Published Friday, October 27, 2017)
Some of the innocent people shot during the bloody Las Vegas massacre earlier this month are under attack once more, this time by online conspiracy theorists.
For weeks, internet trolls who are convinced the tragedy was faked have been spreading vitriol against the victims online, accusing them of being paid actors out to deceive the public.
Some of the injured, including Braden Matejka, a B.C. mechanic who was shot in the head, have even found themselves threatened with violence by misguided individuals who don’t believe what happened to them.
“I would shoot your head and see how your fake arse looks afterwards,” one commenter wrote to Matejka on Facebook.
“All these people are sellouts and should be hung for treason,” another conspiracy troll wrote on a YouTube video of Matejka in hospital.
The online abuse was so bad that Matejka reportedly deleted his social media accounts.
And he’s not the only local harassed for having been shot back in early October. Victoria’s Sheldon Mack, who suffered two gunshot wounds that ruptured his colon and injured his arm, has also faced accusations that he participated in an ill-defined global conspiracy.
When Mack posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed on Twitter, another user told him “we see through the charade” and linked to a messy, cobbled together document full of unsubstantiated claims about Vegas victims.
Mack did not want to be interviewed about the trolls but his father, former CTV anchor Hudson Mack, said the family is not engaging with conspiracy theorists online.
“We think it is unfortunate that anyone without actual knowledge of the incident and its aftermath would choose to perpetrate such misinformation,” he said in an email statement. “Rather than provide such people the attention they crave, we are focused instead on Sheldon’s recovery, which we are happy to report is going well.”
Labelling victims of tragedies, particularly those injured in gun violence in the U.S., as so-called “crisis actors” has been happening for years. Heartless trolls infamously attacked grieving parents whose children were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
Their conspiracy theories are usually vague, and often anti-Semitic. Some subscribers believe horrifying shootings are faked to sway public opinion in favour of gun control regulations.
None seem bothered by the harm they do to innocent victims and their families.
“It’s so horrific on so many levels,” said psychologist Dr. Joti Samra. “Here’s people who are dealing with a whole host of emotional reactions – post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, fear – their whole lives have been turned upside down. And then to have people on the outside that are making these ridiculous, outlandish, mean, hurtful statements, it’s terrible.”
Samra said as outlandish as their claims may seem to outsiders, there are plenty of people who truly believe them thanks to online echo chambers.
“There is this belief now if something’s on the internet that there’s truth behind it,” she told CTV News.
By engaging with fellow conspiracy theorists, and avoiding contrary evidence, people can end up swept up in seemingly unbelievable ideas, Samra said.
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