Survivors of the Las Vegas shooting earlier this month have been accused of “acting” by online trolls and conspiracy theorists.
Stephen Paddock shot himself in October after killing more than 50 people and injuring nearly 500 who were watching a country music concert, overlooked by his hotel window.
One victim told CTV News that his social media has been inundated with comments from people who say the shooting was a hoax, and he was forced to delete his accounts.
Braden Matejka and his girlfriend tried to escape the festival when he was shot in the back of the head, but was not fatally wounded. He still cannot move his head and suffers pain.
He received thousands of messages like “You’re a lying piece of s*** and I hope someone truly shoots you in the head”.
Another victim, Sheldon Mark, who was shot twice on 1 October, was also targeted. His father told the same network: “Sheldon has been also targeted online by someone who claims the shooting did not occur, and that he and others affected are actors participating in a hoax.”
Rob McIntosh, who was shot in the chest and arm, told The Guardian: "It makes you angry. You’ve already been through something that’s traumatic and terrible, and you have someone who is attacking your honesty. You don’t even have the opportunity to respond."
Mike Cronk, another survivor, was targeted after giving interviews to ABC and NBC about the shooting, with online searches autocompleting his name to "Mike Cronk crisis actor".
YouTube also declined to remove certain conspiracy theory videos which questioned whether several mass shootings were using the same “actors” – posting photos of victims in the Aurora cinema shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston bombings. The social media platform said that not all of the videos violated its standards. Facebook and Google were also accused of advertising right-wing blogs and conspiracy theories.
Several of these theories, fuelled by websites like Infowars, claim anti-gun activists are fabricating massacres to bring about gun controls.
A Florida woman who believes Sandy Hook was a hoax was imprisoned earlier this year for threatening Lenny Pozner, whose six-year-old son was killed at Sandy Hook.
Previous conspiracy theories during the Presidential campaign have encouraged others to commit violence.
“Pizzagate”, a fake news story that claimed Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta were operating a child sex trafficking ring in the basement of a family pizza restaurant in Washington DC, spurred a man to travel to the venue from North Carolina and fire his gun three times into the restaurant. No one was hurt.