In August 2018, police in Iowa charged 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old college student who had gone missing while jogging more than a month earlier.
The investigation into the disappearance of Tibbetts had been closely followed on a national level for weeks, but the arrest of Rivera, who authorities say is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, prompted some commentators — led by President Donald Trump — to bring her death into the realm of politics.
In a short video posted to Twitter, Trump used the murder of Tibbetts to advance his immigration policies, including the long-touted construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
The politicization of Tibbetts’ death continued in the days following the arrest of Rivera, whom authorities in Iowa say led them to her remains and has confessed to the murder.
On 23 August, the right-wing junk news Facebook page “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” posted a widely-shared meme which claimed that “liberals” had started a GoFundMe campaign to collectively raise $5,000,000 for Rivera’s bail. It contained what was presented as a screenshot from the GoFundMe website, along with the introductory message: “Liberals raising the bail money for a murder [sic] just #WalkAway.”
“Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” added: “Is this for real? Are Democrats raising money for this [piece of shit]?”
#WalkAway is an online campaign which purports to represent individuals who have left the Democratic party, supposedly in dismay at left-wing policies and vehement criticism or disparagement of President Donald Trump. A Twitter tracking tool called Hamilton68, which is run by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, has found that Russian bot networks have boosted the spread of the #WalkAway hashtag.
The meme was also promoted in several widely-shared tweets, including one posted by the self-described “investigative journalist” Laura Loomer, who has a track record of fabricating and perpetuating conspiracy theories:
We need a very powerful lawyer of group of lawyers to sue these tech companies for violation of public accommodation laws.
This is absolutely absurd. pic.twitter.com/dnEOoQcGNv
— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) August 23, 2018
The meme’s central claim is false. Nobody (liberal or otherwise) has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise Rivera’s bail (which is, in fact, $5,000,000.) The meme features some sloppy image editing, for example the jarring difference in font between “$117,504” and “of 5,000,000 to make bail.”
It also contains mistakes. On the actual GoFundMe website, the feature which shows how much money a campaign has raised always follows the same format: “$9,999 of $99,999 goal,” as shown in the example below:
In the GoFundMe mobile app, the same feature is slightly different, always following the format “$9,999 raised of $99,999 goal.” Neither the website or app display this meter with a description of the campaign (such as “to make bail”) affixed to the end, and they always include dollar signs before every amount (which is not the case in the fake “Cristhian Rivera” meme.)
As well being crudely doctored, the “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” meme does not follow either of these formats, which establishes that it is a fake.
No campaign relating to Cristhian Rivera’s bail existed on GoFundMe as of 24 August 2018, as a quick search of the website shows. (Neither did any such campaign exist under “Christian Rivera,” as the suspect’s name is sometimes misspelled, or “Cristhian Bahena Rivera,” his full name.) Furthermore, no such campaign had ever existed.
When a campaign is removed from GoFundMe, it remains discoverable on search engines. For example, in August 2018 GoFundMe deleted a potentially fraudulent campaign purporting to raise funds for medical care for a Trump supporter supposedly attacked with a brick in Arizona. Performing a Google search for the title of the campaign (“Darrell’s medical bills”) still yields a residual URL for that campaign:
The purported name of the campaign in the “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” meme is simply “Cristhian Rivera,” but a Google search for a GoFundMe campaign of that name does not yield any residual webpages — another sign that no such campaign ever existed.
“Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” is a hyperpartisan Facebook page which frequently posts misleading or fake content and memes, some of which we have debunked previously.
A separate campaign relating to Rivera (but not mentioning his bail) was launched on 22 August. It, too, used his mugshot but it was titled “Iowa billboard” and aimed to purchase a billboard which would show Rivera’s photograph along with the slogan “Vote Democrat: No border. No wall. Just death for you all.”
Foley, Ryan. “Authorities: Iowa Student Killed by Mexican in US Illegally.”
The Associated Press. 22 August 2018.
Palma, Bethania. “Did the #WalkAway Campaign Use Stock Photographs for People It Claimed Left the Democratic Party?”
Snopes.com. 25 July 2018.
O., Caroline. “Pro-Trump and Russian-Linked Twitter Accounts Are Posing as Ex-Democrats In New Astroturfed Movement.”
ArcDigital. 5 July 2018.
Palma, Bethania. “Conspiracy Theories Immediately Appear After Santa Fe School Shooting.”
Snopes.com. 18 May 2018.
KNXV Phoenix. “Video — Valley GoFundMe Page Taken Down.”
KNXV/MSN. 23 August 2018.