‘People could be charged’: Social media rumors about Moscow case leading to doxxing, harassment
Dec. 9, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 14, 2022 at 2:07 p.m.
From the moment the Vandal Alert went out four weeks ago telling the University of Idaho community four students had been killed, rumors began swirling.
They didn’t stop when the brutality of the crimes became clearer. They didn’t stop when investigators discouraged spreading lies and speculation. They didn’t stop when victims’ families begged for people to wait for the facts.
Instead, it worsened.
A recent example: a Texas woman who through “building her right brain,” and studying cabbala and Tarot, said she can connect with people dead or alive and knows the truth of what happened early in the morning of Nov. 13. She has taken to TikTok to make baseless claims that a University of Idaho faculty member enlisted the ex-boyfriend of one of the victims to do the killings.
She included the name of the faculty member, along with her email and phone number, on her posts. And she named the ex-boyfriend.
“She’s, like, torpedoing my life,” the faculty member said. “And for no apparent reason.”
The Spokesman-Review is not naming the faculty member to prevent the further spread of the self-described psychic’s theories. Both women were interviewed by The Spokesman.
The Moscow Police Department warned Friday that harassment online or in-person could lead to criminal charges.
“People could be charged possibly in the future if it continues to happen,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said of harassment. He posted a video to the department’s YouTube channel Friday.
Investigators have continued to urge people to refrain from spreading rumors and speculation online, saying the Moscow Police Department is the only source of official information.
“Investigators have been monitoring online activity related to this ongoing and active case and are aware of the large amount of rumors and misinformation being shared as well as harassing and threating behavior toward potentially involved parties,” a Friday news release reads. “Anyone engaging in threats or harassment whether in person, online or otherwise needs to understand that they could be subjecting themselves to criminal charges.”
While not releasing much information on the investigation, the department has debunked dozens of rumors related to the case in news releases over the last month. The Moscow Police Department website has multiple sections dedicated to rumor control.
The misinformation, accusations and rumors are a “major disservice” to the Moscow community, victims’ families and the people consuming them, said Aaron Snell, communications director of the Idaho State Patrol.
“They want solutions and they want answers, and we know in the absence of information, the vacuum of information and truth and facts, then just speculation and rumors start, and we recognize that,” Snell said.
“So we’re trying to do our best to put out as much information as possible.”
‘A hard thing to reckon with’
Still reeling from the horrific crimes in her community, the faculty member was enjoying her Thanksgiving break with her family when she got an email alerting her to the psychic’s videos.
“I’ve worked for a long time to create a professional reputation,” the faculty member said. “And she’s making false statements that have no grounding in the truth.”
The psychic frequently does readings on murder cases, telling her viewers she can solve them. She said her gifts began three or four years ago, and grew as she worked to refine them.
About two weeks ago, a viewer commented on the psychic’s TikTok, asking her to do a reading on the University of Idaho homicides, the psychic said.
When the psychic did her reading, she said she saw that it was a teacher who ordered the execution of the students.
More readings led her to a specific subject area, which she googled. On the department’s web page, the faculty member popped up first, and the psychic said she immediately knew the faculty member was the killer.
The psychic got on TikTok and told her 90,000 followers the faculty member’s name. She then began accusing one of the victims’ ex-boyfriends of being involved, naming the young man.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, the psychic posted dozens of videos garnering thousands of views.
“It has been extremely difficult to just feel safe and to feel like my reputation hasn’t been damaged,” the faculty member said.
While many comments call the psychic’s posts crazy or misinformed, others agree with her.
“Lawsuit here!!” one commenter wrote.
“Did you just pick a random professor out of a hat?” another said.
But others said “you’re on to something” or asked follow-up questions, encouraging the psychic to continue posting.
The faculty member said many people have reported the posts as harassment to TikTok, a social media platform.
“TikTok has been utterly unresponsive,” the faculty member said.
The faculty member immediately alerted the university and filed a police report. Police were sympathetic, the faculty member said, despite their limited resources at the moment.
“This is taking up their time and their resources,” the faculty member said of police. “They’ve acknowledged that I have no connection to the students and to this case.”
After the doxxing online, the faculty member received threats. She bought security cameras, stopped going to campus and created safety plans at her children’s schools.
The university has been “very, very supportive,” the faculty member said, removing her contact information from the website, among other things. The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We’re all grieving, and for this to just take an ugly turn … it’s like I’m not allowed to grieve with everyone because now I’m a security risk if I’m on campus,” the faculty member said. “It’s just harder to be a part of the community right now.”
She hired an attorney and sent multiple cease and desist letters to the psychic, who continues to make videos.
The psychic told The Spokesman-Review she’s not worried about legal action or the ramifications of accusing two people, with no evidence, of murder, because the psychic said she knows she’s right.
While the faculty member is scared and struggling to deal with the online harassment, she also thinks about how these types of rumors must affect the family members of the victims so much more.
“Just having these kind of false stories out there that have no connection to evidence,” she said, “it just must be horrific for the families.”
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