Friday, May 26, 2017

The story behind the fake Manchester attack victims

After the bombing, several posts of fake victims went viral. We look at the disturbing trend that keeps fooling social media

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The tweets usually go something like this.
“My son was in the Manchester Arena today he’s not picking up my call”
“Help my sister is missing in #Munich, she was working in Mcdonalds when the shooting started”
“My sister was in #Nice near the accident, please help, my mama is crying”
The posts all have something in common – they were all sent after an attack in a European country and were all fake. Attached to each was a picture of someone who wasn’t at the scene; some weren’t even in the same country.
In the wake of the Manchester attack, family members of people genuinely caught up in Monday night’s terror searched desperately for news of their loved ones. Many turned to social media. Collages of the missing were created by people who wanted to help.
But as their posts went viral, so did the hoaxes. And this time, some ended up being published by major news outlets in the media scramble which traditionally follows a terrorist attack.

‘I felt violated’

Rachel Devine had just come out of surgery when she received a message from a friend asking if her daughter Gemma was OK. Someone had seen a post claiming she was at the concert.
This was strange, because Devine knew Gemma was not in Manchester; she was at her school in Melbourne, Australia.
“I was actually recovering from surgery so unable to respond quickly,” Devine said. “I can only assume that in the rush to get ‘the story’, news producers found the image and plea for help and ran with it. Her face was all over the Daily Mail in their ‘breaking coverage’.”
Gemma’s picture was included in the collages of victims which Devine said she had seen everywhere, even on the Facebook pages of Australian breakfast TV shows.
“Gemma was initially confused, as one can imagine,” said Devine. “She is only concerned about the people who were actually lost in the tragedy and their families, and that people understand that she had absolutely nothing to do with the false spread of her image.”

As a blogger, Devine said she was used to people stealing her images and those of her children. “I often hear from ‘trolls’ about how terrible I am to expose my children to such risks by sharing their images online or allowing my kids to share their own images online, but my family will not live our life in fear.
“That is our choice on how we will experience life and connect with others.”
Meanwhile, in Ohio, Karen Bowersox was watching in horror as the retweets racked up of a photo of a young boy who had modelled for her clothing range for children with Down’s syndrome. 

“I have this loving business and then someone takes this beautiful little child’s picture and exploits this child,” she said. “I tried to call the mother but I couldn’t get a hold of her. I’m worried about how she must be feeling about all that.”
Bowersox said she received calls and emails from people who believed she was responsible for the post. “There was one from this lady who said she was going to report our website, she thought probably it was our company or something that had done this.
“I sent her a nice explanation and explained the picture was out there and we certainly had nothing to do with exploiting this little boy. I felt terrible, just terrible.”
Her other concern was that people would use this image to try to set up fraudulent fundraising accounts. “This guy could have maybe got money for all this, saying ‘my poor brother’. “He could have elaborated a very intense story over this had people not found out.”
Bowersox and Devine’s immediate thoughts were of the real victims and their family members. “I am heartbroken for those parents who were doing something fun for their kids by taking them to Ariana Grande’s show and were left with such tragedy,” said Devine.

‘This thing will stop happening when the media starts doing basic research’

It’s tricky trying to get some of the posters to talk. The account @kyliemanser1, which tweeted the picture of the young boy, didn’t answer a request for comment. It has since been suspended for violating Twitter’s rules. Another account, which seemed to have used a picture of someone as a toddler in the 1990s, maintained their innocence.
When the Guardian pressed them to admit it was a fake post, they replied: “You have been reported for harassing the family of a victim. Theyll [sic] be a knock at your door.”

One person did agree to explain the thinking behind this form of trolling. 
The trend started, @Gamergateantifa claims, with a well-known hoax involving Sam Hyde, a comedian with a history of pranks. Social media users would use photos of him after any breaking news involving a shooting or a terrorist attack, usually attempting to fool the media into thinking he was the perpetrator.@Gamergateantifa told the Guardian it was mainly about fooling the media. “It has become sort of a competition of who can fool the news. The only way to give it enough ‘credibility’ is to fool a lot of people.”
“People see something on social media and instantly think it’s true. Let’s say you saw a tweet, would you take a look at my profile first before making any decisions about spreading it?
If you did, you would find out I was lying instantly.”
@Gamergateantifa’s hoax tweet involved TheReportOfTheWeek, a YouTuber with more than 22,000 subscribers, who ended up making a video to say he was alive and not in Manchester.

It was a low effort tweet, because most of @Gamergateantifa’s followers knew who TheReportOfTheWeek was. Yet it still went viral.
Would @Gamergateantifa do it again? “I’m not gonna lie, I probably will. I can’t say whether I will get a result like this again. Someone else probably will, probably not.
“But the thing is, when this kind of thing stops happening is when the people or the media start doing basic research. Can’t say that’s a bad deal.”

‘They go on doing this as long as we the media believe them’

After every suspected terror attack for at least the last year, posts attempting to claim prominent internet celebrities or journalists are either a perpetrator or victim have appeared on Twitter.
It hasn’t been limited to terrorist attacks, either. After the EgyptAir crash in May 2016, the BBC reported on hoax victim posts, most of which originated in Mexico. Hoaxers later told journalists they used one man’s photo because he had cheated them out of money. “Our goal is to ruin his reputation. We want the whole world to recognise his face,” they told France 24’s The Observers.
Alastair Reid, a social media journalist at the Press Association, noticed the same photo circulating after the Brussels attack in 2016.

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