Fake news abounds after Texas shooting

The Texas shooting sparked dozens of false rumours.
Fake news has become unavoidable in the age of social media. Photo credit: Getty

The term "fake news" (Collins Dictionary's 2017 word of the year) has been thrown around a lot lately, but in some cases Donald Trump's favourite phrase is appropriate. 

Sunday's (local time) mass shooting at a Texas church has been the subject of a torrent of misinformation and false narratives, making it the most recent tragedy to spark dozens of false rumours.

Social media has been instrumental in the spread of misinformation, whether intentional or not.

The ability to reach an audience of millions in seconds has proven both a blessing and a curse for those in search of information about breaking news stories.

Twitter is often the birthplace of lies about recent tragedies, from users claiming to know an attacker's political motivations to fake social media posts about missing people. 

In a serious design flaw, search engine algorithms have also legitimised misinformation.

Google and YouTube amplified false claims by bringing up tweets and videos claiming the Texas gunman was an 'Antifa' member among the first results for the suspect's name.

For more than 24 hours after the attack, both Google and YouTube search bars featured "antifa" as the first autocomplete suggestion for users who typed in his name.

Thanks to the ease with which rumours can spread online, multiple false narratives had already taken root before authorities revealed any verified information.

Here are just some of the - mostly - disproven rumours about the Texas mass shooting.

1. The gunman was NOT a member of 'Antifa'

Right-wing political commentator Jack Posobiec, who has been known to spread misinformation, tweeted a screenshot on November 3 of an alleged message exchange between 'anti-fascists' discussing attacking churches.

The screenshot of alleged 'Antifa' members discussing church attacks.
The screenshot of alleged 'Antifa' members discussing church attacks. Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Despite no evidence that the screenshot was authentic, it began recirculating after the shooting and was interpreted by many as proof that 'Antifa' were behind the attack.

Mike Cernovich, an 'alt-right' social media personality with more than 300,000 Twitter followers, also speculated that the shooting was an "Antifa terrorist attack" before any details had been released.

Notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also speculated that the attack was part of an 'Antifa revolution'.

Snopes has confirmed the rumour as false.


2. The gunman was NOT Sam Hyde

Comedian Sam Hyde is the victim of a long-running hoax that has seen him blamed for almost every shooting in the last two years.

A Texas congressman fell for the prank after the attack, telling CNN that Sam Hyde was "the name I was given" for the shooter, who had not been identified at the time.

The gunman is believed to be a man named Devin Patrick Kelley.


3. He was also NOT Chris Ward

Some media outlets falsely reported that a man named Chris Ward was the gunman. 

Mr Ward is in fact a Sutherland Springs resident whose wife and two daughters were killed in the attack.

When his brother called to inform him of the shooting, Mr Ward ran to the church from his house, prompting early reports that he was the gunman.


4. The gunman was NOT a Muslim convert 

Californian weekly newspaper the Santa Monica Observer falsely reported that the shooter was a Muslim convert named Samir Al-Hajeed - a joke name that is an extension of hapless Sam Hyde's name.

Right-wing website Freedom Daily picked up on the Observer's story and also reported that the gunman was a Muslim convert.

Snopes has also confirmed the rumour as false.


5. Kelley was PROBABLY NOT affiliated with the Democrats

In the hours after news of the shooting broke, many Twitter users published tweets that linked Kelley with the Democratic Party.  

Screenshot of some of the tweets linking Kelley with the Democratic Party.
Screenshot of some of the tweets linking Kelley with the Democratic Party. Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Satirical website Freedum Junkshun published a story with the headline 'Texas Church Shooter was an Atheist on the DNC Payroll', which some people may have taken as fact. 

Kelley's political affiliations remain unknown at the time of writing.


6. This MIGHT be Kelley's Facebook account

A link to a Facebook account allegedly belonging to Kelley was spread on social media.

The page included a photo of a semi-automatic rifle similar to the weapon used in Monday's shooting, with the caption 'She's a bad b*tch', posted a week before the shooting.

Screenshot of the Facebook page allegedly belonging to Kelley.
Screenshot of the Facebook page allegedly belonging to Kelley. Photo credit: Buzzfeed

Different media outlets have conflicting reports on whether or not the account really belonged to Kelley. 

Both The Independent and The Sun reported that the account was genuinely Kelley's, while Buzzfeed claimed it was fake because it was listed as a page rather than a profile.

Buzzfeed have also claimed that posts were made after the shooting occurred, making it unlikely that the page belonged to Kelley, who was found dead after the attack. 

It is possible that the owner of the page had scheduled posts ahead of time, meaning the account could feasibly have belonged to Kelley.

The page has since been deleted, and there is no official word on whether or not it belonged to the shooter.