Haley Hinds, a reporter for Tampa’s Fox affiliate station, was wrongly targeted by an online mob last week. A video showing a woman ranting nastiness at a nail salon owner went viral. Hinds was contacted via Facebook messenger asking if she was the woman in the video.

“Hello, were you the one in the nail salon video? If not, ignore this completely. If so, I thought you should read this tweet. Compassion is key – you are not above anyone,” the message read.

Hinds responded, saying she was definitely not the person in the video, that whomever the nasty woman was, she was not in anyway connected to the station, and that she agreed compassion was paramount.

Moments later, her picture was attached to the video and she was accused of being the nasty woman on film.

Hinds explained the entire story on her public Facebook page.

Twitter was no help and refused to intervene:

Hinds received death threats, invitations to end her own life, and all manner of vile insult just because some internet rando assumed she was the woman in a video.

These last few weeks, hoards of angry people, usually directed by someone harboring malintent, have harassed several innocent people. We’ve been covering the unfortunate change of tone extensively.

If they don’t stop, someone is going to get seriously hurt, or worse.

Full text of Hinds’ post here:

What would you do if a random stranger on the internet decided to falsely accuse you of being the “star” of a recently viral video of a woman going on a racist tirade at a Lutz, FL nail salon?

And what would you do if, afterward, an Internet mob came after you, from all over the world, threatening you, calling you vile names, even telling you to go kill yourself?

Well, folks… I’ll tell you all about it. Because it happened to me.

It’s a crummy situation that leaves me not only disappointed in the person who decided to target me for no reason, but also, really concerned about those who blindly went along with it.

It was Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked SUV in Fort Meade. As I was working on my script for a 5:30 p.m. live shot, I received a Facebook message. A woman asked, “Hello, were you the one in the nail salon video? If not, ignore this completely. If so, I thought you should read this tweet. Compassion is key – you are not above anyone.”

I shook my head and thought, that’s really weird. I responded, “No, that is definitely not me. And, that woman has absolutely no connection to the place where I work. I agree with you, compassion is key and so needed in this world.”

I mentioned she had no connection to the station because, in the video, you’ll hear the woman claim she’s dating a “channel 13 news advisor” and threatening that “you’ll get put on the news.” She has no affiliation with the station and there’s no position called “news advisor.”

A few minutes later, my phone buzzes. It buzzes again. And again. And again. I soon learned that a Twitter user named @carneashannah posted a screenshot of my personal Facebook page underneath the viral video, saying, “couldn’t find a Twitter but I did find a Facebook.” She also posted a screenshot of my boyfriend’s Facebook page, which included a photo of his family.

Here’s how it all snowballed. Though that video had been tweeted by AJ+ to its nearly one million followers a few days before, civil rights activist and writer Shaun King had just retweeted it, asking his nearly one million followers, “What’s her name?”

The witch hunt began. And, for a reason that I still don’t quite understand, a woman from the other side of the country decided to pick me.

The hate messages began.

“You’re a racist piece of sh*t for what you did to the nail salon lady… you are a disgrace.”

“Kill yourself you stupid b*tch, you don’t deserve to be a part of America.”

And then, there were Twitter users who willingly went along with it.

“Show this ‘Fox news reporter’ who she really is..a racist pos.”

“Fox News reporter. Of course.”

Retweet. Retweet. Retweet.

Like. Like. Like.

Even after some Twitter users started to realize that the woman in the video looks/sounds nothing like me, and is clearly a few years older, the trolling continued.

“We’ve tried peace and love for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s see what retaliatory violence gets us,” one person posted.

“You can see a video of her berating a woman and you say she is the sweetest thing. White privilege, you don’t like to be told when you’re wrong,” another one replied.

Days later, the tweet with my photo still remains up for all the world to see, with the likes and retweets piling up. My co-workers, family and friends thought that, surely, by reporting the tweets, they would be removed for sparking this barrage of harassment, not to mention, the damage of my reputation. We thought.

Each of us received e-mails from Twitter saying, “there was no violation of the Twitter rules against abusive behavior.” The e-mail went on to say, “Some tweets may seem to be abusive when viewed in isolation, but may not be when viewed in the context of a larger conversation.” I’ve attached photos of their e-mail in which they explained further.

I’m left shaking my head, wondering what inspires someone thousands of miles away to want to turn someone’s life upside down, to attempt to destroy their reputation in such a large way, and to, potentially, put them in actual danger.

I’m left shaking my head, wondering how so many people on the Internet are willing to abandon their critical thinking skills, their eyesight, their hearing, and to blindly pull out their pitchforks because they’re so desperate to find a villain. They’ll believe whatever someone else says, whether it’s true or not. Truth just doesn’t seem to matter at the time.

It’s how intentionally inaccurate memes and pictures spread like wildfire. It’s how fake news pops up all over the internet. It’s sad and it’s scary and it’s a problem that’s only getting worse.

We live in a world where bullying, especially, cyberbullying is becoming commonplace. With the job I do, I’ve developed pretty thick skin. I’ve been called just about every name in the book for simply doing the job that I do. I’m sort of used to it.

But, not everyone is. This type of cyberbullying, in which one person seeks to destroy another, can have real consequences. It’s not just about defamation. It can lead people who are struggling with anxiety or depression to feel hopeless, abandoned, constantly targeted and can push them to possibly take their own lives in an attempt to make the abuse stop. All of this, because of some stupid, mindless, cruel joke.

Every time I see viral videos of people spewing hate, mistreating those who speak another language, I get angry. Trust me, I follow Shaun King. In fact, I kind of hoped he’d pick up the video from Lutz and help identify who that person was.

BUT.

This type of witch hunt becomes an extremely dangerous game when people go searching relentlessly for a villain, any villain, just to say they got them. It can ruin innocent people’s lives.

Now, I must point out that there were many good characters in this story. Eventually, several strangers from Twitter came to my defense, urging @carneashannah to delete the tweet, that it was inaccurate, that it was irresponsible and mean-spirited. Old friends and co-workers, some who I haven’t seen in years, jumped into the mess to set the record straight. Some of our wonderful viewers did, too. And, some, who had originally shared the malicious tweet, actually went back and removed it from their pages.

No matter what, there will ALWAYS be more good people in the world than bad. I’ll never stop believing that. I’m so thankful for all those who fought for the truth. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done.

I used some of my investigative skills to figure out exactly who posted the original tweet. I traced it back to a woman living in southern California. I’m not going to name her because two wrongs don’t make right. But, I’ve reached out to her in a number of ways.

Whether or not she deletes the tweet remains to be seen. I believe everyone makes mistakes and is worthy of redemption. I just hope she takes this opportunity to do the right thing.

In the meantime, I have a request for everyone: Think before you share a post. Think before you retweet. Fact. Check. Everything. Because what you’re sharing may be totally false and could make you, unknowingly, an accessory to a malicious effort to destroy another person’s life.

Please share this story if you can. Kindness matters. Truth matters. I hope, in this case, the truth can drown out the lies.