News that an Arizona State University professor died Friday of COVID-19 after the university forced her to teach a seminar during the pandemic triggered fierce backlash from academics and journalists.
But the professor and her death were completely made up.
The Twitter accounts of Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin and the supposed professor known as @Sciencing_Bi were suspended Monday morning for violating Twitter’s “spam and platform manipulation policies.”
The suspension came after McLaughlin, who is a former faculty member at Vanderbilt University, posted a lengthy eulogy for @Sciencing_Bi on Friday.
“She was a fierce protector of people,” McLaughlin tweeted after announcing the professor’s death. “She changed so much of how I thought about advocacy and power.”
Several scientists subsequently posted eulogies for the professor, who was well-known on social media.
“The death of @Sciencing_Bi is on the hands of those who compelled her to teach in the midst of COVID,” California State University Dominguez Hills biologist Terry McGlynn tweeted, according to the Daily Beast.
But some irregularities in the account of @Sciencing_Bi’s death soon became apparent.
The supposed ASU professor had criticized the university for forcing her to return to work in April before she supposedly died of the virus, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. However, ASU had transitioned to virtual learning in March, according to the Arizona Republic.
Several Twitter users also alleged that the photos which @Sciencing_Bi tweeted were actually stock images.
Attention then turned to McLaughlin, who admitted in a statement to The New York Times that she had invented the ASU professor and her death.
“Unfortunately, this appears to be a hoax,” ASU spokesman Jerry Gonzalez said. Gonzalez added that the university was unable to verify the existence of @Sciencing_Bi.
“From what I can tell, the claims that are attributed to @Sciencing_Bi are a hoax, and a sick one at that,” Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, the ASU Department of American Indian Studies head, told the Arizona Republic.
McLaughlin founded MeTooSTEM in 2018, an advocacy network which provides counsel to victims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
McLaughlin has been the subject of criticism from individuals who have resigned from MeTooSTEM citing her hostile management style.
Neither McLaughlin nor ASU responded to a request for comment.
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