methods of making a commodity.

Writer Sady Doyle was quoted in a recent Salon story about trolling. “I can’t ever think of a published piece as trolling,” she said. “Someone must have wanted to write this piece enough to commit to a deadline and commit to an editing process. It’s a heck of a lot of work to get a couple people angry. It’s not in the best interest of a publication or a writer’s career to do that. But maybe I’m naive.”

But there is writing, and then there is content.

Responding to a description of the site’s misogyny back in March, Cawley professed discomfort with some of Elite Daily’s material: “It’s impossible to deny the male gaze that governs much of the content of Elite.” But, she wrote, “I believe the kernel from which this site has grown (and yes) evolved has slowly begun to diffuse this gender specific gaze.”

Cawley argued that she is pushing Elite Daily in a direction “that straddles gender positioning.”

“Elite Daily is for this generation’s alpha,” Cawley wrote, “the equal opportunity asshole, with an amoral sex life and desires to succeed in the traditional ways: retiring with off-shore bank accounts, to a yacht full of naked bitches (of either sex) on some distant Oceanic island.”

For the most part, the islands of Oceania are not at all where the elite take their yachts, although a tour of drowning Tuvalu, or a meet and greet with the repatriated Guantanamo prisoners in Palau, would make for an amazing trip.

More importantly, though, this is the most direct statement of the site’s purpose to date. Elite Daily is in the business of fostering the assholism of assholes.

The top search term that currently brings people to Elite Daily, according to Amazon’s web measurement company Alexa, is the word “ass.” The second highest is “a rich woman seeks husband.” Then comes “best ass,” and then comes “asses.” The other day, “jets” was showing up in these top search results, but that has since fallen off, replaced by searches for the name “Elite Daily.”

Brendan O’Connor is an Awl summer reporter.