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Anti-Polygamy Support has Risen Dramatically, Some Wonder if it is an Illusion

 

In the inaugural episode of "132 Problems: Revisiting Mormon Polygamy" published on YouTube on February 13, 2022, Michelle Stone explained her reasons for creating the series, "my whole life... I had quite a testimony of polygamy and actually felt sad that we were losing blessings by not being able to live it." That changed about 10 years ago after her husband said he didn't think it was from God, prompting her to do a deep dive on the topic before coming to a similar conclusion. Michelle is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church), a mother of 13, and a homeschooler.


"A few years ago I felt profoundly called to share what I had learned... now I am feeling that I need to start doing this" Stone explained. "So I'm stepping into the great abyss."


Since that first episode, Michelle Stone has published 119 episodes of "132 Problems" and several non-episode videos. Her videos have almost 1 million views and the channel recently passed 100k subscribers. Several episodes and a recent viral YouTube short are dedicated to explaining Stone's belief that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy and that it rather was started by the second president of the Church, Brigham Young. Stone argues Brigham Young altered historical records and pressured women to claim they had been polygamous wives of Joseph to make it seem like Smith had instituted the practice.


Apostate vs Faith-Promoting


Her rise in popularity troubles Brian Hales. Hales is the author of the three-volume series, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, the most extensive treatment of Joseph Smith's polygamy in the Church. In a statement shared with Ward Radio news, Hales said he believes there is no possibility Stone's claims are true and "The proponents [of her ideas] are reductionists who ignore data they do not like or use labels to dismiss it (bias, too late, not contemporaneous, etc.). They deny codified scripture (D&C 132)... They also defy the 70+ eyewitnesses who provided 130+ statements of their personal awareness of JS's involvement." Hales provided Ward Radio with a link to a PDF of the referenced statements.


Hales said anti-polygamyism is "definitely" on the rise and "those claiming [Joseph Smith] was not a polygamist are following false spirits... that breeds pride in knowing more than the “experts” and the Church leaders. Church historians and past and present presiding authorities become enemies and can’t be trusted."


Michelle Stone doesn't see it that way. In a statement to Ward Radio, she said her team is "committed to spreading the truth about polygamy primarily because we want people to understand the nature of God" and that teachings about polygamy "destroy faith... our message is that it does not need to destroy faith in the gospel or the Church."


Why the recent Growth?


Hales can see why this sentiment is growing now among members. "Back in the 1940s, President Heber J. Grant, in his attempt to dissociate the Church from the polygamists around Short Creek and elsewhere (who were gaining national media coverage), emphasized that we are a monogamist Church. Discussions of polygamy became rare in Church curriculum, and mentioning JS’s participation became even more rare." He explained, "this period of silence has preconditioned the membership in some ways, for a false message that JS was not a polygamist." He believes another contributing factor is it's "a lose-lose proposition for defenders of historical accuracy because falsehoods are damning, and the truth is difficult to accept due to modern sensibilities."


Questionable Numbers?


Hales also shared his concern over Stone's rise in popularity, citing her subscriber count spiking to "over 100k, up from under 20k just a month or so ago." According to YouTube analytic tracker Social Blade, 132 Problems has grown from 20,000 subscribers on March 18, 2024 to 103,000 subscribers on May 20, 2024. Some are questioning if that growth is organic.


The owner of the "Debunking Polygamy Denial" Facebook Page believes "her subscriber growth is fake." In a statement to Ward Radio, the page owner explained they had paid for a website monitoring program to track 132 Problems after becoming suspicious of its growth. He shared that he has seen "abrupt jump[s] of 1,000 new subscribers between 1 and 2 AM regularly" including 3 consecutive days of "exactly" 1,000 subscribers added in the middle of the night "while almost every afternoon and evening [had] no significant subscriber growth." (Note: subscribers don't always show up immediately on YouTube stats. Scriber numbers during the day may not be added to the publicly visible count until later.) He believes Stone is buying subscribers, which can be against YouTube policy.


Stone refutes these claims, "I certainly have not done anything to purchase views or subscribers - I don't even know how that would be possible." She explained, "I use most of the small amount from YouTube each month and the donations to promote the shorts and the most important videos [to] spread the message." In a video titled "The Truth About Why Our Channel Is Growing Like Crazy!" Stone explained why she believes subscribers have increased dramatically, "we basically have two audiences at this point." Those are the audience for the long-form videos, and the audience for the shorts Stone began to put out in March. The three most popular shorts have 137,000, 38,000, and 22,000 views respectively.


Others avoid claiming Stone purchases subscribers but question the ratio between her views and subscribers. On a Facebook post regarding Stone's subscriber count Jacob Hansen, creator of the LDS YouTube channel Thoughtful Faith commented "I have 2-5x more views with 16k subs. Her view count has not gone up in any meaningful way. It’s strange." Hansen's videos have a combined view count of 1.7 million while Stone's have 970,000. According to Social Blade, Stone's cumulative view count has doubled since March 2, while her total subscribers have more than sextupled.

Screenshot of Social Balde graphs for 132 Problems channel growth stats

The University of Washington has a calculator that uses YouTube's data API to show what percentage of a channel's subscribers are active and what percent are "dead" (i.e. do not watch or interact with the channel). According to the site, 132 Problems has a 6% active subscriber rate. Other Latter-day-Saint-focused channels have much higher active subscriber rates, including Ward Radio (22%), Thoughtful Faith (33%), Cwic Media (17%), and Follow HIM (40%). (Note: Follow HIM has 104,000 subscribers, just 1,000 more than 132 Problems. It averages 41,735 views per video while 132 Problems averages 6,565 views.)


Stone believes critics should focus on refuting her evidence against Joseph Smith's polygamy rather than focusing on the validity of her subscriber numbers. She said it "seems like an acknowledgment that they can't effectively respond to my evidence and arguments. While the growth of the channel is definitely noteworthy and encouraging, my focus will always continue to be producing quality content to share truth and let go of false traditions - mainly the abomination of polygamy."


 

Note: Jacob Hansen will debate anti-polygamist Jacob Isbell on Saturday, May 25th. The debate will be posted to the Ward Radio YouTube Channel.


Ward Radio News is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church) and does not officially represent the Church. The views expressed by contributors do not necessarily represent the position of Ward Radio News








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23 Comments


D. H.
D. H.
18 hours ago

I am "anti-polygamy" in 1840s vernacular, which was "anti-spiritual wifery", which was everything Jeffrey Epstein was about, and was the opposite of "celestial plural marriage".


I don't think we should be expected to be pro "plural marriage", this is what caused these dramatics, Michelle wishing it was brought back, bearded anti polygamy guy said the same, it should be lived and like, men "need it".


Plural marriage should only be lived because God calls it, and He only has in extreme circumstances (ie mass excommunications in 1842 of men living vile, abusive and often deadly "spiritual wifery"- as abortions often caused women to get ill, bleed to death, die of an infection bc sanitation was NOT a thing yet; all…

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Michelle has been boosting her channel views and/or subs even though she may not know it. YouTube allows creators to "promote" their videos, which Michelle is quoted to be doing, which is YouTube's internal way of allowing people to pay to get more views, subs, etc. I'm a YouTube strategist and content creator, and sadly a lot people use the "promote" feature in the wrong way and pump their channels full of inorganic views and subs to their dismay.

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Replying to

Any estimation on how much it would cost to promote to the point of getting ~80k inorganic subs?

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I don't think Michelle is buying viewers, but the information reported here, if true, indicate something much worse. That there are entities, human or electronic, that are boosting the sub numbers of a channel promoting a narrative that isn't historically sound, and has to do with the Church. I've considered for some time there may be sophisticated machinations that seek to introduce contention within the Church, and this may point to that being the case. Certainly, more evidence would be required, and there is no good reason (at this point) to suspect that such manipulations are targeting the Church specifically, but perhaps Luke can turn his investigative journalism towards something like that. I am also quite disturbed by how many people…

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The biggest issue I have with the anti-polygamy movement is that there is a lot of dishonesty behind it. Another issue I have is that anti polygamy promoters are also anti-temple. Michelle Stone had 4 podcast episodes where she systematically denounces all of our modern temples and ordinances. She calls the Salt Temple a “Golden Calf”

In episode #96 and she says that the temple endowment is a false tradition we need to repent of.

Michelle also does not offer any new sources or evidence. She is only offering a HER interpretation of all the same evidence offered by every Church historian. Michelle’s interpretation of the sources is the same interrpretation offered by the RLDS church for the last 1…

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Section 132 is canonized scripture. It was given by common consent. You have been sadly misinformed.

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How could D&C 132 be given by common consent? Doesn't it have to be received by common consent? And if it was received by common consent, do you have a source to prove it?

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