A trans woman’s photo was used to spread baseless claims that the Texas school shooter was transgender
*TW: story contains language and several subjects which readers may find distressing*
Soon after news of the fatal Texas shooting broke, the image of a trans woman named Sam posing next to a trans flag was shared to 4chan, in a post beginning “here’s the shooter’s reddit” along with some transphobic language
As devastating news of the fatal mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, Texas broke across the internet, social media users scowered platforms for more information on what was happening, who the attacker was and how many victims there had been.
The attack took place on Tuesday (May 25) at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, around 80 miles (129km) west of San Antonio.
The gunman, an Eighteen-year-old male named Salvador Ramos, shot his grandmother before getting in his car and carrying out a massacre on innocent elementary school children. He murdered 19 children and 2 adults. Ramos was killed on the scene by police.
Unfounded claims and baseless accusations quickly began picking up pace on social platforms, the majority of which were rooted in racism and transphobia; including that the gunman was an immigrant living in the U.S. illegally and that they were transgender. There were also some other, less targeted, insane conspiracy theories suggesting the whole incident was somehow staged.
Sickeningly, in spite of the utter devastation being felt the world over, the far-right utilized the tragedy of these young victims to perpetuate hate and discrimination online, all while the families of innocent children were waiting to hear if their kid, sibling or loved one was alive or dead.
4chan users took it upon themselves to identify a transgender person and claim that they were responsible for the shooting, intentionally opting for an image of a person with hair similar to the shooter, who the authorities had, by that point, released a still of.
They also opted for an image where the person was hanging a trans Pride flag, to ensure the imaging and symbolism was clear – trans people are gun-toting murderers.
However, the person pictured in the photos, Sam, 20, had nothing to do with the shooting – and does not even live in Texas. Sam was seeing the horror unfold online like the rest of us.
In a post that began with “here’s the shooter’s reddit”, it displayed her image as well as linking to her Reddit account and a transphobic slur.
Using other images from her social media, pictures were then propagated online throughout far-right circles, with many getting thousands of shares, at which point people began piling on Sam with hate and transphobic abuse.
Sam, who lives in Georgia, told NBC News:
“This isn’t the first time I was harassed, but it is the first time I’ve been accused of murder,” she said.
Adding, “I’m more worried about the victims and hope they get the support they deserve.”
Transphobic trolls on Twitter, Facebook and all other platforms continued using Sam’s photos along with images of at least two other transgender women to spread the completely baseless theory that the shooter was transgender.
Some even created collages that place the women’s photos alongside images from an Instagram page believed to have belonged to the shooter. That is how committed they were to making people believe these innocent children were killed by a trans person.
Sam was forced to defend herself on Reddit, quite rightly pointing out that these bigoted conspiracy theorists were trying to “make trans people look like murderers and blaming me for the shooting.”
She said: “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.”
“I am being attacked unjustly for no reason. I am being harassed and accused of murder with no evidence. And all I’ve done was live my life. I don’t want fame, I just want to live without being attacked when I leave my house.”
Despite factually inaccurate posts, which included Sam’s picture, violating both Twitter and Mata’s misinformation policies, the platforms did
fuck all the bare minimum to combat the false information spreading and slanderous narrative, which has a 20-year-old victim.
On Wednesday (May 25) morning a Twitter spokesperson eventually (bearing in mind the misinformation spreading began soon after the shooting on Tuesday) said, “In line with our hateful conduct policy, we will require the removal of Tweets that share misleading claims about the identity of the perpetrator with the intent to incite fear or spread fearful stereotypes about a protected category.”
Of course, despite the complete falsity of these accusations, Republicans already hadn’t missed a beat perpetuating the hate, such as Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican who is a strong opponent of LGBT+ rights and gun control legislation, and who said of the shooter in a since-deleted tweet, “It’s a transsexual leftist illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos.”
He deleted the post hours later, long after it was confirmed the real shooter, Salvador Ramos, was killed by police officers attending the scene.
Conservative personality Candace Owens joined in the hysteria which was based entirely on fiction, referencing a “cross-dressing” photos she said she’d seen of the suspect (tweet below).
It’s a truly awful thing that a tragedy like this could even be allowed to happen. To children. It’s even worse that it’s not completely shocking that it did happen.
But that the far-right obsession with LGBTQ+ people is to the point they will happily politicize the young dead children and their families to serve an anti-LGBT agenda… and for what? Just to make people dislike or fear LGBT people?
It’s sickening and those children and their families deserve better.
“This has GOT to stop,” Erin Reed, a trans advocate, said on Twitter, then referencing investigations that the state of Texas opened into parents of some transgender young people back in March, following a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott ordering state agencies to investigate claims of parents providing gender-affirming medical care to minors.
“A sitting congressman just spread a lie about the Texas shooter to pin it on transgender people spread by troll sites, in a state where they are spending more time banning trans kids than they are spending regulating guns,” she said.
This has GOT to stop.
A sitting congressman just spread a lie about the Texas shooter to pin it on transgender people spread by troll sites, in a state where they are spending more time banning trans kids than they are spending regulating guns.
This is absolutely SICK. pic.twitter.com/4EI1Och4ID
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) May 25, 2022
Some more from Twitter below:
This false “the shooter was trans” rumor going around the far-right is from a 4chan thread that links to a completely uninvolved person on Reddit who is still alive, doesn’t live in Texas, and obviously had nothing to do with the shooting. pic.twitter.com/Pevl6wqlRx
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) May 25, 2022
“I never once spread misinformation by posting those photos, I just directly referenced them instead. Do not let these spurious accusations get in the way of my repeated attempts to make this shooting another excuse to hate trans people” pic.twitter.com/O1OBoY6XQe
— Vaush 🇺🇸 (@VaushV) May 25, 2022
Our response to misinformation about the Uvalde elementary school shooting, being circulated by right wing sources.
TSN again wish to express our sympathies with the victims of the massacre as well as their families.https://t.co/B135I0XSDH
4chan users / right wingers are sharing pictures of an innocent trans person they found on Reddit and are falsely claiming that they are the Uvalde school shooter pic.twitter.com/ds4uL9o3F4
— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) May 24, 2022
rightwingers including @DrPaulGosar have been spreading misinformation that the shooter in texas was a trans woman, using random photos they pulled from reddit. the person in the photos is currently posting on reddit in apparent horror that her photos were used in this way. pic.twitter.com/riDoQsmHM3
— Molly White (@molly0xFFF) May 25, 2022
Mentally ill Texas school shooter found in photo as a cross-dresser (trans)
Media will drop the story as quickly as possible, since the shooter wasn’t a straight white male pic.twitter.com/29NOpUyskT
— Aleasha (@AleashaCasaret2) May 25, 2022
This is Andrew Torba, CEO of neo-Nazi Gab, amplifying a baseless post wrongly accusing a random trans person on Reddit of being the Uvalde shooter. pic.twitter.com/ocCwbtsCbj
— Ali Fleih (@ChickFleih) May 24, 2022
First off, meet Sam. My colleagues @benjamingoggins and @joyurcaba talked to Sam today.
4chan trolls had targeted her with harassment campaigns in the past.
“It’s just another day of being trans,” she said. pic.twitter.com/8RCByU9QLe
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) May 25, 2022
— Trans Safety Network (@trans_safety) May 25, 2022