Canadians injured in Las Vegas shooting harassed online by conspiracy theorists
A Canadian man who was shot in the head at a Las Vegas concert has shut down his Facebook and Instagram accounts after being bombarded with messages from conspiracy theorists accusing him of faking his injury.
Taylor Matejka said his brother Braden has received "hundreds, if not thousands" of threats and harassing comments since he was injured in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The Lake Country, B.C., man was celebrating his 30th birthday with his girlfriend at the Vegas concert on Oct. 1 when a bullet struck the back of his head. He is expected to make a full recovery.
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"These aren't people who have thought about what they're saying or thought about the fact that they're talking to an actual human beings," Matejka told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "They'll say, 'I hope you do get shot in the head, you're a fraud."
Sheldon Mack of Victoria, B.C., has also been targeted online, his father Hudson told CBC Vancouver. The 21-year-old was shot in the arm and the abdomen at the Vegas concert.
"We think it is unfortunate that anyone without actual knowledge of the incident and its aftermath would choose to perpetrate such misinformation," Hudson Mack said in an email.
"Rather than provide such people the attention they crave, we are focused instead on Sheldon's recovery, which we are happy to report is going well."
The phenomenon is nothing new. There are numerous websites, YouTube channels and social media accounts dedicated to exposing so-called "false flags" — mass shootings and other public tragedies that conspiracy theorists believe were staged by the media and the government.
"These people have been doing this to victims since Sandy Hook and beyond," Matejka said.
"Orlando, San Bernardino, all these shootings — and they think that the victims are all ... all crisis actors paid to essentially pretend like they're a part of this tragedy."
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Earlier this year, a Florida woman who believes Sandy Hook was a hoax was sent to prison for threatening Lenny Pozner, whose six-year-old son was killed in the elementary school shooting.
"The model that they follow, as soon as there's a public incident such as this, a mass casualty event, it must be a false flag right away," Pozner, who runs a foundation dedicated to eradicating false news, told CBC Radio's The 180 in February.
"They start looking for anomalies and look for patterns, and then just the existence of those things is proof it's not a real event in the way they present it."
And they often go after victims and their families.
"The easiest target is victims. They're tangible. They're easy to access. They're real people on Facebook," Matejka said.
He said the situation has taken a toll on his brother, who is still recovering both physically and psychologically from the deadly attack.
"I've had some stuff on my page, but the magnitude on his is outstanding. I can't imagine opening Facebook to talk to friends and family and seeing this atrocious material being fed to him."
— With files from CBC Vancouver