Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.
Dan Kaminsky was one of the world’s foremost security researchers. He was so trusted that he was one of just seven people chosen over a decade ago to control one of seven keys which could be used to “restart the world wide web” after a “catastrophic event.”
Kaminsky passed away suddenly on Saturday at the age of just 42 from complications related to his diabetes. His death triggered an outpouring of grief and praise from his peers and colleagues in the security world.
Sadly it also triggered a slew of fresh conspiracy theories from QAnon followers who linked his death to the COVID-19 vaccine, while others baselessly claimed his death was linked to his position as one of the people entrusted with securing the internet.
The conspiracies got so bad that Kaminsky’s family felt it necessary to issue a statement.
“While his passing was sudden and unexpected for us, Dan struggled for years with diabetes and was even recently hospitalized because of it,” his niece Sarah tweeted. “This tragedy has nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccination and unfortunately everything to do with diabetic ketoacidosis.”
Kaminsky had been a vocal promoter of getting vaccinated and just two weeks ago posted a message saying he’d been fully vaccinated.
Sarah added that while Kaminsky may have found it funny that people were using his death to promote anti-vaxx disinformation, for his family, it was adding to their grief.
“I think Dan would laugh at the idea of conspiracy theorists promoting anti-vax propaganda through his death, but as his family, it hurts us to see his death being used to spread lies about a vaccine that he had full faith in. But like Dan always said to me, they’re all just noise. So I am going to take his advice, ignore the trolls and respectfully ask the internet community to please give my family peace and privacy as we try to navigate a world without Daniel.”
But the family’s statement didn’t deter QAnon followers from continuing to speculate about Kaminsky’s death.
On the We The Media channel on Telegram, one of the moderators flagged Kaminsky’s position as one of the seven “key-masters to the internet” speculating without any evidence that Kaminsky was killed because of this.
“Guy has a special key. Guy dies most likely by foul play. People ask how he died but neglect to ask, where is the frigging key man?,” a member of the We The Media channel called Mark P wrote.
Others linked his death to that of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died of a stroke a day after the Capitol insurrection.
One member of the group linked Kaminsky’s death to this tweet posted on Sunday by former White House director of social media:
Scavino is viewed by QAnon followers as a vector for Trump’s communications with them, given that the former president’s Twitter account has been suspended.
QAnon followers took the number 6 from this tweet, multiplied by the number of times it appears—36—and got the number 216. This was then linked to the 216th message posted by Q, which reads: “Keyhole. Happy hunting.”
QAnon followers are increasingly having to rely on twisted interpretations of real-world events to try and reassure themselves that everything is going to plan. The group’s anonymous leader Q has failed to post an update in over five months now, and many experts predict they will never post again.