David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, has been outspoken about the proliferation of guns in the United States—and politicians’ inaction on gun control—after seeing 17 of his classmates killed by a school shooter. For speaking up, he’s been targeted by right-wing commentators and outright conspiracy theorists have their knives out for the 17-year-old.
On Tuesday, a YouTube user who goes by “mark m” uploaded a video showing David Hogg being interviewed by a local TV station in Redondo Beach, CA, as a witness to a dust-up with a lifeguard over a boogie board. “DAVID HOGG THE ACTOR....” the video’s caption read.
The video became so popular so quickly that YouTube named it as “#1 on trending.”
In the video, Hogg and a friend argued with a Redondo Beach lifeguard after his friend placed his boogie board on top of a trash can. Now, conspiracy theorists have seized on the clip as evidence that Hogg is not a high school student but a rather a paid “crisis actor” who moves from tragedy to tragedy (because, evidently, it’s impossible for a Florida high school student to also visit a beach in California).
After Splinter reached out to YouTube for comment on the video, the site took the video down somewhere between 10:30 and 11 am EST on Wednesday. YouTube’s community guidelines don’t explicitly restrict content that promotes unfounded conspiracy theories, but a notice left where the video was says it violated the site’s policies “on harassment and bullying.”
The video uploading giant, which is owned by Google, has clearly struggled to stem the tide of conspiracy theory content on its site in the wake of the Parkland shooting:
Even after YouTube removed the video, plenty of content from conspiracy theorists remained live. Here’s a sample of other YouTube videos that come up when you search David Hogg’s name:
See that little gray check mark next to The Alex Jones Channel? That means YouTube has “verified” Jones, a man who also believes the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children was a false-flag operation.
The conspiracy theory has gotten so much attention that Hogg had to address the claim in a CNN interview, telling Anderson Cooper: “I’m not a crisis actor.”
Remember, it’s not just anonymous 4chan trolls and Alex Jones acolytes who are spreading these wildly offensive conspiracy theories about teenage survivors of a horrific school shooting. Donald Trump Jr. has been promoting conspiracy theories about Hogg on his Twitter account, including the idea that because Hogg’s father is a retired FBI agent, his son’s outrage about the lack of gun control in the U.S. is a political stunt to discredit the president. And on Tuesday, a legislative aide to Florida state Representative Shawn Harrison emailed a local reporter to claim that Hogg and another Parkland survivor were not students, but “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”
It’s a good reminder that we live in a country filled with heavily armed, mentally unstable conspiracy theorists—some of whom just happen to be related to the president.
Update, 1:20 p.m. ET: In a statement to Splinter, a YouTube spokesperson said:
This video should never have appeared in Trending. Because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source, our system misclassified it. As soon as we became aware of the video, we removed it from Trending and from YouTube for violating our policies. We are working to improve our systems moving forward.