McLaughlin hoax is not a laughing matter

In the latest bizzaro world of pretendian news — a new story is breaking on social media.

BethAnn McLaughlin, a former professor at Vanderbilt University announced that a friend of hers, Twitter user @sciencing_bi, had died of COVID-19.

Thing is, there is no such person as @sciencing_bi.

Yep. McLaughlin made up a fake friend — a Native American bisexual university professor who supposedly worked for Arizona State University. The false person claimed they were Hopi, had fled from Alabama due to the oppression of queer people in that state and set up a life in Arizona. They then announced to the world they were the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fake account, @sciencing_bi, broadcast in a series of now deleted tweets, great detail about her non-existent coronavirus infection including lamenting over a high fever, blaming Arizona State University for forcing them to show up to work — where the fake person claimed they contracted COVID-19.

Of course, following the announcement that an ASU prof was dead — academics on Twitter went into research mode and were angered that the university did not announce the death of a faculty member. The university launched an investigation and quickly determined that no such person existed.

Meanwhile, McLaughlin was orchestrating a long and dramatic lament of the death of her “friend” — including now deleted tweets reported by the New York Times on Tuesday.

“She was supposed to get Hopi talisman for health as gifts for us but she ran out,” Ms. McLaughlin tweeted. “God. The irony of running out of health talisman.”

The Times reported McLaughlin tweeted she was going to get matching Hopi language tattoos with @sciencing_bi.

In an even weirder twist — if you can imagine it — McLaughlin posted a photo of her daughter claiming her own child was the fictional deceased professor.

Back at ASU, McLaughlin, who is a 51 year old neuroscientist, was quickly identified as the only person on Twitter who claimed to know @sciencing_bi outside of social media. As a result, ASU announced the story was a ‘hoax’ and Twitter has banned both the @sciencing_bi and McLaughlin’s Twitter accounts.

When the story broke you could audibly hear all of Indigenous North America whisper – ‘wtf?!’

So many questions! Why did this lady make a fake account? Why make the fake person a Native American? How come they are bisexual? Was that an important detail? And why invent a false persona on social media only to kill them off in a very public pandemic related callout on social media during said persona’s dying tweets?

I mean, in taking the liberty to speak on behalf of all of Indigenous North America here — no one is surprised that another white person has been found out for faking indigenous identity for some sort of self-gratifying adventure.

On the one hand, we’re awesome. Last week a white person from Caledonia came out to TRT reporters on the scene of a land reclamation and actually told our reporters they supported the halting of a housing development and ‘wished white people could do this’.

There are some pretty cool aspects to being Indigenous. We have the best hair. We have the best aunties.

We invented the fried bologna sandwich. A white lady tried to steal that on us in a viral video last year that angered the ancestors.

Embracing gender non-binary and rejecting heteronormative standards was basically a root value of our people pre-colonization — so we’re way ahead of the curve on that one. On that end I get why some people are jealous of our aceness and want to be us.

Until it’s time to be us.

Walking out life as an Indigenous person in a society that has for hundreds of years has objectified, qualified, measured and legislated our lives is not easy.

It’s even harder for those of us that are visibly identifiable as indigenous. Not some kind of social media persona you can turn on and off whenever you feel like changing roles. Real indigenous people can’t shut off brown skin, last names, reserve addresses, our status cards or the maltreatment that all too often comes along with it.

We don’t get to log out of boil water advisories, isolated reservations, forced relocation, intergenerational trauma, police oppression or on-rez lateral violence.

McLaughlin’s fake bisexual indigenous Twitter account is kind of funny until it isn’t.

She eventually came out and admitted to creating the fake account in a statement to the New York Times through her lawyer.

“I take full responsibility for my involvement in creating the @sciencing_bi Twitter account,” it said. “My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt.”

Can’t help but wonder if the ‘without reservation’ was tongue in cheek in this ‘apology’.

Indigenous-ness and bisexuality were just two “identity cards” this white person decided to pull from a deck that is by creation stacked against actual people of color. This person knew how to play the game of feigning authenticity in order to centre their voice and opinions, taking up space among those who are marginalized by virtue of their birth.

It is despicable, selfish, and shameful.

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