Alex Harris, a reporter at the Miami Herald, was harassed online after fake tweets attributed to her went viral in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
On Feb. 14, 2018, while reporting on the mass shooting, Harris tweeted at some of the people who had survived the mass shooting and tweeted about it, asking them if they wanted to talk to the Herald about what happened.
These are two of the real tweets that she sent to people who tweeted about the shooting:
Hi Alan, I'm heartbroken to hear about your friend. I hope your friend is OK. I know you're probably overwhelmed right now, but if you'd be comfortable talking to me about it for the @MiamiHerald , you can follow back to DM— Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) February 14, 2018
Hi Mads, I'm so sorry to hear that you and your friends went through such a trauma. It's good to hear you guys are safe. I know you're overwhelmed right now, but if you're comfortable with it I'd like to ask you questions for the @MiamiHerald. Follow back if it's OK to DM— Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) February 14, 2018
In response, a number of random Twitter users criticized Harris for doing her job. It's not uncommon for random people on Twitter to harass journalists for attempting to reach out to sources on Twitter, but the harassment campaign against Harris escalated when one of her critics created and shared doctored versions of two of her tweets.
The first fake tweet read: "Hi Alan, I know you're probably overwhelmed right now, but could you please get us pictures or videos of the dead bodies? @MiamiHerald, you can follow back to DM"
The second fake tweet read: "Hi Mads, I'm so sorry to hear that you and your friends went through such a trauma. Did you see the shooter? Was he white? If so, I'd like to ask you questions for the @MiamiHerald. Follow back if it's OK to DM"
As the fake tweets went viral, Harris tried to set the record straight:
There are 2 fake tweets circulating today attributed to me. They are doctored versions of tweets I sent while trying to tell the stories of victims and survivors -- important stories that need to be heard. I did not ask if the shooter was white nor ask for photos of dead bodies.— Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) February 15, 2018
Harris told Buzzfeed that the fake tweets likely made people less willing to talk to her, preventing her from doing her job.
"Someone offered a victim $30 to talk to the competition and asked for people to send them money so they could offer more," she told Buzzfeed News. "People kept saying, 'Don't talk to her, she's racist,' and it just kept getting worse."
She told NPR that she tried to get Twitter to remove screenshots of the fake tweets, to no avail.
"I reported every tweet where someone sent me the screenshot," she said. "I reported them for abuse, for harassment, from impersonation. And Twitter sent me back continuous this is not a violation of our policy, so nothing was done. Twitter's policy on impersonation only covers people who impersonate an entire account, not a specific tweet."
Senator Bill Nelson, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, has asked Twitter executives to appear before the committee on March 6 in order to explain its handling of the situation
"Officials from Twitter on Monday will be providing us with a briefing on how these perpetrators were able to use the company’s popular online platform to pull off this hoax," a spokesman for the senator told McClatchy DC.