After being featured in a BBC News report for the year, a man received hundreds of abusive messages. Source? Anti-vaccine activists falsely believed that he was a “crisis actor”, pretending to be ill with Covid-19.
Henry Dyne checked his phone a few days after Christmas while ordering two drinks at a bar. He was greeted with more than 600 notifications as he opened his phone.
He started to despair. It was something he had experienced before, but this time, the 29-year old from Surrey said, it was “a hundred times worse”.
These messages were abusive, threatening, and even degrading.
One wrote, “Next time you’re hospitalized,” “It won’t be with Corona.”
Unlucky and in Hospital
Dyne was infected with the virus in summer 2021. He said he hadn’t been vaccinated because he believed that the virus would be mild in his youth.
The IT consultant, who enjoys sharing jokes on Instagram, was not lucky.
“Everytime I thought I was sleeping, I don’t sleep.” I’m all over. Then, one day, I woke up at six in the morning. I said that I was calling an ambulance.” he adds. “The most frightening part was the fever, and the hallucinations.
He was admitted to hospital in July. He was connected to an oxygen tank and spoke with BBC journalists, who were there to report on the rise in Covid cases among young people.
He says, “I thought it might be quite nice to go on record, and say, ‘This is my experience. It is a lot worse that I thought. So get the vaccine.”
He did not think that he would soon be the focal point of anti-vaccine activists. This was the beginning of accusations that he was a “crisis actor.”
What does it mean to be a “crisis actor”?
Many conspiracy theories today include the idea of “crisis actors”, people who are hired or pretend to be involved in a particular tragedy or catastrophe.
This concept was used to claim that the parents of Sandy Hook’s victims were faking their own tragedies. Motivated activists can use this idea to pretend that real suffering is faked.
BBC News doesn’t employ “crisis actors” and does not pay interviewees. Dyne wasn’t paid for his contributions.
However, this did not stop anti-vaccine activists who made up false information to attack the vaccine system.
“How much did you get paid by the BBC to pretend that you had Covid-19?” One message said. Another message read: “You are a dirtbag, mate. Karma is real, my friend.
There were worse comments, however, many of which are too explicit to be shared here.
As activists searched through his online accounts, wild theories spiralled out of control. One of his LinkedIn profiles listed his former employer, a company which had provided laptops to schools as part of the government contracts.
Although the detail was true, he was not employed by the company anymore. The connection was tenuous and coincidental.
Dyne had made a complete recovery after the initial abuse wave. He joked about it on Instagram, calling himself a “1x Academy Award Winning Crisis Actor”
He says that humor is my way to cope, and all you can do is laugh.
Round two was after the BBC News Special on 27 December called Review 2021: Coronavirus Pandemic. The clip included Dyne’s original interview.
Someone uploaded a video of them watching the special and then went on Google to find Henry Dyne’s name. He also found his Instagram bio.
Although it is not clear who made the original video, it was quickly republished in anti-vaccine circles via YouTube and Facebook before being popularized on Twitter.
Richard Taylor, a hopeful politician from Wales, was one of the key drivers of the Twitter storm. With a single tweet, he posted the video to Facebook and received thousands of responses.
Taylor was elected to the Blaenau Gwent Assembly as a Brexit Party candidate in the 2019 General Election. He received 20% of the vote. After violating Covid regulations, he set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise PS61,000 for a Swansea movie theatre that was closed.
Taylor posted “We see you” with the video. However, Taylor replied via email that “In my original posting, I wasn’t implying anything… My social media followers can draw their own conclusions from what they read or see.
Taylor said, “It is unfortunate Mr Dyne decided that he referred himself sarcastically on his social media accounts.” Taylor also wrote, “I have lived believing in the principle that when someone tells me who or what they’re, I believe them. So, I would have taken Mr Dyne’s reference to himself as a crisis actor at face value.”
He condemned all abuses and threats.
He wrote, “I would not intentionally contribute to the abuse or threatening of another individual.”
However, Dyne received hundreds of more abusive and threatening texts after the viral video. He estimates that three times as many were sent to him than in the July initial wave. This includes several death threats and fake accounts.
Fact-checkers labeled Taylor’s Facebook post as false. YouTube still has the video, and several viral tweets featuring the video are available on Twitter.
Meta, which controls Instagram and Facebook, has taken down fake accounts.
Meta stated that they apologise for Henry’s distress.
“Accounts that pretend to be someone else on Instagram are not permitted and we have deleted the accounts reported.”
Twitter stated in a statement that it will continue to enforce enforcement actions against content and accounts making misleading or false claims about Covid-19. This could lead to serious harm.”
YouTube is currently investigating the video.
All three social media platforms condemned online harassment, and they all say that they have tools and rules to prevent it.
Henry Dyne, while lamenting the abuse, continues to make fun of his accusers and jokes that he is available to “fake other disasters.”
He said, “That’s all you can do.” “Something has to happen with social media. It’s so obvious that social media has exploded out of control.
He would be open to a career as a stand-up comedian, but he claims that his encounter with Covid-19 was not very funny and all too real.