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Conspiracy theorists misidentify Minnesota Reddit user as Madden shooter

Pavel was just getting off work and logging on to Reddit, a daily ritual for the Minnesota resident, when he noticed people were accusing him of being a mass shooter.

Pavel goes by many names on Reddit. One of them is "ravenchamps," which just so happens to be a similar online identity to the suspect who killed two people and shot 12 others at a Jacksonville, Florida, Madden tournament Sunday before turning the gun on himself. The shooter had previously been known online as "ravens2012champ."

Reddit's wannabe detectives, and right-wing conspiracy blogs like the Gateway Pundit and Information Liberation, ran posts "confirming" that "ravenchamps" was the shooter's account. Pavel had posted critical comments about Trump under that username in pro-Trump online communities on Reddit. "Liberal Redditors should not be allowed to own firearms. This is common sense," declared Information Liberation writer Chris Menahan.

"To me, it's hilarious," Pavel said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. "They came to this conclusion with absolutely no factual evidence. People were taking my comments and making it [the shooter's]. No one even messaged me to confirm that this was his [account]."

Pavel said he received about 90 messages and notifications on his "ravenchamps" account, most of them vulgar insults that said he deserved to be dead. Another Reddit user said Pavel's account showed he had recently played "Madden 19," the latest game in the long-running football game franchise, and determined that post alone "would tend to verify his identity."

It turns out Pavel is a Baltimore Ravens fan, an avid gamer ("Halo, Call of Duty, Skyrim, basically all the big games") and a longtime fan of the Madden series.

"I don't really play competitively, I'm just usually in franchise mode," said Pavel, describing the game's fantasy football feature.

Pavel said he tried to email and contact the various blogs who ran stories calling him the shooter, but he received no responses.

Sensing an opportunity to rankle and bite back at the conspiracy theorists, Pavel hosted an "AMA" or "Ask Me Anything" question and answer session on Reddit titled: "I'm apparently the madden shooter what's up." It's received more than 1,900 comments. He also spent Monday night and Tuesday morning trolling other Reddit users who continue to claim he is the shooter.

"Y'all are seriously some bad researchers," he posted on r/greatawakening, the host subreddit for fans of the Qanon conspiracy.

"What the hell are you guys talking about?" he responded in another post that called him a scumbag.

Pavel said some Reddit users did figure out that his was the wrong account, but those skeptics were drowned out by the conspiracy theorists.

The Gateway Pundit has since edited its piece with an "update" admitting the mistake. Informational Liberation issued a retraction and writer Menahan "retracted all reports which contain the error and sincerely apologize for the error" before deleting the story. Alex Jones' site Infowars initially published Menahan's report verbatim before also deleting it off the website altogether.

The Gateway Pundit has misidentified people before in breaking news situations, including identifying the wrong person as the Charlottesville, Virginia, driver that killed Heather Heyer; accusing the wrong man of murdering dozens in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; and claiming a Washington Post home page editor was peeking at former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's notes during a hearing, despite the fact that her job didn't include going out in the field (and she wasn't working that day).

Pavel said he hasn't received any threats since confirming that he was alive and not the shooter, and has been "having a lot of fun because I just love calling out people who are completely wrong."

"They're just idiots to me," Pavel said. "Everyone wanted it to be true so they just followed through with it. At this point, I just feel like some news outlets are just posting whatever they think will get them the biggest story. And if it doesn't work out, they just delete it."

This article was written by Gene Park, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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