Rumours about the gunman and what had taken place spread widely online — often with easily debunked evidence or none at all — almost immediately after the first official reports about the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Here are three of the most prominent rumours that have spread on online platforms.
1. No, the shooting was not a staged 'false flag' operation
Hours after the attack, far-right figures spread misinformation claiming that the shooting was a "false flag" attack. Among their unfounded claims were that the shooting had been orchestrated to draw local law enforcement away from the border, allowing criminals and drugs to cross into the United States, and that gun-control advocates had organised the tragedy to stoke public outrage.
Other social media posts alleged that parents shown in news clips awaiting news of their children appeared to be insufficiently emotional and were crisis actors being paid to play a role. The two teachers who were killed were also accused of being crisis actors.
Claims of crisis actors and false flags in school shootings are not new: Conspiracy theorist and broadcaster Alex Jones of Infowars has lied for years that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, was staged by the federal government, with people pretending to be survivors and victims' parents. Last year, Jones lost four defamation lawsuits filed by victims' families, many of whom have been harassed by his believers.
2. No, there is no evidence that the gunman was transgender
Hours after the attack, a post on the fringe online message board circulated claiming that the gunman was transgender. Numerous photographs falsely claiming to show the gunman wearing women's clothing were attached.
Authorities have said the gunman was male.
The unfounded claims made their way to channels of far-right militia groups such as the Proud Boys, where people falsely claimed that the shooting was a result of hormone therapy undertaken by the gunman.
By Wednesday, the claims that the gunman was transgender had been amplified by high-profile people such as Representative Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who was censured last year by the House after he posted a video that depicted him killing a Democratic lawmaker. Gosar's Twitter post on the matter has been deleted.
Photos of dark-haired transgender women circulated alongside images of the gunman's face, accompanied with false accusations that they were the same person. "There is an overwhelming number of individuals who are posting images of this person, who was the shooter, and information about the nature of them being transgender," Stacy Washington, host of the SiriusXM show Stacy on the Right, said Tuesday night. She added: "We don't have definitive proof, but I'd say, this many pictures? My goodness. There's something going on here."
On Tuesday, a transgender artist said on Reddit that people online "just took my photos and used it to spread misinformation." After the artist posted other photos as proof, The California Rifleman, an account on Twitter that discusses gun rights, deleted a post that had included the artist's photo and apologised.
A 22-year-old transgender student living in New York also reported that photos of her were falsely linked to the gunman. She posted photos of herself on Twitter to prove her identity and asked people to stop saying the photos of her were of the gunman.
"Im very close to crying," she posted at one point.
The Trans Safety Network, a research group that monitors threats against the transgender community, said in a statement Wednesday that it had identified photos of three transgender people wrongly linked to the gunman and confirmed that all three were alive.
Gosar and Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
3. No, the gunman was not an undocumented immigrant
False claims that the gunman was born outside the US began to circulate within hours of the shooting. Spread largely on white nationalist accounts, the claims alleged that he was an immigrant in the US illegally, even after authorities including Roland Gutierrez, a Texas state senator, confirmed that the gunman was born in North Dakota.
Two online groups with ties to white supremacist figures claimed Wednesday that the gunman had "illegally penetrated" the country from the Mexican border. The groups, which each have thousands of followers, went on to falsely claim that the gunman was undocumented in the US.
"Did he cross the border illegally?" Code of Vets, a veterans organisation, posted on Twitter. "Our nation has a serious national security crisis evolving."
Later, the group added a post noting that "the shooter has been confirmed to be a citizen" while stating: "Mental health must be addressed. Our border must be secured."
Gosar also said the gunman had been in the country illegally.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Written by: Tiffany Hsu, Sheera Frenkel and Stuart A. Thompson
Photographs by: Kaylee Greenlee
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