Following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday – the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in a decade – two trans women found their images being spread online with claims that they were the now-deceased shooter.
Mashable spoke to both of these individuals. Neither have any connection to the shooter or the shooting. There is no proof that the deceased shooter, who killed 21 people including 19 students inside Robb Elementary School, is transgender.
On the evening of May 24, confirmed photos of the Uvalde school shooter were being shared on Twitter alongside pictures of people who had similar long hair and features. Sabrina noticed one of those photos was of her. In the photo, Sabrina, a 22-year-old living in New York City is seen drinking out of a bottle. She posted the photo on Twitter just 4 days prior. Sabrina declined to share her last name for this story.
Sabrina quickly replied to a number of tweets in an attempt to debunk the disinformation.
“Please delete them, i dont want my image associated with a tragedy,” Sabrina tweeted.
While some did delete their tweets, others demanded proof. Sabrina even posted a new photo of herself in front of the framed painting that can be seen in the background of the original photo as proof she was the individual in the picture.
But the photo kept spreading.
Sabrina decided to lock down her Twitter account and go private for the night, basically closing access to her tweets to all but her few dozen followers.
One interesting thing about the photo being spread, according to Sabrina, was that it was “uncropped” and revealed an additional picture frame hanging on the wall above her head. While she had posted a version of that photo on Twitter days earlier, she had cropped out that picture frame in her public tweet.
“Only thing I can suspect is that they took it from a gc [group chat] im in on discord,” Sabrina told Mashable.
As for why she was targeted, specifically? It’s unclear. But Sabrina said it’s “safe to say” because she is trans.
While Sabrina believes her photo was ripped from a private Discord group she no longer belongs to, the photos were falsely connected to the mass shooting on 4chan. The imageboard has long been a hangout for “edgelords” and internet trolls, known as a home to some of the internet’s worst users. However, the forum has recently been thrust into the spotlight once again following the shooting in Buffalo two weeks ago. The white supremacist shooter cited 4chan as a major influence on his views and belief in the far-right conspiracy theory, The Great Replacement, which led to the supermarket shooting that left 10 dead.
With 4chan users manipulating the event to foment anti-trans sentiment, far right-wing users quickly latched on and shared the photos of the innocent trans women to falsely claim that the Uvalde school shooter was transgender, which then spread to other platforms. On Twitter, tweets circulating the photos of the trans women were easily found in top trending topics about the shooting. The photos were disseminated on Instagram and Facebook as well. Andrew Torba, the founder of the far-right social network, Gab, shared one such photo to his 3.6 million followers on his platform.
The photo that Torba shared on Gab has been confirmed to be a trans woman named Sam Palacios, a 20-year-old living in Georgia. For months, Sam has shared photos of herself on LGBTQ+ friendly subreddits on the popular social sharing platform Reddit. Unbeknownst to Sam, those photos would later be ripped from Reddit and used to tie her to a school shooting. Soon after, users started to comment on her months-old Reddit photos.
“I don’t live in Texas tho,” Sam replied to the first comment that was left about the shooting. “He’s dead, how could it be me[?]”
Like in Sabrina’s case, Sam attempted to squash the misinformation as quickly as possible by replying to Reddit comments and boosting posts debunking the falsehoods on other social media platforms. She posted a new photo of herself to Reddit in front of the same trans pride flag that was visible in some of her now-viral pics. The next day, Sam posted another new photo holding up a sign with Wednesday’s date, “May 25.”
Many of those sharing the misinformation about the two transgender women claimed these were photos posted by the shooter on his Instagram page. The shooter, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, did indeed post photos of himself on their Instagram Story right before he committed the heinous act. The photos include selfies and an image of his firearm on his lap. These three photos were the only pictures posted to his account before it was removed from the platform. The photos portraying transgender individuals never appeared on his feed.
Perhaps the most egregious tweet surrounding the disinformation involving the photos of transgender individuals came from a sitting U.S. Congressman.
Credit: Mashable Screenshot
Based on the fake photos and disinformation being passed around, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) falsely claimed in a since-deleted tweet that shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.” Again, there has been no evidence the shooter is trans nor do we know their politics or motivation. The shooter was born in North Dakota and went to high school in Texas.
Thankfully, both Sabrina and Sam tell Mashable that the spread of the false information and comments they’ve received from the previous night are starting to subside. Sabrina felt comfortable enough to unlock her Twitter account as well. Sam, however, is still “keeping an eye out.”
Over the past few months, there has been a noticeable uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in our political climate. Online, those identifying as LGBTQ+ have found themselves being smeared as “groomers.” Conservative personality Candace Owens, for example, was still spreading falsehoods about the shooter being trans on Wednesday afternoon based on disinformation regarding Sabrina and Sam’s photos.
It’s a concerning trend in the wrong direction. But, sadly it’s also, as Sam perfectly summed it up, “just another day of being trans.”