Vile massacre conspiracy theory
IN CASE you needed further proof the internet is one giant cesspool, conspiracy theorists are now claiming the Florida school shooting survivors are being paid to lie about their experiences.
As survivors from last week's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre front the media calling for stronger gun control measures, internet trolls have suggested they're actually "crisis actors" hired by the FBI and Democratic Party elites to destabilise the Trump administration.
Despite how insane it sounds, these theories have been promoted by the likes of Facebook, YouTube and members of Donald Trump's own family.
THE 'CRISIS ACTORS' CONSPIRACY THEORY
Conspiracy theories have plagued mass shootings for years.
They typically start on the fringes of social media, where internet users allege the events are carefully staged in order to achieve some sort of political purpose.
We've seen this with Sandy Hook, the Vegas shooting and even Columbine - the theorists claim it's all part of an elaborate plan to ban guns and overthrow political leaders.
As the theories gain momentum through social media, they filter upwards to people with higher profiles, including media columnists, right-wing influencers and, in this case, the US president's own son.
Some - like prominent Infowars conspiracist Alex Jones - go on to make prominent TV and radio appearances to further disseminate their views.
At the centre of this particular instance is David Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Earlier this week, YouTube promoted a video purporting to prove Hogg was a paid crisis actor, based on an interview he gave in Los Angeles last year telling a reporter about how he got into an argument with a lifeguard.
According to theorists, this proves Hogg is an actor paid to make media appearances, as opposed to a student at the Florida school.
For what it's worth, crisis actors are a real thing - but they're not used for political propaganda. Their purpose is to role-play disaster victims in emergency drills to train first responders practicing for real emergency procedures.
Youtube said the video's place on the site's top trending section was an error.
In a statement, the video streaming network said: "This video should never have appeared in Trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward."
Shortly afterwards, Hogg's name appeared again in the trending section of Facebook, after the social media network was similarly used to share conspiracy videos.
On Tuesday, CNN's Anderson Cooper asked Hogg about the internet claims. He responded: "I'm not a crisis actor. I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that."
But it wasn't just nameless internet trolls pushing these crazy claims.
Donald Trump Jr - the president's eldest child - "liked" a pair of tweets suggesting Hogg was a fabrication of the "mainstream media".
The original tweets have since been deleted, but screenshots are still available:
A US government worker has been sacked after pushing the same conspiracy theories.
Tampa Bay Times journalist Alex Leary received an email from Benjamin Kelly, an aide for Florida State Representative Shawn Harrison, which accused Hogg and fellow survivor Emma Gonzales of being paid actors.
"Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen," he wrote.
Here's the email. I asked for more information to back up the claim and was sent another email that linked to a YouTube conspiracy video. pic.twitter.com/VRSVOcjj3E— Alex Leary (@learyreports) February 20, 2018
When asked for backup, Kelly sent a follow-up email - from his official government email address - that included a link to the original trending YouTube video of Hogg.
After Kelly's emails went viral, Rep. Harrison released a statement saying he's placed Kelly on leave, adding that he doesn't share his views.
Kelly was subsequently fired.
Conservative political commentator Dinesh D'Souza has also weighed in on Twitter, suggesting 17-year-old survivor Delaney Tarr's video message to the president was "coached".
This woman seems coached and also a bit deranged. Trump’s should ignore these media-manufactured theatrics https://t.co/ewRNRqnlEi— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 20, 2018
To give you an idea of the kind of person D'Souza is, here's a pair of tweets he posted earlier, in which he mocked the survivors:
Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs https://t.co/Vg3mXYvb4c— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 20, 2018
More shooting survivors have posted to social media denying the conspiracy claims while campaigning for gun control regulations.
We are KIDS - not actors. We are KIDS that have grown up in Parkland all of our lives. We are KIDS who feared for our lives while someone shot up our school. We are KIDS working to prevent this from happening again. WE ARE KIDS.— Jaclyn Corin (@JaclynCorin) February 20, 2018
It goes without saying that pushing a crazy conspiracy theory for your own gains in the wake of a tragedy is devoid of humanity.
Marco Rubio, the US Senator for Florida, summed it up best:
Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 20, 2018