By Daniel Dale, CNN
In the wake of the Tuesday mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, Twitter users went viral by making false claims about two of the state’s most prominent politicians: Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans.
False claim about a threat from Abbott’s office
On Thursday, a Twitter account going by the handle “My Cancer Journey” posted a three-tweet tale that was shared tens of thousands of times by others on Twitter before it was deleted.
The tweets purported to be written by someone whose nephew was shot in the massacre at Robb Elementary School. The tweets claimed that an Abbott representative knocked on their door, shortly after they returned home from identifying their nephew’s body, and that this representative “informed us he’s willing to pay us to stand with the Gov and say we don’t need stronger gun laws.”
The tweets claimed that the governor’s representative then threatened them with “charges and possibly worse” if they spoke about the conversation — then that the representative even said that “people get hurt and disappear all the time.”
In total, the three tweets were retweeted or quote-tweeted more than 67,000 times and liked more than 240,000 times. Many of these shares were from liberals opposed to Abbott and Cruz. While some wondered if the story was real or not, others took it as authentic.
Facts First: The viral story about Abbott is fake. The “My Cancer Journey” account deleted the three viral tweets on Friday, then the account was taken offline entirely. The man behind the account insisted in a brief Friday phone interview with CNN that an unknown person who had somehow gained access to the account had posted the tweets as a “hoax.” But the man refused to explain a series of past tweets, from long before the Uvalde massacre, in which he made a wide variety of other sensational and highly dubious claims about his life.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in an email: “This did not happen and would never be allowed to happen.” She said Abbott would never permit a staffer to show up unannounced at a grieving family’s door in the first place.
Speaking Friday in a distraught tone, the man behind the account claimed that he and an attorney were trying to figure out who was the real poster of the tweets. He also claimed that they had reported the supposed account intrusion to “authorities” he did not identify.
Rachel Millman, the social media editor at New York publication Observer, did much of the research into the history of suspect claims from the “My Cancer Journey” account. Various others on Twitter also raised questions about the account before CNN reached the man on Friday.
False claim about Cruz’s tweets
Another Twitter user accused Cruz of having tweeted the exact same three sentences after 12 different mass shootings, changing only the location each time.
This tweet, from a user who goes by “chavito” on Twitter and rap stage name Cali Kev, generated more than 17,000 retweets and quote-tweets, plus more than 43,000 likes.
“Chavito” wrote, “These mass shootings happen so much that Ted Cruz really got a template ready to tweet whenever they occur” — adding an expletive and calling the situation “wild.”
The viral tweet featured a collage of 12 images that showed Cruz supposedly tweeting the same words over and over: “Heidi & I are fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in [location]. We are in close contact with local officials, but the precise details are still unfolding. Thank you to heroic law enforcement & first responders for acting so swiftly.”
The man behind the “chavito” account did not respond to a request for comment. Cruz’s office confirmed that the senator tweeted this message in response to the Uvalde massacre but not in response to any others.
Some other Twitter users slammed Cruz for using some similar language, about prayer and law enforcement, in his tweets about some past shootings. That’s fair game. But the allegation in the viral tweet was that he has used the same three full sentences after 12 shootings, and that’s just not true.
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