If you searched David Hogg’s name on Google, YouTube, or Facebook yesterday, you very likely came across a number of disturbing posts. The student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has quickly emerged as a vocal proponent of gun control—and a fierce critic of politicians who continue to do nothing in the wake of mass shooting after mass shooting, including the one at Hogg’s own high school last week.
The conspiratorial counter-narrative, however, is that Hogg is not really a high school student but a “crisis actor,” hired by the anti-gun crowd to appear on news shows and push for weapons bans. As “evidence” for this theory, some people were posting footage of an unrelated news program Hogg apparently appeared on in California last year. On Reddit, some users were even posting mug shots of a 26-year-old named David Hogg, who was clearly a completely different person.
I won’t repost the conspiracy posts here, but let’s just say it was more than a few random internet users. So prevalent were these theories on blogs, social media, and in YouTube videos that Hogg himself came out to denounce the claim. “I’m not a crisis actor,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper yesterday.
The pernicious “crisis actor” meme is not a new one—we saw similar theories crop up after the shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas, for instance—but its ongoing prevalence on major social networks is another sign of the challenges tech companies like Google and Facebook are up against. Both have vowed to take a stronger stance against fake news and disinformation, and YouTube, in particular, took a number of steps last year to make sure extremist content doesn’t show up in search queries or on its related videos sidebar.
But judging from the numerous hit jobs on Hogg, a 17-year-old school-shooting survivor, these steps don’t seem like enough. Outside of banning the content altogether, it’s unclear what Big Tech can do beyond keeping the game of whack-a-mole going.
Update: YouTube has removed at least one Hogg conspiracy video after it briefly became the site’s No. 1 trending video.