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News / Nation & World

NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

By Associated Press
Published: March 31, 2023, 9:47am

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week following the fatal shooting of six people at a Christian school in Nashville. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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Photo of trans woman holding gun misrepresented after Nashville shooting

CLAIM: A transgender woman posted a photo of herself holding a gun and calling for violence against Christians, referencing a “Trans Day of Vengeance.”

THE FACTS: A Twitter account posted a years-old photo of MMA fighter and trans woman Alana McLaughlin holding a gun, but she did not author this post calling for violence. A screenshot of the tweet amassed thousands of shares in the wake of Monday’s mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville after police said the shooter was transgender. The tweet shows McLaughlin with pink hair and a pink shirt, holding an AR-15 style gun and wearing a Glock-19 pistol with an expanded magazine on her waist, with a transgender pride flag in the background. The caption appears to advocate for violence against Christians, including the verbs “kill,” “behead,” “roundhouse,” “slam dunk,” “crucify,” “defecate in” and “launch.” Some social media posts claimed the tweet was proof McLaughlin was organizing or planning to attend an April 1 protest event outside the U.S. Supreme Court called the “ Trans Day of Vengeance.” But McLaughlin, who lives in Oregon, confirmed she didn’t author the post and was not aware of where this event was taking place or planning to attend. There is no evidence the Twitter account that originally posted the violent tweet, which was later suspended from the platform, has any ties to the planned event. The event website on Wednesday featured language clarifying that it was “about unity, not inciting violence.” Noah Buchanan, co-founder of Trans Radical Activist Network, which is organizing the event, also confirmed to the AP in an email that McLaughlin is not affiliated with the protest, and reiterated that it was not intended to be a violent event. The image of McLaughlin used in social media posts dates to 2020, when it was featured in a Huck Magazine profile about her and other LGBTQ people who said they had decided to arm themselves to stay safe amid violence directed toward their community. “It is entirely defensive,” said McLaughlin, who added that she arms herself to protect against “escalating right-wing threats.” McLaughlin said the photo had been misrepresented in other ways in the past, including in posts falsely claiming she was a soldier fighting in Ukraine.

— Associated Press writers Arijeta Lajka and Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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Posts falsely identify photos as Nashville school shooter

CLAIM: A photo of a person wearing glasses and a baseball cap in a field shows the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville, Tennessee, school on Monday. Another photo shows “Samantha Hyde,” a “trans woman” identified as the assailant.

THE FACTS: Neither of the photos, both of which circulated widely on social media, show the person responsible for the attack at the private Christian school in Nashville on Monday. After the shooting at The Covenant School, police gave unclear information on the shooter’s gender. For hours, police identified the shooter as a 28-year-old woman and eventually as Audrey Hale. Then at a late afternoon press conference, the police chief said that Hale was transgender. In an email Tuesday, police spokesperson Kristin Mumford said Hale “was assigned female at birth” but did use male pronouns on a social media profile. Amid the confusion, social media users shared unrelated photos of other people, falsely claiming they showed the shooter. One photo that circulated widely shows an Instagram user with the handle “Aidencreates,” who crafts and sells miniature buildings online. “Apparently I’m being confused with the Nashville incident that happened today but I have nothing to do with that. I live in Pennsylvania,” the Instagram user clarified in a video that was posted on the platform. The confusion was linked to an online graphic design portfolio credited to Audrey Hale, which featured a link to a similar Instagram handle. Multiple social media posts also featured a manipulated photo of Sam Hyde, a comedian and internet personality whose photo has been featured in numerous memes over the years falsely identifying him as the suspect in mass shootings, including the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida. The posts featured a photo of Hyde that was edited to add long blonde hair and falsely claimed that the Nashville shooter was “Samantha Hyde,” a “trans female.”

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Photo of Oklahoma protester misrepresented as Nashville shooter

CLAIM: A photo of a person holding a sign featuring pink, blue and white guns and the words “trans rights… or else” shows the shooter who killed six people at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday.

THE FACTS: The photo does not show the shooter. The person who took this photograph confirmed it was captured in Oklahoma City before news of the Nashville shooting was widespread. The photo circulated widely online after the police chief identified the shooter, Audrey Hale, as transgender. Social media accounts and other sources indicate the shooter identified as a man and may have recently begun using the first name Aiden. “This is the trans shooter, Audrey Hale,” read one tweet shared thousands of times. “The Feds are in the middle of trying to scrub ALL of her social media & pictures from the internet.” The tweet claimed the shooter was a “terrorist” who wanted to kill Christians, “as the sign makes clear.” However, the person holding the sign in the image is not the shooter who opened fire at The Covenant School. The woman who took the photo confirmed to the AP that she captured it about 11 a.m. CDT on Monday at a protest and march in downtown Oklahoma City, hundreds of miles away from Nashville. “It was a protest entitled Bigotry is Bad for Business,” said Chelsea, the photographer, whose last name is being withheld over concerns for her safety. “They protested, they marched. They weren’t violent.” The photographer said she didn’t know the shooting had happened when she tweeted photos from the protest. Social media users then took her photo and misrepresented it as showing the shooter.

— Ali Swenson

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Nashville outlet did not tweet victim’s father calling for ‘end to tolerance’

CLAIM: WSMV-TV Nashville tweeted that the father of a victim of Monday’s Nashville school shooting called for “an end to tolerance” and “the end of the trans evil.”

THE FACTS: A representative with WSMV-TV, an NBC affiliate in Nashville said the tweet was fabricated. In addition, the outlet confirmed they did not report that information. The false tweet spread as friends and family members of the six people who were killed in the shooting shared stories about the victims. Police have identified the shooter, Audrey Hale, as transgender, and the bogus tweet alleges that the victim’s dad called for violence against the transgender community. The tweet in the image shows the name and logo of WSMV-TV’s Twitter account, and reads: “Father of murderer girl, 9, at Covenant school shooting, calls for ‘an end to tolerance’ in family statement to the press, vowing ‘to fight with every fiber of my being for the end of the trans evil. The evil that took my daughter. There must be a solution to this evil in America.’” The image doesn’t show a link to a story. The image circulated widely on Wednesday. However, the tweet shown in the image is not real and no such quote has been publically reported from any victim’s family member in any news outlet. The tweet does not appear on WSMV-TV’s Twitter profile and the outlet stated on its own Twitter account that the image was fake. Amanda Hara, an anchor and director of digital at WSMV-TV, confirmed to the AP in an email that the tweet is fake and didn’t come from the outlet.

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