Paul Fanning was waiting for news on UFOs. He, along with the rest of the world interested in life outside of our planet, was anticipating a government drop of info.
“You’ve got this huge report coming, and I just have a feeling that it’s going to change the conversation,” Fanning, a 54-year-old who works in IT in Los Angeles and runs the Alien UFO Sightings Video Group on Facebook, told Mashable. “I don’t know exactly how or in what context, but what I’ve been doing in advance of it being released is just really, really, really pulling back. I mean, we got really conservative on what we’re posting just until this comes up, because I don’t want to muddy the waters. I want to have a bit of a fresh slate.”
Then, the news dropped.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a highly anticipated 9-page report on Friday afternoon that, plainly, doesn’t say much. The report — “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” — says that there are many unidentified aerial phenomena, which the government has analyzed, and have decided that they don’t know what they are.
Fanning said he suspected that the drop wouldn’t be impressive. But that didn’t stop it from disappointing him. When he shared a link of the report to the more than 66,000 members of his Facebook group, he added a note that read: “Well, the much hyped report is out. The same line of bs as when they closed project Blue Book: ‘we don’t know, but they are not a threat.’ Not a threat when a UFO can shut down a nuclear silo with impunity? 50 years and all the government can produce is 143 we don’t knows? For my part, I’m disappointed and not surprised. They know more. A lot more in my humble opinion. What say you?”
The group responded in kind: They were disappointed. The report was “a joke.”
The administrators and moderators who keep UFO Facebook groups running are watching as the U.S. government slowly admits to what they’ve been studying for years: the existence of UFOs. And they do so on their own time, outside of the jobs, without pay and under intense stress.
“It’s a ton of work.”
“The time that I’ve got right now is just to keep up with 65 posts a day, I would say is about the average of what I get,” Fanning said. “I’m trying to keep up with those and some of them you have to watch the video and there might be some research. It’s a ton of work. It’s a ton of work.”
Fanning doesn’t want to bring on more moderators, either, because he says it’s difficult to find people who are consistent, “normal” and have “the same philosophy on these things.”
Michael Maddox, a 68-year-old in Washington State, was brought on as a moderator for the UFO Disclosure Group on Facebook, and he told Mashable he checks the group once or twice a day, every day. David Benjamin, a 31-year-old in Michigan who runs the UFOholic website and a Facebook group — Aliens, Alien Abductions, UFOs, and Alien related conspiracies/topics Group — found the constant moderating so challenging that he allows the group to flow a bit more organically now, by predominately stepping in when posts are flagged by Facebook.
But, for all of them, they say the work is worth it.
“The Facebook group is pretty much a reflection of our perception of reality,” Maddox said. “But it’s the reality that I find much more interesting.”
From Maddox’s perspective, there are a few kinds of members of his group: people who have been studying UFOs for years, and those who have a new, and more basic interest in them.
“Most people are very primary,” Maddox said. “They want to know if they’re even real. And the answer is of course.”
Maddox’s group saw an uptick in posts and people wanting to join after the most recent government drop. But Fanning hasn’t seen a big uptick in years — it’s been a steady increase for him. And Benjamin saw an increased interest in the group but hasn’t seen anything massive. That’s the surprising thing about running a thousand-member group on Facebook dedicated to discussing UFOs — the recent deluge of government information isn’t necessarily shaking things up.
Fanning’s kids, for instance, don’t care about aliens. When he told them about the government drop, they shrugged it off.
“There’s just such a flood of information out there that it’s almost like sensory overload,” Fanning said, drawing a potential connection between a 24-hour news cycle, social media, and informational exhaustion and some people’s lack of interest in the otherworldly. “I think at some point, you just get numb to it.”
The government has been slowly releasing UFO-related findings since April 2020, when the U.S. Department of Defense released three UFO videos taken by U.S. Navy pilots.
And for the folks who have been interested in this all along, they’re not particularly happy with the timing. After decades of telling people UFOs are not real, the government releases documents at the tail end of a devastating pandemic.
“I think the perspective of people that are in the know as far as aliens and UFOs — in the know is really just people who have researched and done a lot of reading and watching content, maybe they have their own personal experience of seeing a UFO or whatever it may be — they have a sort of a healthy distrust for the government and media for various reasons,” Benjamin said. “So I think in their eyes it’s more of a nefarious timing, perhaps.”
Poor timing or not, the newest report doesn’t give anyone any real answers. It says the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs commonly known as UFOs) are one of five categories:
“Airborne Clutter,” such as birds and balloons
“Natural Atmospheric Phenomena,” including ice crystals
“USG or Industry Developmental Programs,” like secret U.S. military planes
“Foreign Adversary Systems,” like secret foreign government planes
“Other,” which is a catchall for “idk?” and decidedly not a catchall for “aliens, probably.”
More than a dozen of the UAP studied “Appear to Demonstrate Advanced Technology.”
“Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them,” reads the report. “We would group such objects in this category pending scientific advances that allowed us to better understand them.”
The government says they don’t know what some UAPs are, and they’ll need more funding and higher technology to even begin discovering it.
But the bottom line is that there’s something out there, flying around in the air in ways we don’t fully understand. Is it a foreign government? Is it the U.S. government? The mystery continues, but it does feel like the latest dump of information, although answers nothing, is something.