A familiar pattern of online behavior follows almost every single recent mass shooting.
In the immediate aftermath, as politicians rush to offer their meaningless thoughts and prayers, far-right news sites scramble to spread misinformation about how the shooter was part of a far-left conspiracy against Trump and/or conservatives. It happened after the Sutherland Springs shooting in Texas, the Parkland shooting in Florida and now, the Jacksonville shooting on Sunday night.
After the latest incident, which left two people and the shooter dead at a Madden NFL video game tournament, right-wing “mindset expert” Mike Cernovich — who is currently touring Arizona with Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward — tweeted that the suspect’s Reddit account showed him to be a member of the anti-Trump “resistance”. Cernovich made a similar claim after the Sutherland Springs shooting, which he incorrectly labeled an “antifa terrorist attack”.
The notoriously unreliable and decidedly pro-Trump Gateway Pundit quickly picked up on narrative and ran with it without any corroborating evidence, as did commenters on The_Donald, the vehemently pro-Trump subreddit. The only problem was that the Reddit account in question — /u/ravenchamps, a username similar but not identical to one of the shooter’s gaming profiles — was still posting last night, which would be difficult to do if it really did belong to the suspect David Katz, who took his own life at the shooting.
Mike Cernovich, Gateway Pundit, and Ian Miles Cheong today all claimed that the Jacksonville shooter was a "member of the anti-Trump resistance," citing a Reddit account called Ravenchamps.
Welp, Ravenchamps just posted to Reddit about 15 minutes ago that he's not the shooter. pic.twitter.com/GhUh4kBPX3
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) August 28, 2018
Despite this, neither the Gateway Pundit, nor Infowars or TruePundit, bothered to correct their stories immediately. It was only after the misidentified Redditor showed up to do an Ask Me Anything that Gateway Pundit and Cernovich bothered to issue corrections, with Gateway Pundit simply saying that a Reddit user had been “mis-identified.”
For his part, “ravenchamps” took the misidentification in good stride, commenting on Reddit that he was “confused at first [but] now I’m just laughing about it.” He also noted that the only piece of evidence that would tie him to the shooting was the fact that he supported the Baltimore Ravens and played Madden.
This is hardly the first time Gateway Pundit has refused to let the truth get in the way of a good story. In wake of the Parkland shooting, for instance, the Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich breathlessly circulated a fake Buzzfeed News story about how white people’s guns needed to be confiscated. Wintrich, who previously held White House press credentials, was dumped by the Gateway Pundit in August after he was featured on a white nationalist podcast. The Gateway Pundit is also facing two separate lawsuits related to its coverage of the violence in Charlottesville last year.
Gateway Pundit circulating a hoax screenshot of BuzzFeed News reporting in aftermath of FL school shooting. Let me be clear, this is fake. pic.twitter.com/VNJuYPec0a
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) February 15, 2018
But while the Gateway Pundit’s self-ownage may be somewhat amusing, it does also point to a serious problem. A study carried out last year by researchers at the University of Alabama, Cyprus University of Technology, University College London and Telefonica Research found that far-right communities online have a high level of influence on more mainstream sites like Twitter. This shows how successful fringe communities can be at spreading lies and misinformation over the web.