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Twitter users troll journalist covering Parkland shooting

The social network leaves up harassing fake tweets despite complaints, a Miami Herald journalist tells BuzzFeed.

A line of students evacuates the Parkland, Florida, high school where a deadly shooting spree took place.

A reporter for the Miami Herald says her ability to cover the deadly Parkland shooting spree was hampered by impersonators harassing her on Twitter.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Twitter users tried to hinder a newspaper reporter's efforts to cover the deadly high school shooting in Florida on Wednesday by harassing her and doctoring her tweets.

As the shooter began a rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that would claim at least 17 lives, many students at the school began posting to social media about their experience during the ordeal. The Miami Herald's Alex Harris reached out to some students at the school in Parkland, Florida, for more information and soon discovered Twitter users sending fake screenshots of her tweets.

One doctored tweet requested "pictures or video of dead bodies," while another made it look like she was asking whether the shooter was white, she said in a tweet in which she denied asking for details about race.

"That one went nuts, that one picked up tremendous steam," Harris told BuzzFeed, noting it was picked up by Reddit and a white nationalist forum.

She said one person in particular seemed to follow her every move, trying to obstruct her.  

"He would follow my tweets and every time I tweeted at someone, he would reply, 'Don't talk to her, she's been harassing students,'" she said. "People kept saying, 'Don't talk to her, she's racist,' and it just kept getting worse."

Harris told the news outlet she began reporting the tweets almost immediately, but Twitter didn't take them down.

Harassment and bullying have been a public blight on Twitter for years. Some particularly ugly episodes occurred in 2016, including a hate mob attacking Leslie Jones, a star of last summer's "Ghostbusters" movie.

In response to a high-profile protest against Twitter, CEO Jack Dorsey said last year the company would take  a "more aggressive stance" to policing harassing tweets.

Twitter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about its policies regarding impersonating the verified account of a journalist on its platform. A Twitter representative directed BuzzFeed to a blog post from June about misinformation spread on its site.

"We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth. Journalists, experts and engaged citizens Tweet side-by-side correcting and challenging public discourse in seconds," the post says. "These vital interactions happen on Twitter every day, and we're working to ensure we are surfacing the highest quality and most relevant content and context first."

However, Twitter's rules prohibit impersonating the people it relies on to be "the arbiter of truth."

"You may not impersonate individuals, groups, or organizations in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others. While you may maintain parody, fan, commentary, or newsfeed accounts, you may not do so if the intent of the account is to engage in spamming or abusive behavior."

After being alerted to the situation Thursday evening, Dorsey said simply that he was "investigating."

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