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Viral social media conspiracy: Cameron Herrin

By Rebekah Jones

In 2018, Cameron Herrin was street racing when he hit a 24-year-old woman and her baby, who both died. Herrin was speeding at 102 mph down Bayshore Blvd in Tampa - which boasts the second-longest continuous sidewalk in America - when the car he was racing swerved left to avoid the victims and then Herrin swerved right, striking and killing both of them. The other driver pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years plus 15 years probation for his part in the crash, even though he neither hit nor killed anyone. The other driver was a minor at the time of the crash. Herrin was found guilty by a jury, and entered an open plea, which let the judge determine sentencing. The judge sentenced Herrin to 24 years in prison. Herrin spent the time between his trial and his sentencing (nearly three years) out on bail. He became an internet personality and apparently made quite a bit of money off it. At the time he was sentenced, he had two million followers on TikTok for an account that has since been removed. Last year, on TikTok, Twitter and Facebook, accounts with suspicious activity and origins started popping up trying to get support for a reduction in Herrin's sentence, which was appealed and rejected in December 2022. In previous reporting, Shelby Grossman from the Stanford Internet Observatory said that Twitter activity about Herrin appears to be a mix of authentic opinions that Herrin’s sentence was too harsh, and suspicious accounts strongly resembling those used by Middle East digital marketing firms. The director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies at University of Arkansas noted that unusual websites published articles about Herrin, including a hastily put together Arabic site which was for a time a top Google search result about Herrin. The director, Agarwal, said that is a strong indication of an inexpensive hired campaign. Other sites about Herrin shared IP addresses with a Chinese company, and another company in Switzerland, where there are no regulations on who can buy or operate a website. Twitter suspended around 900 accounts that posted about Herrin for violating the company’s platform guidelines, thereby erasing around 90,000 of the 100,000 tweets supporting Herrin. Herrin's mother called his newfound social media attention "almost like an obsession, an unhealthy obsession." Additionally, several of his supporters landed him in solitary confinement, Herrin claims, after tracking down the phone numbers of prison guards and harassing them at home. NOW - there’s nothing necessarily wrong with PR campaigns to advocate for causes, but it’s the conspiracy theories that we look at in these campaigns that are of concern, and the means and methods used to deploy them. And this case is full of them. The fake sites and accounts claim evidence against Herrin was fabricated. They claim Herrin pleaded guilty to save his brother from street racing charges since he was also in Herrin's vehicle, even though Herrin was convicted by a jury. They claim evidence exonerating him was “ignored” or hidden. No such evidence was presented to the court to be denied. They even claim he wasn’t even street racing at the time of the crash. But this wasn’t the first or even the most egregious street racing Herrin was caught in. Data extracted from the vehicle showed him racing at 162 mph on I-75 three days before the accident, and logged six instances of speeding in excess of 85 mph in the three days before the crash They claimed he was “too cute” for prison” using digitally altered photographs that make him look, well… prettier. They claim the judge was too harsh because he sentenced Herrin to 24 years, but the other driver, who was a minor, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six plus 15 years probation, even though the other driver neither hit nor killed anyone. They claim it’s the county’s fault because the road is so dangerous. But crash data in Hillsborough County shows that Bayshore doesn’t even make the top 20 most accident-prone streets in that county. They blame the victims for allegedly crossing illegally, even though police, witnesses and video evidence showed she was making a lawful crossing. Some even suggested that the victim was trying to kill herself and her baby. They falsely claim the prosecutors asked for the same sentence as the other driver, but it was Herrin’s defense attorneys who made that argument. Herrin was given the minimum sentence for killing the mother, which was nine years, and the maximum sentence for killing the child, which was 15 years. They’ve attacked the victim’s husband/dad viciously online because Herrin’s mother fought to make sure the insurance company paid the maximum benefit to the victim’s families - $5 million. Fake news sites fawning over him invent stories, use passive language like “tragic accident,” make him out to be some sort of saint. The first sentence on one site reads, “Cameron Herrin is a big name on the TikTok platform and has won the hearts of millions across the globe.” They even have things like “Fun Facts” about him, listing him as being a “car enthusiast” and close to his brother. He’s a Christian and a Virgo, it says, complete with baby pictures. Relevant links: FAKE sites:

Special to Big Mouth Media from Miss Informational. Originally published on March 20, 2023.

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