YouTube’s number one trending video this morning was based on a false conspiracy theory suggesting a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting is an actor. The company removed the video today after it received more than 200,000 views.
The video, a rip of a local Los Angeles CBS segment, showed an interview from last year with David Hogg, a student at the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people last week. Hogg, one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who has spoken out about gun regulations since the attack, was interviewed after filming a heated altercation with a lifeguard in Los Angeles.
Hogg has become the subject of fringe online conspiracies, which have pointed to his father, a retired FBI agent, as “proof” that his interviews are disingenuous. This week, Donald Trump Jr. even liked a tweet about the conspiracies.
On social media, the interview from last year is being pointed to as “evidence” to suggest that Hogg is a “crisis actor,” a regular theme of conspiracists, who believe actors appear at the sites of tragedies. Hogg was reportedly visiting Los Angeles at the time last year’s video was taken.
The crisis actor conspiracy gained traction on Facebook this week. On YouTube, a search for “David Hogg” returns several conspiracy videos. The most popular, which was removed at around 11AM ET, appeared to be a simple re-upload of the local news segment, but the description makes its purpose clear: “DAVID HOGG THE ACTOR....” A notice on the video now says, “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying.”
YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the conspiracy video or its policy for similar situations. A notice on the video now says, “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying.”
“This video should never have appeared in Trending,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement. “Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward.”
Hogg addressed the conspiracies during an interview with CNN. “I was a witness to this,” he said. “I’m not a crisis actor. I’m somebody that had to witness this and live through this, and I continue to have to do that.”