‘Horrible’ conspiracy theories swirl around Texas shooting | United States government and politics

By DAVID KLEPPER and ALI SWENSON – Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) — Now it’s as predictable as calls to thought and prayer: A mass shooting leaves many dead, and wild conspiracy theories and misinformation about the carnage soon follow.

It happened after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, after the Orlando nightclub shooting and after the murderous rampage earlier this month at a Buffalo grocery store. Hours after Tuesday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, another rash began as netizens spread baseless allegations about the man named as the shooter and his possible motives.

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Unsubstantiated claims that the shooter was an immigrant living illegally in the United States or transgender quickly emerged on Twitter, Reddit and other social media platforms. They were accompanied by familiar conspiracy theories suggesting the entire filming was staged in some way.

The allegations reflect broader issues of racism and intolerance towards transgender people and aim to blame minority groups who already experience higher rates of online harassment and hate crimes, according to disinformation expert Jaime Longoria.

“It’s a tactic that serves two purposes: it avoids real conversations about the problem (of gun violence), and it gives people who don’t want to face reality a patsy, it gives them someone to blame. “said Longoria, director of research at the Disinfo Defense League, a nonprofit that fights racist disinformation.

In the hours after the shooting, posts falsely claiming the shooter was living in the country illegally went viral, with some users adding embellishments including that he was “on the run from Border Patrol”.

“He was an illegal alien wanted for murder from El Salvador,” read a tweet that was liked and retweeted hundreds of times. “It’s blood on Biden’s hands and it should never have happened.”

The man who authorities say carried out the shooting, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, is a U.S. citizen, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Other social media users seized on images of innocent internet users to falsely identify them as the shooter and claim he was transgender. On the 4Chan online message board, users generously shared the photos and discussed a plan to label the shooter as transgender, without any supporting evidence.

A post on Twitter, which has since been deleted, featured a photo of a trans woman holding a green bottle to her mouth, staring into the camera, headphones dangling from one ear.

“BREAKING NEWS: IDENTITY OF SHOOTER HAS BEEN REVEALED,” the user said, claiming the shooter was a “FEMBOY” with a channel on YouTube.

None of this was true. The photo actually depicted a 22-year-old trans woman named Sabrina who lives in New York. Sabrina, who asked that her last name not be published due to privacy concerns, confirmed to The Associated Press that the photo was hers and also said she was not affiliated with the purported YouTube account. .

Sabrina said she received harassing responses on social media, especially posts claiming she was the shooter. She responded to a number of posts spreading the image with the misidentification, asking that the posts be deleted.

“This whole ordeal is just awful,” Sabrina told the AP.

Another widely circulated photo showed a transgender woman in a Coca-Cola sweatshirt and black skirt. A second photo showed the same woman wearing a black NASA shirt with a red skirt. Those photos also didn’t show the shooter — it was a Reddit user named Sam, who confirmed his identity to the AP on Wednesday. The AP does not use Sam’s last name to protect his privacy.

“That’s not me, I don’t even live in Texas,” Sam wrote in a Reddit post.

Authorities have not released any information about the shooter’s sexuality or gender identification.

Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar matches the two unsubstantiated claims about Ramos in a single now-deleted tweet that also misspelled his name. “He’s a left-wing transgender illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos,” Gosar tweeted Tuesday night.

Gosar’s office did not return a message seeking comment.

In some cases, misinformation about mass shootings or other events is spread by well-meaning social media users trying to be helpful. In other cases, it may be the work of scammers looking to launch fake fundraisers or draw attention to their website or organization.

Then there are the trolls who seem to do it for fun.

According to Ben Decker, founder and CEO of digital investigative consultancy Memetica, fringe online communities, including on 4chan, often use mass shootings and other tragedies as opportunities to wreak havoc, troll the public and spread information. harmful stories.

“It’s very intentional and deliberate for them to celebrate these types of incidents to influence what the mainstream conversations actually are as well,” Decker said. “There is a nihilistic desire to prove yourself in these types of communities by successfully trolling the public. So if you’re able to run a campaign that leads to a result like this, you kind of gain increased credibility within the group.

For communities bearing the brunt of these vicious online attacks, false blame raises fears of further discrimination and violence.

Something as harmless as a transphobic comment on social media can trigger an act of violence against a transgender person, said Jaden Janak, a doctoral student at the University of Texas and a junior fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies.

“These children and adults who were murdered yesterday were just living their lives,” Janak said Wednesday. “They didn’t know that yesterday was going to be their last day. And likewise, as trans people, it’s a fear we all have all the time.”

Swenson reported from Seattle. Associated Press writers Angelo Fichera and Karena Phan contributed to this report.

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