How Twitter users turned 9 year-old Quaden Bayles into a scammer
And how the rapid spread of false information made his bullying even worse.
I wept hard enough that my face turned red when I watched that viral video of Quaden Bayles, an Indigenous Australian boy with achondroplasia — a genetic disorder resulting in dwarfism — sobbing in a car about wanting his life to end. You can watch the video on YouTube. Be warned that it may be triggering for those with suicidal thoughts or ideation.
In the video, Quaden can be seen with his head hanging low against his plaid blue shirt and his forehead pressed against the door frame of the car as he cries “I want someone to kill me” and “I just want to die right now.” His hair sticks to his forehead, his eyes look swollen. At one point, he stretches his finger out towards his mother and sobs “Even you…you don’t even do anything.”
Yarraka Bayles, Quaden’s mother, filmed the moment and put it online.
“This is the effect of bullying. This is what it’s doing. And I want people to know how much it is hurting us as a family,” she can be heard saying in the background.
“Every single frickin’ day, something happens, another episode, another bullying, another taunt, another name-calling…I’ve got a son who is suicidal almost every single day.”
Quaden, Yarraka Bayles says, is only nine years-old.
About twenty hours after I watched the video and tweeted how upset I was about it, “#QuadenBayles” was trending on Twitter. The video had been getting lots of attention from celebrities and big names on the site at that point.
Hugh Jackman tweeted a message of support for Quaden on Thursday, saying, “Everyone, let’s please be kind to each other. Bullying is not okay. Period. Life is hard enough.”
The Indigenous All Stars invited Quaden to lead them out onto the field before the NRL All Stars Match after seeing the video, and American comedian Brad Williams, who also has achondroplasia, started a GoFundMe to get Quaden to Disneyland. At the time this was written, that GoFundMe had raised close to $500,000 for Quaden.
I didn’t see much talk in my own circles about the video. There were a few tweets about Yarraka Bayles’ choice to film her son in a moment of vulnerability and post the video on social media, a few budding conversations about parents who broadcast their children’s pain. Then I got a notification for my initial tweet about the video.
“ Idk if this is true, but I heard he’s actually an 29 year old rapper and that video was a sca[m]. I know it sounds crazy, but there were a while bunch of photos from his insta….”
It didn’t take long to learn where that theory — or at least a variation of it — came from.
The New York Post ran a news article Friday afternoon with the headline “Quaden Bayles: Internet questions whether bullied Australian boy is really 9 years old.” It featured, as a primary source, a post from what looks like a Facebook account run by someone named Jasmein Dowe. You’d be hard pressed to find Dowe’s account: I couldn’t find it on Facebook or Twitter, and The Post reported that her Twitter account was taken down on Friday. The screenshot they published clearly looks like a Facebook post.
In the post, Dowe wrote, “Just so you know .. he scammed everybody .. he’s 18.. has plenty of money and yeah everyone fell for it. Now if I’m wrong please source your link and explain why to me.”
Dowe posted images of Quaden wearing a Gucci sweatshirt and a shot from what looks like a music video. She claimed that Quaden was an Instagram celebrity who had deleted captions on photos relating to his 18th birthday (I looked at these photos and they appeared to be from someone else’s celebration). The account she took the photos from was started last September, and since the story broke, Quaden sockpuppet accounts have cropped up all across Instagram and that account appears to have been deleted.
A quick search online led me to a video from Living Black, an Australian Indigenous current affairs program that featured Quaden and his family in 2015 and reported that he was four years old at the time of filming. The Brisbane morning talk show Studio 10 posted a video of Quaden on YouTube in 2015 as well where he sits in his mother’s lap and clearly looks like a child. Dozens of photographs have been posted across what appears to be Yarraka’s social media (since the time I started writing this, her Instagram account appears to have been deleted) that suggest Quaden is in fact nine years-old. Here’s one photograph I was able to find that was shared on Twitter.
Snopes.com even stepped in, saying that no, Quaden is not an adult.
At that point, however, it was too late.
At the mere suggestion that Quaden’s story wasn’t as it seemed, Twitter users looking for blood sank their teeth in. Screenshots of Dowe’s Facebook post have been shared thousands of times on the site by Twitter users quick to believe it’s true. “He’s 18” and “he’s 9” were trending nationwide Friday afternoon, and conspiracies about the legitimacy of the video began swirling around soon after, with thousands of users calling Quaden a scammer.
Social media users jumped on the idea that Quaden appears to come from wealth and weaved that into the narrative that he was an 18 year-old scam artist. They pulled up his child actor profile in an attempt to prove it, too. “Tyrion Lannister” started trending when users jokingly compared Quaden to the sly Game of Thrones character. A photo of Quaden drinking a glass of Appletiser (sparkling fruit juice) was pulled from Instagram by someone on Twitter and cropped so that it looks like he’s drinking wine. That photo, along with several others ripped from social media without context, have been shared as “evidence” that the boy is older than his mom says.
What began as a conversation about the impact of bullying on a child was quickly co-opted by bullies gloating over the idea of bringing Quaden and his mother down and weaponizing reductive and ableist language against him to do it.
Here are just a few of the countless examples. Be warned: some of them are pretty disturbing.
So let’s back up and go over this again.
Because of one unsubstantiated claim made by an account without clear credibility that doesn’t currently appear to exist, a social media mob ganged up against and cyberbullied a little boy with dwarfism who went viral for saying he wanted to take his life after, his mom says, kids bullied him.
I don’t know that there’s a word strong enough for how debased that is.
There’s a conversation to be had here about Quaden’s mother’s choice to film him and put it online, certainly — we need to talk about the impact of bullying and what methods, in the social media age, are the most appropriate and the safest for children. But there’s also a cold and disturbing elephant in the room that I think we need to talk about first: our collective habit of eating up false information about people posted online and using it to objectify and harass them without any accountability for our actions.
At the end of the day, we can say whatever we want about people online and go to bed without facing any responsibility for it, even when it deeply hurts the people we’re talking about. One has to wonder if the reason why Quaden and his mother’s Instagram accounts were deleted is because they’ve been harassed by strangers all weekend who, believing a speculative and duplicitous narrative, find it a good enough reason to make other people they don’t know feel small and more unsafe than they already do. We think this behavior, if it hurts anyone — and it does — only hurts the villainous and power hungry among us, but it deeply hurts the most vulnerable among us, too.
Let’s say Quaden Bayles was an 18 year-old with dwarfism scamming the internet. The ableist and dehumanizing language used to criticize him is still unacceptable. It shouldn’t take a 10 minute long think piece to convince an adult that using debasing and harmful language about a person’s body to criticize their actions is wrong. We know that it is. We forget that it is because we love to cause pain to people we dislike, but it is.
Let’s say the video was faked and Quaden never was bullied. That conversation almost feels irrelevant when the internet is currently proving that there’s a healthy community of people waiting for the opportunity to bully individuals who look different and use language like “ugly ass midget” to do it. We’ve already proven this weekend that that behavior is happening.
Quaden, by all legitimate accounts, is a nine year-old boy who appears to be suicidal because of the way he’s treated. In the video, he tells his mother that he’s made to feel dumb in class, that he wants to die. He talks in detail about how he wants his life to end. Instead of having a critical conversation about why so many children are feeling that level of pain and what we need to do to stop it, we’re a virtual peanut gallery making “he’s 18” trend nationwide because the conversation we’d prefer to have is one where we’re fabricating scandals about and ridiculing people we don’t know. It’s despicable.
Videos about bullied kids get to us — that $500,000 were donated by complete strangers for Quaden after his video went viral is evidence of that. Seeing the impact of bullying does and should hurt, but it doesn’t hurt enough when we’re willing to sacrifice our principles about bullying to participate in the same behavior at the slightest drop of sensationalized tea.