Late into Monday night, friends were reaching out to Andrea Noel to see if she was all right. They’d seen her picture in a tweet shared thousands of times saying she was missing after the terror attack in Manchester, England.
Noel was safe all along in Mexico.
“The really horrific part is that I tried to find out how many times it’s been shared,” Noel, a Daily Beast contributor, said. “There are some tweets that have tens of thousands of retweets. Four thousand here, 7,000 there.
“While all these people were looking for these families, looking for their daughters, there were pictures of YouTube stars, me, and another woman in Mexico.”
By Tuesday morning, her face even appeared on Fox News. Fox & Friends aired a tweet by @TitanBuilder1 that had been retweeted over 1,000 times, with both missing children and uninvolved YouTube celebrities, that claimed they were still missing.
“There’s something going on this morning on social media, where given the fact that there are so many children who have not reported home to their parents, their friends and family members are concerned and so they’re posting photo montages of many of the missing children,” said host Steve Doocey.
Noel was one of several public figures and YouTube personalities whose photos were mixed into viral collages with genuine missing persons from Monday’s terror attack that killed 22 people and injured more than 50 at Manchester Arena.
Fox & Friends, along with many others on Twitter, had been duped by online targeted harassment campaigns, taking advantage of the virality of tweets during a crisis to extract revenge on online enemies.
In Noel’s case, she had been placed in the collage due to a year-long Twitter argument with a Mexican shock jock and online trolls. It’s a well known abuse tactic mastered by 4chan as way to place pictures of enemies and cult figures on the site at the center of global news events.
“I’ve been combatting misogynist trolls and this is just one other extension of a yearlong fight against these people,” she said.
Noel was publicly sexually assaulted on the street in Mexico City last year and became the subject of countless Mexican tabloid and Internet headlines. She wrote about her experience for The Daily Beast earlier this year.
Since then, her social media accounts were flooded with hate and targeted abuse. Last night, shortly after the attack, she had her photo added as a missing person, despite living tens of thousand miles away.
“Friends started sending me messages because they saw it popping up on the Instagram stories of beauty bloggers. At one point, it was in the New Zealand Herald. Even the actor James Woods tweeted it at one point. Journalists and friends were getting in touch with me to make sure I’m okay,” she said. “All of this energy that could’ve been put into genuine social work was put instead into trollishness.”
Noel said it was all compounded when some of the teens who genuinely didn’t know they were duped refused to take their tweets down as their posts racked up retweets and more followers.
“The first person that I replied to, her tweet has something like 14,000 retweets. I responded and told her I was alive. A whole lot of other people responded and told her the same thing,” she said. “Instead of deleting it, she put up a video and said, ‘I didn’t make this.’”
This isn't the first time this week Fox News has cited anonymous online postings as source material for a story. Sean Hannity used several segments on his show last week to lend credence to the 4chan and Reddit conspiracy that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered for political reasons, despite providing no evidence. One guest even retracted claims shortly after appearing on Hannity.
Meanwhile, the Manchester hoax is just another manifestation of targeted harassment in the form of viral fake news, Noel said, and it’s starting to have negative real world effects.
“It’s unbelievable that people will take advantage of such a chaotic, confusing, terrible situation and make something like this viral when people were genuinely looking for their family members,” she said.
—Colin Jones and Robert Hilly contributed to this report.