There’s a script we follow after a mass shooting. In the hours after the event, we rush to the internet to find out as much we can about what’s going. Who are the victims? Who was the shooter? What were their motivations? We want to know.
When the shooter is identified, there’s a rush to their social media accounts. Were there hints? Were there warning signs? But tech companies know this script, too, and pull down their social media of shooters once they’re identified.
Then the political battle starts. People talk about gun control, others demand better mental health services, others say it’s not the time to talk about such things and double down on defending the Second Amendment.
But now there’s a new wrinkle in the old script. People have begun creating fake accounts using the shooter's image to score political points.
That’s what happened today after a shooter killed 10 people and injured 10 more at Sante Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. Once the suspect was identified, a number of fake accounts tied to his name and likeness hit Facebook. One photoshopped a Hillary 2016 hat on his photo and a blood-soaked anti-fascist symbol in the background.
It was an obvious Photoshop, but that didn’t stop people from sharing it as if it were real. “They are telling me this is photoshopped I do not know if it is or not,” one poster said. “Got this before they took it down he had multiple accounts they missed this one.” The Facebook post ended in a string of hashtags that referenced Uranium One, the NRA, Parkland survivor David Hogg, the electoral college, and gun free zones.
“Texas school shooter identified as student Dimitrios Pagourtzis, just announced,” another post in a different Facebook group said. “Look what I found on Facebook. He’s a Hillary Clinton supporting ANTIFA Libtard [snowflake]. Guns don’t need banning, don’t let democrats own guns. That’ll work.”
A few pro-Trump pages and profiles attributed to the shooter sprung up as well and were shared and removed just as quickly as the Antifa profiles.
A representative from Facebook told Motherboard that it doesn’t allow mass murderers to have a presence on Facebook. After police identified the Sante Fe shooter, it took down both his personal Facebook page and Instagram account. It’s been monitoring the fake accounts and pages throughout the day and pulling them down as well. But the screencaps still exist, and people are sharing them on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.
Mass shootings are tragedies and a source of political contention in America. The motivations of the killers are varied and the reality of them rarely fit neatly into the political boxes we’ve carved out for ourselves. Spreading disinformation about the shooters motivations and political affiliations doesn’t help anyone and deepens America’s political divides.