Braden Matejka narrowly escaped the worst mass shooting in US history, and now he’s weathering another threat.
The Okanagan man recently shut down all of his online accounts as the only way to gird himself against conspiracy theorists and internet trolls who are harassing him, said his older brother Brock Matejkae.
Braden has been called a “crisis actor” and a meme circulating in the days after he went public with his ordeal had the words “I’m a lying c***t!” under his image. The vitriol ramped up in the days and weeks that followed and comments like “ I hope you really get shot in the head” became increasingly common.
Shutting down his personal accounts wasn’t his brother’s first choice, said Brock. He tried to reason with the army of conspiracy theorists, but his efforts fell on deaf ears.
“It bothers him, but he’s trying to not really worry about what they have to say, too much,” said Brock. “He knows the keyboard warriors living in their grandmothers’s basements have nothing better to do than victimize other people…. There’s no talking to those people. They’re so gone in the thought process, there’s no reasoning with them.”
Plus, Braden has other things to worry about. The bullet that grazed his head caused a concussion and he’s still suffering the symptoms.
“His vision gets blurred and he has headaches, and that’s going to take time to get over,” said Brock. “He’s still not working, but he has an evaluation coming up (next month) and then they’ll know for sure what’s happening then.”
It’s surreal, however, to those who love Braden that he’s had this response as he’s tried to heal.
“You don’t get much more real and realistic than him,” Brock said of his brother.
According to an article published Friday in the Guardian, Braden isn’t the only victim of the Las Vegas mass shooting dealing with a backlash.
It’s an increasingly common event after a crisis unfolds and YouTube and various other social media destinations are rife with commentary about survivors from mass shootings being “emergency on-screen characters.”
It’s an idea promoted by InfoWars personality Alex Jones. Through his radio show and website, Jones has claimed the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a “false flag” operation and that Sept. 11 was an inside job by the government.
While there have always been conspiracy theorists, what’s changed is the amount of tread these ideas are getting, said Andrew Irvine, a UBC Okanagan professor in math and philosophy.
“Conspiracy theories are driven by wanting a conclusion to be true rather than following the evidence where it leads,” he said.
“If you are a dentist, you don’t just put in fillings where you want. You do the work, take the X-Rays follow the evidence and then put in the fillings. The same goes when you are a police officer—you follow the evidence. ”
Humans have always relied on finding meaningful patterns in the world around us and making causal inferences. We sometimes, however, see patterns and causal connections that are not there, especially when we feel that events are beyond our control, he said.
Historically there were ways we could deal with that. We’d turn to institutions we trust to guide us through the dark, but we as a society are deep in the throes of an information distribution shift and trust is becoming a rare commodity.
“If conspiracy theories are going up in popularity it’s in part because of a lack of trust in our institutions, like politicians, the media or (universities),” Irvine said.
“A certain amount of skepticism is good and healthy in society but we need to have trust in our neighbours and our institutions to function.”
So what caused people en masse to turn away from the institutions that follow evidence?
“We have new media—in one sense it’s wonderful, it’s democracy in action and everyone can have a say. People can go online to start a website or a blog inexpensively,” he said.
“In another way, we have to realize not all news is made equal. Some fact check, some don’t. And we have to understand the quality of output we are getting there.”
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