U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris harassed after fake tweets go viral

Incident Details

February 14, 2018

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:

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:

Harris told BuzzFeed News 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.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].