“I think it gives them a form of power,” he said of people who post his photo, often under accounts meant to look like they belong to news outlets. “Working with someone or making someone feel bad, or saying it’s just awful that they’re so numb, it gives them a sense of belonging.”
But what happens next is the even more insidious danger, Ms Phillips said: The joke is taken at face value by the significant portion of people who are already prepared to distrust society’s institutions.
“It only exacerbates all the conspiratorial stuff swirling around and puts us on a dangerous path,” she said. “It further corrodes our ability to be grounded in the same empirical reality.”
Such pranks have a long historical precedent, researchers said. A man, a comedian, has been falsely named as the shooter in several massacres, including a shooting in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.
“I don’t think you can find an event of significant magnitude where it doesn’t happen in stride — it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction at this point,” said Mike Caulfield, a research fellow at the Center for an Informed Public in the University. from Washington. “These days, people are promoting false flag theories and crisis actors 20 minutes after the event, and in a very stereotypical way.”
Mr Caulfield described the cycle as “almost factory production, going like clockwork”.
In Mr. Jordan’s case, his photo is resurfacing in social media posts from accounts that imitate the media and even copy their logos. Last year, a report that “Bernie” was executed by Taliban soldiers in Kabul was posted on Twitter by @CNNAfghan, a fake account that Twitter suspended, then amplified by @BBCAfghanNews, another suspended account, which cited “several reports” of the death.
“Bernie” was also described as a victim of a tornado in Kentucky in 2021 and an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2020. @FoxNewsUkraine, a fake account with 17 followers that was also suspended, claimed this year that he was a ‘right-wing journalist’ who was killed in Mariupol, while @RussiaCnn, which has two followers, said it was a pilot who was shot down while flying towards Russia.