Let’s give people a free-to-use tool to publish whatever they want, whenever they want, to an audience worldwide in real-time. What could possibly go wrong? In this extended conversation, Richard Gutjahr talks to Lenny Pozner, founder of honr.com, how he became a target of conspiracy theorists and what he learned in his five-year fight against Google, YouTube, and the so-called hoaxers.
An unsettling pattern has emerged in the aftermath of national tragedies, like the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Survivors and victims’ families are grieving the loss of their loved ones but these days, they are also the targets of a wave of vitriol aimed directly at them.
They are often harassed online and in person by conspiracy theorists who think the whole thing was a hoax.
Take the March arrest of two people outside of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church where 26 people were murdered in 2017. The pair confronted the church pastor, whose daughter was killed, saying the murders never happened and his daughter never lived. They called him a “crisis actor.”
This type of incident isn’t isolated to Sutherland Springs or to the two people arrested, either.
So, first, KJZZ turned to Joseph Uscinski, a political science associate professor at the University of Miami who studies conspiracy theories, to find out what his data says about these people and why they believe what they do.
No one knows the pain this type of harassment can wield on a grieving family more than Lenny Pozner. His son Noah was the youngest child murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Since that day he has had to deal with, deflect, outmaneuver and confront what he calls “hoaxers.” These are people set on revealing that he is part of a vast conspiracy from the government.
To combat this, Pozner started the HONR Network to raise awareness of this type of harassment for other families of victims.
M. G. Mancini Speaks with WATR Radio 10-13-2017
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.“
As harassment of victims of tragedies increases, HONR Network urges responsible citizens to take action against hoaxers.
“It’s the right thing to do…it takes 60 seconds of your time.”
Visit honr.com to make your voice heard.
A Florida woman who believed that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school was a hoax was sentenced to five months in prison this week for threatening the father of six-year-old Noah Pozner, one of the 20 young victims who died in the shooting.
US district judge James Cohn called Lucy Richards’ actions towards Leonard Pozner “disturbing” and condemned those who spread false claims about the deaths of 20 children and six adults in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago.
“This is reality and there is no fiction. There are no alternative facts,” Cohn told Richards, 57, at her sentencing.
“You have the absolute right to think and believe as you so desire,” the judge said. “You do not have the right to transmit threats to another.”
For Pozner, who has become an activist devoted to combatting the conspiracy theorists that target family members of victims, the sentencing is a “powerful outcome” that he hopes will raise awareness of the serious harm that hoaxers cause.
“It draws a line,” he said, “and it shows people that this is not a game that’s online, and there are actual consequences for someone who steps over the line.”
Noah Pozner was reluctant to go to school that day. A mischievous little boy, who had celebrated his sixth birthday three weeks earlier, he stayed in bed too long and dragged his feet getting ready. “I said to him: ‘Come on, Noah, we gotta get moving,” his father, Leonard (also known as Lenny) recalls, having thought about the morning of 14 December 2012 so often he can almost talk about it mechanically. But the drive was fun: Noah, his twin sister, Arielle, and older sister, Sophia, listened to Gangnam Style, one of Noah’s favourite songs. Noah always sat in the back seat and Leonard tickled his ankle as he drove along. At school, Noah jumped out, his backpack in one hand, his jacket in the other. He was wearing a Batman shirt and Spider-Man trainers. “I said: ‘I love you, have a great day,’ and that was the last thing I ever said to him,” says Pozner. After all, he adds, “Not even Batman could have stopped an AR-15.”
Noah was the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, murdered about half an hour after his father dropped him off. A sweet-faced, big-eyed, brown-haired boy, his tiny body took multiple bullets. His jaw was blown off, as was his left hand, and his beloved Batman shirt was soaked with blood. For his funeral, his mother, Veronique, insisted he have an open casket.
“I want the world to see what they did to my baby,” she said at the time.
Today, Pozner tries to look on the bright side. “I could have lost three kids that day because the other two were in rooms adjacent to Noah’s classroom. They were all in the shooter’s footprint.”
Lenny Pozner’s young son died in the Sandy Hook mass killing. Conspiracy theorists believe the killing was staged. Pozner’s efforts to educate them, to prove that his son died, only resulted in relentless trolling and harassment. Yet he keeps trying: “I’m going to have to protect Noah’s honor for the rest of my life,” he says.
To further his cause, Pozner has created an organization, called the HONR Network, whose goal is to “bring awareness to Hoaxer activity” and “prosecute those who wittingly and publicly defame, harass, and emotionally abuse the victims of high profile tragedies.” Since there is no criminal law that protects families like Pozner’s from the darker impulses of the Internet, he and his volunteers — folks he met virtually, when he began debunking — perform a slow and painful task. Whenever a video or a screed appears online attacking the victims of a horrible event, they alert venues like YouTube that their rules have been broken. The victories have been small. Though they’ve removed hundreds of links from the Internet, there are countless more like them.
“I know that the more garbage that is out there, the more it ages over time, the more the myth becomes accepted as a disgusting historical fact that tries to dismiss the existence of my child,” says Pozner. “I mean, damn it, his life had value. He existed. He was real. How dare they.”
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Lenny Pozner, who lost his son in the Sandy Hook shooting and founded HONR, an anti-hoaxer organization, said that he’s not surprised a truther movement was created around the event.
Social media driven fake news and hate speech are growing faster than ever before.
You can help make a difference by alerting large companies of how their money is being utilized. Ad revenue is being invested into content that emboldens hate speech. Socially responsible companies should seek to avoid driving this ever-growing problem with their ad revenue. Send a message to these brands that as a consumer you will spend your money with responsible companies that won’t allow their money to promote hate.
Platforms such as YouTube and Google host excessive amounts of slanderous content on the subject of the victims and families of mass casualty incidents, inciting unhinged conspiracy enthusiasts to harass and threaten the people whose lives such tragedies have touched. Our mission is to make the outrageous and defamatory content against murder victims and their families appearing on powerful social media platforms no longer profitable.
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