Following another school shooting, this one in Texas by a 17-year-old high school student who killed 10 students and faculty at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County south of Houston, viral hoaxers descended on Facebook, creating phony accounts with the suspected shooter’s name and a doctored photo showing him wearing a “Hillary 2016” hat.
This is an all-too-common practice in our angry, hateful society. Since the Columbine High massacre in 1999, at least 141 children, educators and others have died another 284 injured at American schools.
The social media site caught and deleted many of the fake accounts but others quickly replaced them and the viral lies spread, often as political propaganda.
Chris Sampson, a “disinformation analyst” for a counterterrorism think tank, told The Washington Post it took less than 20 minutes before the first fake Facebook account surfaced, using the suspect’s name.
“It seemed this time like they were more ready for this,” he said. “Like someone just couldn’t wait to do it.”
Reports Drew Harwell of The Post:
It has become a familiar pattern in the all-too-common aftermath of U.S. school shootings: A barrage of online misinformation, seemingly designed to cloud the truth or win political points.
The fakes again reveal a core vulnerability for the world’s most popular websites, whose popularity as social platforms is routinely weaponized by hoaxers exploiting the fog of breaking news.
Facebook officials say the social media site quickly removed the suspect’s real account and began working on the fake one as soon as they began to appear. Since the first of the year, the network has deleted more than 500 million fake accounts, many of them traced to the Russian hackers trying to disrupt the 2016 Presidential election.
But Facebook admits that “tens of millions more” such accounts still operate and spread misinformation around the clock on its network.
Bot Sentinel reports is tracks more than 12,000 automated Twitter accounts that spreads misinformation. Christopher Bouzy of Bot Sentinel says four of the top 10 phrases related to the Santa Fe High School shooting showed up in Twitter.
“That is significant activity for our platform,” he told the Post.
Among the early fake accounts included the name of Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 17-year-old student that police say has not confessed to killing the 10 students and faculty at Santa Fe High. A photo for his real Facebook account was modified by putting a hat promoting a Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign hat on his head and appeared on the fake site.
Another fake site after the shooting had a banner promoting the campaign of President Donald Trump.
Alt-right news sites Friday claimed the suspect as part of the Antifa movement. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. in February, a video claiming one of the “shooting survivor” was actually a “crisis actor” hired to promote gun control. The National Rifle Association and right-wing news operation Fox News Channel helped spread claim before it was proven to be a lie.
Along with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube claim they are working to rid their networks of the viral liars but also note that lying is also protected by the First Amendment right for free speech unless it is part of a criminal activity or used to promote violence or harm.
Sampson, the “disinformation analyst,” says such activity can sometimes be nothing more than just an attempt by those who enjoy stirring up trouble.
“For some people, they have no stake in the game, and life is just a big joke,” he says.