Actor Adam Baldwin—Jane from Firefly—shared an animated gif of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez tearing up the constitution with the hashtag Vorwärts. The word means “forward”—a reference to the Hitler Youth, the image is fake, and Baldwin claimed the whole thing is political satire. Not all of his followers got the message.
Baldwin isn’t the source of the photoshopped image, but he helped it spread. Users on Gab—a right-leaning Twitter alternative—shared image repeatedly and pushed it on Facebook. The original images comes from a Teen Vogue photoshoot posted to Instagram that shows Gonzalez and other mass shooting survivors tearing up paper practice targets, the things people shoot at a shooting range. The faked images of Gonzales tearing the second amendment are clearly doctored upon a closer look, and some people on Twitter and in the media were quick to point that out.
The image spread over the weekend as thousands of people took to the streets as part of the March For Our Lives—a peaceful demonstration aimed at reforming American gun laws to prevent school shootings. The image was quickly debunked and thousands of people are calling it out as fake, but others are sharing it around the internet are sharing it in earnest—afraid of a teenager who they think wants to take away their guns.
It’s worth noting that many of the Twitter accounts spreading this image say they are free speech advocates. Gab, notoriously, is a “free speech social network” and an alternative to Twitter. In this version of what “free speech” means, lies and doctored images meant to intimidate are fair game; calling out those lies is seen as censorship.
Meanwhile, much of their speech is explicitly designed to undermine the speech of others—in this case, a teenager who recently went through a traumatic mass shooting at her high school. When someone calls them out for spreading false information, they hide behind claims that the whole thing was satire.
Motherboard has written at length about how new technologies make it easier to create believable, computer-generated images that could make the internet’s fake news problem far worse than it already is. As the fake images of Gonzales show, you don’t even need advanced tech, just a willingness to spread a lie.