How the internet handled the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

Twenty-four minutes after Independence Day in Baton Rouge, LA, police responded to a 911 call in front of the Triple S Food Mart. The call allegedly concerned a man pointing a gun at people on the premises; however, the owner of the mart says he's not aware of any such incident. When police arrived, they tackled Alton into a nearby vehicle before pinning him down and shooting him roughly six times. A video of the altercation was captured by someone in the parking lot and police can be heard exclaiming that the immobile man has a gun. Two officers had guns pointed at him, with one telling him not to move. No movement from Alton can be seen before shots are fired by the officers. The video went viral over the next two days, eventually complemented by a second video from the food mart's owner. Public reaction was swift and furious, with #AltonSterling trending and people questioning why a man selling CDs deserved to be executed by police.

However, a certain subset of the internet responded with a disorganized campaign of disinformation.

A popular "troll" (read: thing racists, bigots, and generally disgusting people do) in the wake of a shooting is to spread the name Sam Hyde as one of the perpetrators. Sam Hyde himself is a comedian, and there's no clear reason why he became the person to be used for this effort beyond Mr. Hyde having at least one photo of himself holding a gun.

Without fail, the disinformation started spreading almost immediately once news of Alton Sterling's death gained visibility. Here are just a few of the accounts boosting this false information:

 

Sam Hyde wasn't the only person falsely accused of murdering Alton Sterling; a Robert Kinnison, whose profile is currently locked from public view, was also included:

 

And one account associated with recent internet hate mob GamerGate spread a photo of Sam Hyde and GamerGate mouthpiece/failed juice salesman Mike Cernovich:

 

Cernovich later feigned concern when his name and picture were also spread as the murderer of Philando Castile:

 

I say that he feigned concern due to the overwhelming show of racism he presented proudly to the world:

 

As Cernovich allegedly used to be a lawyer, one would think he'd be concerned with an extrajudicial killing by police. It seems he's happier to engage in a phenomenon I'll discuss later in this article.


Philando Castile's death occurred sometime on July 6th. He was riding in the car with his girlfriend and her daughter when pulled over for a supposed broken taillight. The officer asked for his identification, and he advised the officer that he was a licensed carrier of a gun but was going to reach for his wallet to present his information. The officer responded with at least four shots, and Philando was pronounced dead hours later. Philando's girlfriend, known as Lavish Reynolds, streamed video of the incident via Facebook as it was happening. This video is what caused his case to go viral.

The first hashtag that appeared was #FalconHeightsShooting, the name of the Minnesota town Philando was in when he was murdered. The aforementioned racists, bigots, and generally disgusting people set out almost immediately to name Sam Hyde or Robert Kinnison as the police officer involved. Some people not associated with the disinformation campaign helped boost this information, likely without knowing the true source:

 

Later, Philando's name was discovered by news outlets and a new hashtag was created: #PhilandoCastile. The same names were given:

By this point, enough people had warned against this false information that the campaign seemed to have stopped.

But really, it just moved in a different direction.

In the video captured by Lavish Reynolds, she describes the officer who murdered Philando Castile as looking "chinese". One of the people who had participated in the disinformation campaign after Alton Sterling's death took it upon himself to point this out to people whenever possible. He started out by posting a short clip of Lavish's video—the part where she describes the officer as being of asian descent. A fellow racist quoted his tweet, and he responded with a fake screenshot of how he imagines Huffington Post's Black Voices will respond to the murder:

 

For some inexplicable reason, this man is more concerned with whether or not white people might get blamed in Castile's murder than the fact that Castile was murdered by police at all:

And this is really where white people need to get over themselves. See, every time a black person is murdered by police, someone like the above YouTuber or Cernovich will try their hardest to justify it based on whatever dirt comes up. It's a phenomenon I call 'assh*le signaling':

The racist accuses everyone outraged over the murder of false sympathy—believing people only care about the event if it will gain them popularity or wealth. To prove how "above it all" they are, they gleefully present their racism to the world alongside whatever dirt they can find. When they are inevitably called out for their racism, they will circle back to the accusation that the person is only attacking them to appear more virtuous.

In other words, they're mad that people aren't paying attention to them. So they flaunt their assh*le to anyone within range and beg that you adore anything which comes out of it.

In Castile's case, the worst thing racists could dig up was a Facebook post Castile made in 2011. Since this didn't gain any traction to disrupt the mourning, the assh*le signalers focused on the alleged nationality of the officer who murdered Castile.

People understandably assumed the officer was white due to what little they could see of the officer in the video and the undeniable fact that almost every case of an officer murdering a person of color has involved a white officer.

With nothing else to fling, racists like those outlined above started searching for people who assumed the officer was white and...well, just yelling at them.

The racists don't care that someone was murdered for no reason. They only care that white people might take the blame. When white people are to blame, you see unabashed racism like Mike Cernovich's get bandied about. When they weren't the murderer, they're mad that their previous racism has made them the presumptive murderer.

This is the mindset that gave birth to #AllLivesMatter; the feeling that people of color cared about their own getting murdered by police more than white people care about other white people getting murdered by police just could not stand. Occasionally, you'll see white people decide to care about a white person being murdered—except they're generally using the murder to ask if #BlackLivesMatter will be outraged.

A wonderful solution to white people intentionally dividing ourselves from people of color would be to share in the righteous outrage of groups like #BlackLivesMatter and put in the work to change our police system. As it is, white people benefit from a lot of privilege in police encounters. And some white people are afraid that changing the system might remove that privilege and result in us fearing police the same way people of color do.

But wouldn't it make more sense if we fought for a police system where nobody had to fear police for unnecessary reasons?

My opinion is that would be a far greater world. Unfortunately, the racists you've seen in most of these screenshots care far more about being popular for how "edgy" and bigoted they are, than about building a better world and maybe having to find some talent in themselves.


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