A pattern has emerged during breaking news reporting on mass shootings: as the initial news spreads on Twitter and journalists start working on stories, organized trolling hoaxes try to point to random people as the potential shooter.
In wake of a shooting at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California yesterday, multiple YouTubers found themselves at the center of several hoaxes that claimed they were the shooting suspect. This included some high-profile names. Buzzfeed News began rounding up numerous hoaxes, collected from 4chan and Twitter, in real time. The real shooter was identified late Tuesday night by police as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a woman in her late 30s who reportedly resided in Southern California.
Some of the more prominent YouTubers included Lauren Southern, a right-wing personality who was recently denied entry into the United Kingdom and detained by police. A Twitter user who goes by David_Zogg and uses a photo of Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg as their profile picture, tweeted out a photo of Southern holding a gun, alleging she was the shooter.
Buzzfeed reported the hoax, and Southern responded to the incident on Twitter.
After seeing this and making some frantic calls to friends regarding my whereabouts yesterday...— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) April 4, 2018
It appears that Buzzfeed may have actually reported something accurately pic.twitter.com/aej018L6p8
Matt Jarbo, a YouTube commentator who goes by MundaneMatt and boasts more than 161,000 subscribers, tweeted out a collection of tweets that refered to him as the shooter. Jarbo stated that he’s “obviously” not the shooter. Jarbo later told the Los Angeles Times that he was left angry by internet trolls who tried to make light of the situation as it was developing.
“I get there’s gallows humor on the internet, but I take what happened very personally,” Jarbo said.
Dugan Ashley, a former YouTuber who used to host the pro-gun CarniK Con channel, was also labeled as a potential shooter. The photo, which was tweeted by a Twitter user named SkelliTon, featured a photo of Ashley with the gun. Ashley’s channel was active between Oct. 31, 2012 and 2015, when he shut down production. Several people have uploaded mirrors of Ashley’s original videos since then, though.
The photo used in the tweet, seen below, is a still from one of Ashley’s videos.
4. This is not the suspect, it's YouTuber Dugan Ashley. pic.twitter.com/BcWNrVeg1s— Jane Lytvynenko ♀️ ♀️ ♀️ ♀️ (@JaneLytv) April 3, 2018
YouTuber dcigs, a popular creator with more than 580,000 subscribers, posted a video on YouTube denying allegations that he was the shooter. He commented in the description that, “People hitting me up asking if I am the YouTube HQ Shooter you kidding me right?”
“Guys, I am not the YouTube shooter,” he said. “Making jokes that ‘dcigs finally got his revenge on YouTube, dcigs finally got his revenge’ — no. That is something that is so evil, to put on anybody, to say about anybody during a crisis like this.”
Photos of smaller creators — and international YouTubers like Dragon Lord from Germany — were also accused of being the shooter on Twitter and 4chan. One creator in particular, TheReportOfTheWeek, a critic with more than 888,000 subscribers, was a victim to a similar hoax last year. He was reported as missing following the Manchester Arena bombing as part of a hoax that vent viral when news outlets started spreading his photo.
TheReportOfTheWeek’s photo was spread on 4chan, as pointed out by Buzzfeed, as part of a coordinated trolling effort.
Although these hoaxes were spread around Twitter and 4chan, none of the targets appeared to actually be named by any reputable news outlets. It appears that as more breaking news reporting is done on shootings across the United States, and large-scale events around the world, that citizens and journalists are beginning to take a second and try to sniff out a potential hoax. A handbook of sorts created by WNYC’s On The Media on how citizens should understand and interpret breaking news can be seen below.
More information about hoaxes that were spread after initial reports of the shooting took place can be read in Buzzfeed’s roundup.