The first hours after a mass shooting are often awash in disinformation, as Internet hacks try to piece together a portrait of the killer. Frequently, the worse the information, the faster it spreads — because the sloppy sleuthing appeals to the prejudices of those determined to blame the deadly violence on anything but guns.
On Tuesday evening, such foul disinformation — about the heinous crime that killed 19 students at the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — was promoted by a Republican member of Congress. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted that the shooter was a “transexual leftist illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos.”
At least Gosar got the last name right.
The gunman, identified by authorities as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was reportedly born in North Dakota. Little is known about his politics, or motivation for the shooting. As for the trans part? That was a malicious rumor born in the fever swamps of the message board 4chan. (Gosar — himself a right-wing extremist, embraced by white nationalists — has since deleted the tweet; his spokesperson did not respond to a request to comment.)
The rumor about the shooter being trans surfaced early Tuesday evening from an anonymous poster on the “Politically Incorrect” channel on 4Chan. This person posted a link and the claim: “Here’s the shooter’s reddit” adding using a slur to insist the shooter was transgender. The post was accompanied by a picture of a trans woman in a miniskirt, with shoulder length brown hair, who bears an at-best-passing resemblance to social media profile pictures that have been attributed to Ramos. She is not the shooter.
Regardless, the misinformation about the shooter’s gender identity immediately went viral — to the point that entering “Salvador” in the Twitter search bar Tuesday night auto-populated with the suggestion “salvador ramos trans.”
jesus christ (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ pic.twitter.com/Zs55ARVvcG
— Erin Gallagher (@3r1nG) May 25, 2022
On Wednesday morning the disinformation was still raging online, with the rapper Boosie BadAzz posting the mistaken picture with hateful anti-LGBTQ language and Lil Yachty tweeting “Yea.”
The woman tagged in the 4Chan post is an artist from a different state who had nothing to do with the shooting. (She did not respond to interview requests, and Rolling Stone is not linking to her social media to avoid perpetuating her harassment.) But on the Reddit page linked to by the 4Chan detective, she posted a selfie standing in front of the trans flag insisting: “It’s not me, I don’t even live in Texas.”
The woman — showing remarkable grace and patience — took pains to address commenters and trolls alike, in an attempt to beat back the misinformation, while avoiding centering herself. “I’m annoyed about what’s happening with me,” she wrote. “I’m more concerned with the [families] affected by the actual events.”
One confused Redditor asked: “So you are saying they photoshopped the shooter’s face onto images of yours?” She replied: “No they just took my photos and used it to spread misinformation.”
Another user queried: “Do you share the same name as the person that did all this or something? I’m confused cause a lot of people are using your pictures.” She responded: “No [they’re] just transphobic and took the opportunity to attack me and other trans people in turn.”
As the reality of the situation began to settle in last night, one commenter conspiratorially insisted the right-wing had been set up: “The left started the rumour on Twitter to make it look like Twitter is only full of racist fascist transphobes to discredit Twitter because Elon bought it. But we not ready for that conversation.” The artist responded, crisply: “No I think [you’re] mistaken.”
Several trolls implausibly accused the young trans woman of being a clout chaser. “Why would I want to be accused of murder?” she asked. “People are threatening me and harassing me for no reason. They are actively trying to ruin my life instead of helping the families who were affected.” She added: “I don’t want fame, I just want to live without being attacked when I leave my house.”
As a few thick Redditors continued to claim that she was, in fact, the now-deceased male shooter; the woman explained: “I’m not the shooter. he’s dead and I’m obviously alive.”
Showing a rare burst of online humanity, a few commenters expressed concern for the artist: “lock your account hun… I’m sure you don’t want to deal with the unnecessary hate that comes with this.” She replied: “Just another day of being trans. I can handle stupid.”
As the crest of disinformation began to break late Tuesday night, the 4chan Politically Incorrect community shifted gears to begin a new toll cycle, this time roasting congressman Gosar. “Why do Republicans fall for obvious click bait all the time,” one anonymous user wrote next to a screen grab of the congressman’s tweet.
But another anonymous user soon piped up with comment tinged by two emotions rarely encountered in the fever swamps: shame and remorse: “It was a lie,” the user wrote offering a link to the initial thread, “spread by this board.”