While publicly taking the brunt of the attacks from conspiracy theorists, behind the scenes, Lenny was amassing a small army of volunteers who helped him to locate and remove posts and pictures of his son and other victims from hoaxer and hate sites. Calling the loose knit community of volunteers the HONR Network, by mid-2014 Lenny and co had removed thousands of posts, blog sites, photos, and videos dedicated to intimidating the family and desecrating the memory of Noah and other victims. The success of these endeavors brought condemnation for the conspiracy theorists, hate groups, and individual harassers, who decried the removals of defaced photos of the six-year-old, personal details about the family, and calls to physically harm the Pozner family, as violations of their right to free speech.
However, Lenny’s successes didn’t quell the tide of hate. Emboldened by the lack of consequences from hosting and social media platforms, hoaxers expanded their focus and goaded followers to revisit the Virginia Tech and Century 16 movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado to look for so called, “false flags.” Over the years, the families of victims and surviving victims themselves of shootings in Isla Vista and San Bernardino, California, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, and the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing, all became targets. Despite the growing list of people hoaxers called their followers to blame, harass, and intimidate, Sandy Hook and the Pozner family remained the premier focus of some of the most prolific and aggressive of hate mongers.
When the government’s gun-grab promised by conspiracy theorists failed to materialize, passion for the hunt began to wane for all but the most devoted of hoaxers. However, a simple gesture of solidarity from a school-shooting mourner on the other side of the world would reignite the attack on Sandy Hook families in general and bring the full weight of the hoax machine down on Lenny’s head.
In 2014, almost two years to the day of the Sandy Hook massacre, members of a Taliban organization stormed a school in Peshawar, Pakistan murdering 132 teens and 17 school staff. A horrified country held their collective breath while the military stormed the campus, arresting the terrorists and saving 960 other students and staff. In response, citizens took to the streets to condemn the Taliban, while memorials were held for the victims, and vigils for the injured.
Despite the fact that Noah had turned six only a few weeks before his murder, and the youngest of the Peshawar dead was twelve, when Noah’s picture appeared at a televised memorial event in Pakistan, conspiracy theorists proclaimed proof that the family was lying about his death. Apparently, a mourner had taken to the internet to create a photo collage of children from around the world killed at school shootings. One of the pictures she selected was that of the most recognized victim of school shootings in America, that of Noah.
The instantly recognizable picture, used countless times by the media in the US, and displayed by the international media in the arms of the anguished woman in Peshawar, sent the hoax machine into over-drive. Conspiracy theorists variously claimed that the picture was proof that Noah never existed and his picture was a composite, digitally created using other children’s faces, that he did exist and was a crisis actor, or that he was murdered by the government and the use of the picture was some sort of sign or warning.
While mass-casualty events are rare, death and violence are not. As other families struggled with the death of their own loved ones in cases deemed “newsworthy” by the media, they often found themselves similarly bullied by anonymous, online harassers. Some seemed to focus on the race, religion, or sexual orientation of the victim, while other harassers simply taunted families by defacing pictures found on social media, making offensive claims about the victim, or rejoicing in the victim’s death.
Largely unwilling to get involved, social media platforms turned a blind eye to attacks and victim’s families were left to fend for themselves. Word-of-mouth spread around the dark recesses of the internet that Lenny Pozner had become successful in getting defaced photos of Noah removed from social media platforms. Hoping for guidance and assistance in protecting the memories and reputations of their own loved ones, grieving families reached out, in mass.
In fact, Lenny had become quite adept at removing photos of his son. While social media and hosting platforms ignored his requests to remove content due to harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and even privacy, despite the fact that these issues are all covered by basic civil rights protections in the US, companies were quick to remove photos protected by copyright. By asserting his ownership and copyright over the photos of his family, Lenny was able to make headway against the hate.
Sharing his experience, instruction, and advice with others similarly victimized, the HONR Network quickly became the “go-to” for people dealing with attacks from hoax and hate sites, as well as from vile individuals focused on inflicting additional pain on victim’s families.
have had untrue information posted about them online, causing emotional anguish, fear, and damage to their personal and professional reputations.*Together, through empowerment, education, and advocacy we can effect change and help to create a safer more inclusive online experience for all. Help us achieve this goal.
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