Conservative social media users are back on their bullshit (though, being “back” would mean they somehow left it).
This weekend, hundreds of thousands of advocates for gun reform participated in March for Our Lives rallies in all 50 states, with one of the largest and most visible demonstrations happening in Washington, D.C. There, Emma González, a survivor of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., gave a stirring and emotional speech.
On conservative social media, however, an altogether different—and fake—image of González was being spread.
Leading up to the March for Our Lives, González wrote an op-ed for Teen Vogue and participated in a digital cover and video for the publication. The images and video feature her ripping apart a gun-range target—an obvious symbol of the gun violence she and other gun-reform activists around the country are trying to fight.
One far-right account on Twitter, Gab, posted a doctored image that replaced that gun-range target with the U.S. Constitution. The GIF was widely circulated after the account posted it Saturday.
The image was shared enough times that it concerned Teen Vogue Chief Content Officer Phillip Picardi, who took to Twitter to straighten things out and call out the conservative accounts for their targeted harassment of González.
Picardi displayed a side-by-side of the original image of González and the photoshopped one spread by “so-called ‘Gun Rights Activists,’” as Picardi deemed them.
“The fact that we even have to clarify this is proof of how democracy continues to be fractured by people who manipulate and fabricate the truth,” Picardi continued in his thread.
He also noted how González, who has emerged as a leading face of the post-Parkland fight against gun violence, would draw particular vitriol from conservatives.
“The attacks being lobbied against Emma follow the all-too-familiar patterns: she’s an opinionated woman, she’s Latinx, she is queer,” Picardi tweeted. “Some say those are strikes already against her when confronting the establishment.”
The conservative Twitter account, Gab, clarified later that the photoshopped animation it posted was “obviously a parody/satire.”
“You’re all mad because it’s believable, isn’t it? That’s the best type of satire. It’s a comedic reflection of reality,” the account wrote.
The power of satire is actually grounded in exaggeration—and the fear that gun reform is just the first step in completely repealing the Second Amendment isn’t a fringe belief in conservative circles. It’s actually, for many, the philosophical basis of their opposition. A doctored image of González tearing up the Constitution isn’t “believable”—it’s believed.
In layman’s terms: That’s not how satire works.
These kinds of terrible Photoshop jobs aren’t uncommon. Last year, one widely circulated photo during the height of the NFL protests against police brutality showed defensive end Michael Bennett waving a burning American flag in the Seattle Seahawks’ locker room.
Many who posted and responded to the photo on Facebook appeared to believe the image was real. Others didn’t care.
“Fake or not, when they take the knee it’s the same difference,” wrote one commenter on the Vets for Trump Facebook page (the original post has since been taken down).
This online effort to harass and discredit activists is standard fare for a conservative media that has repeatedly and consistently branded the Black Lives Matter movement a “terrorist” organization. But as veteran and reporter Alex Horton noted in the Washington Post, their tactics have, in some ways, already “paid off”:
The first “top news” video that appears in a YouTube search for “David Hogg” is a takedown from conservative outlet the Blaze. “It’s hard to not just go after this kid,” host Pat Gray said in the video published Saturday, describing Hogg.
That’s the funny thing. It’s actually pretty easy not to go after children. But you wouldn’t know it from the way “gun rights” activists and the conservative media have handled things.