Enlarge / Twitter drama erupted over the weekend when a much-beloved online persona supposedly died of COVID-19 complications—only to be exposed as a fake account/catfishing scheme by controversial neuroscientist and #MeTooSTEM founder BethAnn McLaughlin. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)
A segment of science Twitter was rocked over the weekend by the discovery that a long-standing, pseudonymous online member had died of COVID-19-related complications. But grief quickly turned to shock, hurt, and anger when the deceased turned out to have never existed. Rather, it was a sock puppet account that we now know was created and maintained by BethAnn McLaughlin, a neuroscientist and founder of the #MeTooSTEM advocacy group whose Twitter handle is @McLNeuro.
"I take full responsibility for my involvement in creating the @Sciencing_Bi Twitter account," McLaughlin said in a statement provided to The New York Times through her lawyer. "My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt. As I've reflected on my actions the last few days, it's become clear to me that I need mental health treatment, which I'm pursuing now. My failures are mine alone, so I'm stepping away from all activities with #MeTooSTEM to ensure that it isn't unfairly criticized for my actions."
This certainly isn't the first time a fake persona has manifested on social media. Way back in 2003, controversial American Enterprise Institute scholar John R. Lott Jr.. was outed by The Washington Post for creating a sock-puppet online persona, "Mary Rosh," purportedly a former student, and using it to mount spirited defenses of his work online. In 2017, there was the case of "Jenna Abrams," who boasted 70,000 Twitter followers; the fake persona was so convincing that she managed to spread a viral rumor that CNN's local Boston station had accidentally aired 30 minutes of pornography late one night in November 2016.
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