“I think that gives them some form of power,” he said of the people who posted his photo, often under accounts meant to appear to belong to news organizations. “To mess with someone or to make someone feel bad or say that’s just horrible that they’re so desensitized gives them a sense of belonging.”
But what happens next is the even more insidious danger, Ms Phillips said: The joke will be taken at face value by a sizable segment of people who are already primed to distrust society’s institutions.
“It just aggravates all the conspiracy stuff that’s swirling around us and puts us on a dangerous course,” she said. “It undermines our ability to be grounded in the same empirical reality.”
Such pranks have long historical precedent, researchers said. A man, a comedianwas falsely credited as a shooter in several mass murders, including a 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California.
“I don’t think you can find an event of any significant magnitude where this doesn’t happen subsequently — it’s almost a reflex at this point,” said Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. “These days people are spreading false flag theories and crisis actors 20 minutes after the event and in a very formulaic way.”
Mr Caulfield described the cycle as “almost factory production running like clockwork”.
In the case of Mr Jordan, his photo has appeared on social media posts from accounts that mimic news outlets, even copying their logos. A report last year that “Bernie” was executed by Taliban soldiers in Kabul was posted on Twitter by @CNNAfghan, a fake account that had Twitter banned, and then supplemented by @BBCAfghanNews, another banned account , which cited “multiple reports” about Death.
“Bernie” was also described as a victim of a tornado in Kentucky in 2021 and an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon in 2020. @FoxNewsUkraine, a fake account with 17 followers that was also suspended, claimed this year he was “a right-wing journalist” who was killed in Mariupol, while @RussiaCnn, which has two followers, said he was a pilot, who was shot down on the flight to Russia.