A former assistant professor who was denied tenure at Vanderbilt University for sending threats to colleagues was busted running a years-long 'hoax' - in which she invented an online persona on Twitter claiming to be an oppressed bisexual, Native American geologist.
BethAnn McLaughlin created the persona, @Sciencing_Bi, in 2016 while working as an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt. After being denied tenure in 2017, McLaughlin left the university in July of 2018 - going on to found MeTooSTEM, a nonprofit organization aimed at advising scientists who are the victims of sexual harassment.
But McLaughlin was doing much more than harassing coworkers and failing to earn promotions.
According to the New York Times:
The anonymous account, @Sciencing_Bi, was an active participant in the corner of Science Twitter that frequently discusses issues of sexual misconduct in the sciences. It claimed on at least one occasion to have grown up in Alabama, to have “fled the south because of their oppression of queer folk,” and to have attended Catholic school. The account began to pointedly make reference to being Native American and, earlier this year, began to identify as Hopi.
Then, McLaughlin decided to kill off @Sciencing_Bi, announcing in April that she had contracted coronavirus - which she publicly blamed on Arizona State University, which she says made her teach in a lecture hall with 200 people.
Last Friday, BethAnn McLaughlin announced that @Sciencing_Bi had died of the virus.
Then it gets really weird (via HotAir.com)
After her “death” BethAnn McLaughlin suggested that she’d been in an intimate relationship with the woman known only as @Sciencing_Bi. “Looking at her side of the bed and crying. Just a lot of crying.”
this is one of my big hangups. if SB was a real and autonomous human, she was allegedly interacting with MTS in a client/support capacity, and should not have been anywhere near BA’s bed, much less had an established “side.” pic.twitter.com/LkqDEuC5hM— Isabel Ott (@IsabelOtt) August 2, 2020
But pretty quickly McLaughlin’s story began to really fall apart as people noticed that details @Sciencing_Bi had claimed about Arizona State University were false, e.g. she didn’t know the correct dates for the school’s closing. Also, looking back over her tweets it seemed that she had only referenced her Native American ancestry fairly recently.
Here’s some more weirdness on the Indigenous ID claims, shared by a friend. Prior to 2020, their tone re: “Native Americans” indicated ID’ing as exterior to that group; first claims of Indigeneity seem to have arisen this spring/summer and seem...fishy to me. pic.twitter.com/0H7kwMIpbC— Isabel Ott (@IsabelOtt) August 2, 2020
What's more, people caught McLaughlin using stock photos.
SB tweeted this photo about arriving in Nashville to meet with BA. This photo is a generic pic from an airline's website. It couldn't have been taken by herhttps://t.co/SL6t1cbt1v pic.twitter.com/rYWHpw6YNi— Fieldwork Initiative (@MeTooFieldwork) August 2, 2020
In the end, Twitter suspended McLaughlin's personal account and her @Sciencing_Bi persona, while ASU told BuzzFeed that they had no record of any such person.
As the questions swirled, the account settings were switched to private. Then late on Sunday, Twitter suspended both McLaughlin’s and the @Sciencing_Bi accounts.
“We’re aware of this activity and have suspended these accounts for violating our spam and platform manipulation policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News by email. The company declined to comment on whether it had any forensic evidence linking the two accounts to the same device or person.
A spokesperson from ASU told BuzzFeed News they had no record of any faculty matching @Sciencing_Bi’s description. And other parts of @Sciencing_Bi’s accounts did not match up: The university closed its campus in March, switching to online instruction, and did not implement salary cuts.
“We have been looking into this for the last 24 hours and cannot verify any connection with the university,” ASU spokesperson Katie Paquet told BuzzFeed News by email on Sunday. “We have been in touch with several deans and faculty members and no one can identify the account or who might be behind it.” -BuzzFeed
Finally, McLaughlin admitted to being behind the anonymous account.
"I take full responsibility for my involvement in creating the @sciencing_bi Twitter account. My actions are inexcusable. I apologize without reservation to all the people I hurt," she said in a statement to the New York Times, adding that she's aware she needs mental health treatment.
"As I’ve reflected on my actions the last few days, it’s become clear to me that I need mental health treatment, which I’m pursuing now."