David Hogg is among the Florida shooting survivors who are now very vocal about stronger gun control, following the deadly massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17.
He was first targeted by Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog. A post published by the site’s White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich featured Hogg’s photo with the word “EXPOSED” written in red. They targeted Hogg because his father was a former FBI agent, claiming the father is imploring his son to talk about gun control to take the heat off the federal agency.
They also stirred hateful controversies for all the other survivors, just because they smiled in a picture while being interviewed on a morning show.
Later, Donald Trump Jr. pressed the “Like” button on two tweets discussing a conspiracy theory involving the survivor of the Florida school shooting.
An aide to Florida State Rep. Shawn Harrison was also reportedly fired after he falsely accused two survivors, Emma Gonzalez along with Hogg, of being actors. Harrison later tweeted his aide had been fired, and that he was "appalled" at the comments.
And then conspiracy theorists bombarded the World Wide Web, including popular websites, like YouTube, claiming the shooting survivors were “crisis actors.”
This is how absurd, gaslighting "crisis actor" theories go viral.— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) February 20, 2018
One @facebook post from this person has 111,000+ shares. Another has 23,000.
This is one person, two posts.
Imagine the millions and millions of people crackpot theories like this are reaching and influencing. pic.twitter.com/VU7cKCJhXq
When I click on "David Hogg" in Facebook's trending module it auto-fills in the search with "David Hogg actor" and gives me a bunch of despicable articles about how he is a "crisis actor" (he's a survivor of the Parkland shooting) pic.twitter.com/qWeZ105k4C— Nikhil Sonnad (@nkl) February 21, 2018
Videos alleging Hogg is a crisis actor were trending at 4chan and Reddit, but then people started the search on larger platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google’s video platform. The video was a top trend on YouTube early Wednesday morning, all thanks to heartless trolls.
First page of @YouTube search results for David Hogg:— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) February 21, 2018
1. Conspiracy video
2. Conspiracy video
3. CNN video
4. CBS video
5. Conspiracy video
6. Conspiracy video
7. Conspiracy video
8. Conspiracy video
9. Conspiracy video
10. Conspiracy videohttps://t.co/qFLUJwnBwh
A YouTube spokesperson confirmed the situation and acknowledged the video had been erroneously added to its Trending section.
"This video should never have appeared in Trending," a YouTube spokesperson wrote in an email. "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."
A post on Facebook, featuring Hogg’s photo, claiming that the Parkland students were actors, was also shared more than 100,000 times before Facebook deleted it for violating its policies.
“Images that attack the victims of last week's tragedy in Florida are abhorrent," Mary deBree, head of content policy at Facebook, said in an email. "We are removing this content from Facebook."
According to Kate Starbird, a University of Washington professor, these theories started with the premise that the shooting never took place. “The goal seems to be to want to undermine the collective response to tragedy,” she said. They hark back to “a high-level narrative, which is the media is lying ... and you can’t trust anything you see.”
All the posts collectively digging at the honesty and credibility of the students and all this questioning started after they spoke out against gun violence and in some cases, publicly challenged President Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association and pro-gun lawmakers.
“It’s annoying. I hate it. But it’s part of American democracy,” Hogg said in a phone interview the Washington Post. “Am I an actor? No. Am I a witness? Yes.”
According to Hogg’s mother, Rebecca Boldrick, the family received threats following the internet hoax.
“I’m under so much stress,” she told The Washington Post, describing her state a week after the shooting. “I’m angry and exhausted. Angry, exhausted and extremely proud.”
Thumbnail/Banner Image: Reuters, Jonathan Drake