Included in reports made by the BBC and The New York Times, the origins of this mystery have been traced to Internet trolls in Mexico
The role that social media and user profiles play in the wake of a tragedy has redefined how journalists report a story. Now, when a mass shooting takes place or an accident happens, it’s not long before images of those unfortunate souls who lost their lives to start appearing on the Internet, as people come to terms with their loss and share stories about how they lived. Or, in the case of a Mexican man, you could just be being trolled.
Following the deadly attack on Istanbul Atatürk Airport last month, where 42 people lost their lives in an act of terrorism, an image surfaced online of a man who was reportedly amongst the dead.
He also had perished in the EgyptAir crash the month before. And he was listed amongst the dead at the mass shooting in the Pulse gay night club in Orlando in June, his face included in the New York Times video compilation of all those who died.
Those are just some of the tragedies that have supposedly claimed this man’s life, but whenever one happens, his face surfaces again on social media.
It was after the EgyptAir crash that a number of news media outlets saw through the ruse, filing reports and articles warning their audience that online trolls had been putting up fake stories about victims.
The theory was that this was an attempt to troll the media into identifying a false report.
The BBC said that they were aware it was a joke and that the man was not a victim of the airline disaster, but they were unable to identify him. The British broadcaster did research the social media accounts that first reported the man’s death, tracing them back to Mexico.
A report by France 24 ultimately managed to uncover the perpetrators of the hoax, revealing that it was a revenge plot against the man seen in the images. Contacting the owners of the profiles, they said they knew the man personally and that he had conned them out of money.
“This man used to be my friend, but he’s cheated money out of me and at least four people who I know,” one of the hoaxers said.
“I lodged both civil and criminal complaints against him, but because the legal proceedings are dragging on and he still hasn’t given us back our money, we decided to push him by posting his photo online. Our goal is to ruin his reputation. We want the whole world to recognise his face.”
In order to verify if the group was telling the truth, France 24 succeeded in making contact with the man featured in the posts, who agreed to answer some questions under the promise that his name is kept anonymous.
“My photo is everywhere because of someone who started it as a prank after a legal dispute. I never reported the people who did this to me because, in Mexico, nothing ever happens in these kinds of cases,” he said.
“Now, my photo has appeared in several stories that were widely shared on Twitter. I contacted several media outlets like the BBC and the New York Times and asked them to delete my photo but they never responded.”
Whether or not these hoaxes make the people who post his image criminally liable is a somewhat murky situation. In most countries, laws governing cyber-harassment are still undeveloped, not nuanced enough to cover cases like this.
In some countries, existing media law could be called into action, leaving the perpetrators liable for cases of defamation. But for now, it seems likely that when the next tragedy occurs, the man’s face could well be listed among the dead again. His only hope is that this morbid meme is short lived.