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Sam Hyde is not the perpetrator of a mass shooting. But whenever a shooter strikes and the news reports casualties, trolls race to name Hyde as the culprit. In the worst cases, authorities have been tricked into giving Hyde’s name to the press.
The “prank” of naming Hyde goes back to at least 2015, when Twitter users falsely accused him of the shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. A fake Vice News screenshot naming Hyde got a lot of traction when the Million Dollar Extreme Twitter account retweeted it. It happened again in 2016 in the aftermath of shootings in San Bernardino and at UCLA.
@Pzfeeed OMG people, this "Sam Hyde" has been named as a shooter in almost every recent incident: pic.twitter.com/ZRSu7PI3Ey— 🇺🇸*SkyQueen*🇺🇸 ✈️👑⭐️ (@Triquetra331) February 21, 2016
The pranks are stupid, but they’re not often successful. Once officials release the name of the real suspect, the Hyde hype quickly dies down. But in the worst cases, authorities and news outlets fall for the hoax and say Hyde’s name. In 2017, for example, a Texas congressman incorrectly reported Hyde was the shooter in a church massacre that killed 26.
It’s not clear where the Hyde pranks started, or why. The anarchic, often white-supremacist posters at 4chan have a love-hate relationship with Hyde, and Hyde’s own fanbase also loves to troll him. For his part, Hyde seems to think it’s hilarious. In 2016, he gave a trollish, meme-filled statement to Forbes about the latest false accusations against him, adding, “It’s crazy, haha, yeah, crazy, haha!”
Although the joke is three years old and extremely tired—not to mention that authorities have become aware of it and are much less likely to be fooled—trolls are still trotting it out in 2018. As news broke of a shooting at YouTube’s San Bruno, California headquarters, Twitter posters immediately jumped on the Hyde train.
It has been confirmed by multiple reputable sources that the shooter is white supremacist Sam Hyde. The patriarchy is just trying to defend white supremacy and hide the facts#WhitePrivilege #March4OurLives #EndGunViolence— Love Doctor (@LoveDoctorTips1) April 3, 2018
I think the shooter goes by the name Sam Hyde— ヨセフ (@Escaped_Destiny) April 3, 2018
The motivation for trolling has always been to elicit an emotional reaction that trolls can mock and laugh at. In the case of the Hyde meme, the objective is no longer to fool normies and news outlets into blaming Hyde since everyone’s long since caught on. Now it’s about “triggering” people into getting angry at the spread of obvious misinformation.
“Maybe we spread the Sam Hyde meme just for laughs when you freak out,” one troll tweeted after the YouTube shooting.
Maybe we spread the Sam Hyde Shooter meme just for laughs when you freak out.— Toad Mckinley (@ToadMcKinley) April 3, 2018
Or maybe we're bringing to light the rabid ignorance and desire to use tragedy to prop up one's own false sense of morality in a modern society populated by fucking sheep.
Probably just the lols tho.
The only way to win this game is not to play. Just ignore the meme and allow its entertainment value to dwindle to zero.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.