- Marianna Spring
- Disinformation reporter
Henry Dyne received hundreds of offensive messages after appearing in a BBC New Year’s Eve report. The fountain? Anti-vaccine activists who falsely believed he was a “crisis actor” who pretended to be sick with covid-19.
A few days after Christmas, Henry Dyne nonchalantly glanced at his phone while ordering drinks at a bar. Upon unlocking the device, he encountered more than 600 notifications.
He began to despair – it was something he had experienced before – but, says the 29-year-old from Surrey, England, this time it was “a hundred times worse”.
The messages were unpleasant, abusive, even threatening.
“The next time you’re in a hospital bed,” said one, “it won’t be with coronavirus.”
No luck and in the hospital
Dyne’s misfortune began when he contracted the disease in the summer of 2021.
He had not been vaccinated, he explains, because he thought his relative youth would make any contagion mild.
But the tech consultant, who also enjoys sharing jokes on his Instagram account, was out of luck.
“Every time I went to bed, I didn’t sleep, I was tossing and turning. And one day I just woke up at 6:00 in the morning and said, ‘I’m going to call an ambulance,'” he says.
“The scariest thing wasron fever and hallucinations”.
In July, Dyne ended up in hospital, hooked up to an oxygen pump, and spoke to BBC journalists reporting on the rise in Covid cases among young people.
“I just thought it would be good to come forward and say, ‘This is my experience, it’s much worse than I thought, so get vaccinated,'” he says.
He did not think that in a short time he would become the target of a group of anti-vaccine activists.
The first of the accusations was that Dyne was a “crisis actor”.
What is a crisis actor?
The idea of ”crisis actors,” people who fake or are hired to play some tragedy or disaster, is part of many contemporary conspiracy theories.
The concept was used to invent that the parents of the children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting (December 2012) were faking their personal tragedies.
Of course the BBC does not use “crisis actors” nor does he pay the interviewees. Dyne did not receive any payment for his contribution.
But that didn’t stop anti-vaccine activists from fabricating false information and going on the attack.
“How much did the BBC pay you to pretend to have covid-19?” read one message. Another: “You’re rubbish, mate. Karma is real, mate.”
There were much worse comments, too explicit to share here.
The wildest theories spun out of control as activists tracked down Dyne’s online accounts.
Some discovered his LinkedIn profile, which featured one of his former employers, a company that won government contracts to supply computers to schools during the pandemic.
The detail was true, but Dyne was no longer an employee of the company, the connection was tenuous, a coincidence.
After the initial wave of seizures subsided, on the way to a full recovery, Dyne attempted to joke about it on his Instagram bio, where he sarcastically described himself as “Academy Award-Winning Crisis Actor”.
“Humor is my way of dealing with things, you can only laugh,” he explains. “I couldn’t imagine that joke would get me in trouble.”
The second part of the attacks came after the broadcast of a BBC special on December 27 entitled “2021 in review: the coronavirus pandemic”.
It included a clip from the original Dyne interview.
Someone videotaped themselves watching the special, googling Henry Dyne’s name, finding his Instagram bio, and reading the phrase “crisis actor.”
And shared it on the internet.
It’s unclear who made the original video, but it was quickly shared in anti-vaccine circles on YouTube and Facebook before taking off on Twitter.
One of the main drivers of the Twitter storm was a budding Welsh politician, Richard Taylor. He shared the video on Facebook and generated thousands of reactions with a tweet.
Taylor received 20% of the vote in the town of Blaenau Gwent as the Brexit Party candidate in the 2019 election. He recently mounted a campaign raising over $80,000 for a cinema that was shut down for breaking Brexit rules. pandemic.
The politician’s posts said “We see you” next to the video, but when contacted by the BBC, he replied by email: “In my original post I didn’t mean to imply anything… It is my social media followers who draw conclusions from what they see or read.” .
“It is unfortunate that Dyne chose to refer to himself sarcastically on his social media accounts.”
“I have believed all my life that when someone tells you who or what they are, you should believe them, so I took Dyne seriously when he referred to himself as a crisis actor,” Taylor wrote.
The politician also condemned the abuses and threats.
“I would never intentionally contribute to the abuse or threat of another individual, having spent a large part of my life dedicated to helping and serving others,” he said.
But the viral video led to hundreds of other abusive and threatening messages against Dyne.
He estimates that it was three times what he received in July, including several death threats and fake accounts created with your name.
Taylor’s Facebook post was labeled false by fact checkers. A video is still active on YouTube, as well as several tweets showing the aforementioned video on Twitter.
The company Meta, owner of Instagram and Facebook, has removed the fake accounts.
“We apologize to Henry for the distress this must have created for him,” Meta said in a statement.
“Accounts impersonating someone else are not allowed on Instagram and we have removed reported accounts.”
For its part, Twitter said in a statement: “We continue to take strong action against content and accounts that promote demonstrably false information about COVID-19 and that constitutes a danger.”
YouTube is investigating the video in question.
All three companies condemned online harassment and said they have rules and tools to protect users.
While he regrets the various rounds of abuse, Henry Dyne continues to provoke those who accuse him, saying, for example, that he is “available to fake other disasters.”
“That’s literally all you can do,” he says. “Something has to be done about social media. It’s all too obvious that they’ve gotten out of control.”
Not ruling out a career in stand-up comedy, Dyne says his Covid-19 episode wasn’t funny at all, but all too real.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.