In the chaotic hours after a deadly mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, false information about who was behind the violence spread like wildfire on social media.
On Reddit's main Canadian forum, a commenter claimed to have heard two suspects identified on police radio as "Bashir al-Taweed and Hassan Matti, Syrians who entered Canada as refugees last week."
Screenshots of the unverified Reddit comment soon ricocheted around the internet.
The names appear to have been made up. But soon people started circulating images of two men they claimed were the suspect. Those photos were taken from an old CBC article.
Even as police stayed silent on the identity of the suspect or suspects, the Syrian refugee claim continued to spread.
Anti-Muslim blogs and Facebook pages seized on the false information and helped propagate it further.
Meanwhile, a different lie was spreading on Twitter. A parody Reuters account, which has since been suspended, said two white supremacists were responsible for the shooting.
Many reporters retweeted the false report. The Daily Beast was fooled by the account and had to issue a correction.
Prominent anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller jumped on the confusion to claim that "the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim as is generally the case in these circumstances."
There was more confusion after Quebec police announced that only one of the men being detained was a suspect. Initial reports claimed Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed Belkhadir were both suspects. But police later released Belkhadir after determining he was a witness.
But not all media treated the new information the same way. Fox News left an old tweet online that said the attacker "was of Moroccan origin." They replied to it with new information and updated the associated article, but the tweet is still being cited.
But even though Belkhadir was cleared by police, some media outlets continued to cast suspicion on him.
One of the Canadian media outlets still questioning Mohamed Belkhadir's innocence is TheRebel.Media, which also bought the domain QuebecTerror.com shortly after the shooting.
Rebel reporter Faith Goldy went to a vigil in Quebec City and asked people there whether they were "worried that there was another suspect" long after Belkhadir's release.
The Rebel further muddied the waters when it published a post and video about the supposed "bitter rivalry" between the affected mosque and another one nearby, even though this had nothing to do with the shooter.
Tarek Fatah, a columnist for the Toronto Sun tabloid, went so far as to say Belkhadir was an accomplice who was being shielded by police. His tweets still haven't been deleted.
Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B
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Jane Lytvynenko is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada. PGP fingerprint: A088 89E6 2500 AD3C 8081 BAFB 23BA 21F3 81E0 101C.
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