A mass shooting took place on Thursday, March 16th, at a high school in Grasse, southern France. Four individuals sustained gunshot wounds, including the school’s headmaster. A 16-year-old student was quickly arrested, having been found in possession of firearms.
In the hours following the incident, false information about the shooter’s identity circulated on the Internet.
One tweet that was quickly shared was from the account @Actu17, which covers news about “police, security and terrorism”. The tweet presented the assailant as an individual on the French government’s watch list and as the father of a child named “Djihad” (jihad, i.e. a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims).
(Translation: ‘S Card, he indicates that he will “kill everyone with a Kalachnikov” and names his son “jihad”.’)
But this tweet dates back to March 11th and refers to a different news story in Grasse. It concerns a 30-year-old Afghan who had issued death threats against magistrates and had been sentenced to a year in prison. The tweet – taken out of context – added to confusion about the Grasse shooter. A police source contacted by news outlet L’Express underlined that “the student arrested is not known to counter-terrorism services and has no known links to jihadist movements.”
The shooter was also quickly alleged to be Muslim in numerous tweets.
(Translation 1: ‘Grasse, the young Muslim arrested is a student of Tocqueville (17 years old), he was armed (2 pistols, 1 rifle). At least 3 people lightly injured.’ Translation 2: ‘#Shooting in #Grasse. The perpetrator is a 17-year-old student. What the media don’t say is that it’s a Muslim. Will they say it?’)
All these assertions were unfounded given that the assailant’s identity had not yet been made public when the tweets were posted.
Meanwhile, a ‘Sam Hyde’ also appeared multiple times as the alleged main suspect, often accompanied with the tag “white supremacist”.
(Translation: ‘#Grasse the suspect is Sam Hyde, known to secret services.’)
But ‘Sam Hyde’ is a notorious meme shared around mass shootings, a trap into which social media users easily fall. Hyde, a 31-year-old comedian, is cast as a shooting suspect and variously described each time – e.g. as a neo-Nazi or an Islamist. Notably he was also miscast as the main suspect in the Paris attacks in November 2015.