British tabloid newspaper Daily Mirror has pulled a story focused on Santa Barbara, Calif., mass-shooting suspect Elliot Rodger after a reporter working for the paper fell victim to an Internet hoax this week.
The Mirror reported on Tuesday that the 22-year-old college student, who authorities say killed six people in a premeditated mass-murder spree before committing suicide, was addicted to a bodybuilding supplement that caused his demeanor to noticeably change over the course of several weeks.
The information came from Chris Akin of Chicago, who is said to have been a “close friend” of Rodger. “He would tell me how he wanted to get into the bodybuilding lifestyle and started on creatine around four months ago,” Akin was quoted as saying to the Mirror. “I could notice the anger and changes every time we spoke on Skype.”
The scenario seemed plausible: Rodger left a series of YouTube videos and a detailed 140-page autobiographical manifesto in which he talked about being rejected by females and expressed frustration that he hadn’t lost his virginity. He also frequented several web forums, including one specific to bodybuilding, so the angle that he would be hooked on supplements certainly would appeal to a reporter in search of a scoop.
But the entire story was concocted by some online pranksters who, for several days, e-mailed a freelance journalist an elaborate, but utterly false, portrait of a sexually-frustrated young man turned killer.
A tipster told TheBlot Magazine on Wednesday that freelance reporter Emma Foster may have found Akin by following links from at least one of the several fake Facebook profiles purporting to belong to the mass-shooting suspect last weekend. Akin, using the alias “ghettocandyman,” posted several screen captures showing Facebook conversations between himself and the reporter. Many of the messages Akin sent to Foster matched what was in the Mirror article.
Several of the absurd points made by Akin — including how Rodger may have been set off after seeing a friend die in a freak weightlifting accident — were also in the Mirror article. At one point, Foster asks Akin to send along photographs of the man with Rodger, possibly as proof that the two knew each other. “I…do not have any pictures right now, but will send messages when I get a chance,” Akin told the reporter.
The time stamp on the forum post was a half-hour after Akin sent his last message to Foster. The Mirror published the story a short time later, and as is customary in the digital news industry, it was regurgitated by aggregators working at other news outlets, including the New York Post and Britain’s Daily Mail.
The Mirror and the Daily Mail pulled their articles after Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan debunked the idea that creatine could cause someone to snap. “Literally any other drug of choice that Elliot Rodger could have chosen would be a more likely candidate for making him crazy, because creatine does not make you crazy,” Nolan wrote.
Nolan later updated his post to include the link to Akin’s post on FitMisc, something he described as “complete trolling.” Foster did not respond to an e-mail request from TheBlot for comment.
Copies of the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail posts as the appeared before they were pulled can be viewed here and here.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.