In a distressing turn of events, conspiracy theory machine QAnon is weaving a narrative that implicates politicians in orchestrating school shootings to divert attention from the ongoing Jeffrey Epstein scandal. This baseless claim gained traction following a recent school shooting in Perry, Iowa, where 17-year-old student, Dylan Butler, took his own life after killing one sixth grader and injuring several others.
QAnon members wasted no time in suggesting that the shooting was a deliberate distraction, labelling it a “false flag” operation to shield influential individuals from the fallout of the Epstein case. Despite the lack of evidence connecting the shooting to the now-deceased financier, conspiracy theorists argue that the timing—aka directly coinciding with the release of court documents related to the Epstein case—is too convenient to be accidental.
Within hours of the shooting, which took place on 4 January 2024, X’s algorithm was under scrutiny for promoting an alarming conspiracy theory linking the Perry, Iowa, high school shooting to a broader Epstein cover-up. This alarming development follows the release of 943 pages of court documents on 3 January, shedding light on Epstein’s alleged child sex trafficking ring and triggering a surge in conspiracy theories. X (formerly known as Twitter) is now criticised for potentially amplifying this theory to an even wider audience.
One X User @ShadowofEzra posted a message moments after Butler opened fire on his classmates, resulting in at least one fatality and five injuries.
The post garnered over 1.5 million views by the time of publication: “Not even 24 hours after the Epstein court document was released we have multiple victims who were shot at Perry High School in Perry, Iowa. Make no mistake this is a false flag to distract the media from discussing anything in relation to Jeffrey Epstein and his clients.”
The message continued: “As more names will be released in the coming days, we expect more serious distractions and false flags.”
However, the narrative being widely spread is entirely fabricated, likely influenced by the conspiracy theorists’ own social media algorithms. These algorithms, highly criticised considering the historic role Facebook has played in promoting false news articles, tend to isolate users in feeds that are specifically tailored to their preferences, as opposed to objective news.
In reality, every major news outlet has extensively covered the recently unsealed documents. Google recorded over 3.8 million new items in the last 24 hours, including articles from reputable sources like The New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and many others.
Moreover, there were 134 incidents of gunfire on US school grounds in 2023, an unfortunate statistic that makes school shootings more likely than not, irrespective of Epstein’s case files.
However, not everyone, including some political candidates, seems to have conducted even minimal research before sharing conspiratorial opinions. Florida Republican Lavern Spicer, running for the state’s 24th Congressional District, posted on X: “Not even 12 hours after the Epstein documents are released, there is a mass shooting at a high school in Perry, Iowa. I ain’t saying nothing.”
The QAnon conspiracy, which originated on online forums, often employs tactics that target search algorithms, facilitating the rapid spread of misinformation by often shaping public opinion without credible evidence to support their claims.
Parallel to these theories, the internet was also ablaze with rumours surrounding model Naomi Campbell’s relationship and connections to Epstein. After a video of Campbell defending herself against these association claims in 2019 began making the rounds, Virginia Giuffre, an alleged victim of Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell, posted a rather scathing picture collage on X:
Giuffre wrote: “You watched me be abused. You saw me at your parties, you saw me in Epstein’s homes, you saw me on the plane, you saw me get my haircut, you saw me on the streets.” The tweet included photos of the victim, who was a mere teenager at the time, standing next to Campbell.
It’s crucial to emphasise how the recent shooting incident holds no apparent correlation with the Epstein case. Despite the conspiracy theories circulating on social media, these events remain entirely independent of each other.
The rapid spread of groundless conspiracy theories post-tragedy is a stark reminder that misinformation can infiltrate public discourse like an unwelcome guest at a party. It’s a fertile ground for wild tales, but let’s keep our wits sharp and always double-check the facts to avoid getting lost in the web of fiction.