Woman Loses Internship After Speculation She Faked Good Deed for Photo amid Protests
"I think I’m gonna put Twitter away for a few minutes before I throw this phone across the room," director Ava DuVernay said in response to the clip
An aspiring conservative journalist has lost her internship amid social media outrage over a video that appears to show her staging an act of community service during the protests against police brutality in California.
The controversy began when Twitter user @ewufortheloss published the video on Monday, writing, "This lady stopped someone boarding up a store in Santa Monica so she could hold the drill for a picture, then drove away. Please don’t do this. #santamonicaprotest #BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatterLA."
New York Times style reporter Taylor Lorenz later tweeted in part, "The video is now all over influencer tea accts. She’s since gone private but said nothing."
Lorenz was one of many who have identified the woman as Fiona Moriarty-McLaughlin by tagging her alleged Twitter account, @factswithfiona. (All of Moriarty-McLaughlin's social media accounts still appear to be private, and PEOPLE was not able to contact her for comment.)
In the 17-second clip, Moriarty-McLaughlin is seen saying "thank you so much, thank you so much — I really appreciate it" to the man whose drill she held while her male companion aimed a phone in their direction.
It's unclear who was heard saying "boyfriends of Instagram" and "good job guys, BLM!” as the duo got in a luxury vehicle and prepared to drive off.
BLM stands for Black Lives Matter, the activist group that was founded in 2013 following the death of Trayvon Martin and has been at the forefront of nationwide protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd, the black man who was killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes during his arrest.
"Respectfully declining and not giving permission to use the video, for whatever it’s worth," @ewufortheloss — who did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment — tweeted of the Moriarty-McLaughlin clip on Tuesday. "It happened, more than enough people know, let’s learn from it and move on."
But the criticism continued, leading to the cancelation of Moriarty-McLaughlin's internship at a conservative media outlet, PEOPLE confirms.
"Fiona Morarity-McLaughlin is no longer an intern with the Washington Examiner," the publication says in a statement provided to PEOPLE. "The College Fix informed us that it has canceled her summer internship at the Washington Examiner with immediate effect."
Moriarty-McLaughlin's internship was organized by The College Fix, a publication comprised of student-reported stories that bills itself as "your daily dose of right-minded news and commentary from across the nation."
"We were planning to sponsor Fiona at the Examiner this summer. Her first day was Monday," says John J. Miller, executive director of The College Fix, which he tells PEOPLE provides training, mentoring and internship opportunities to build "the next generation of journalists."
"Given what happened, I grew concerned that she could become an unwelcome distraction to the editors. So I canceled her internship," adds Miller in an email reply to PEOPLE's request for comment. "This was my decision. It is important to note that the Examiner did not fire her, as several journalists have incorrectly claimed."
Despite the video's infamy and speculation about Moriarty-McLaughlin's intentions, "The College Fix has not ended its relationship with Fiona," Miller continues. "We still hope to help a promising young reporter. Right now, we're just encouraging her to stay safe as she weathers a horrific storm of doxxing that has included death threats."
The footage has been viewed millions of times on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok — and also drew widespread condemnation from celebrities.
"This is what some of y’alls activism looks like," actor Johnny Sibilly said in a tweet on Monday.
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"You know what? I’m ... I think I’m gonna put Twitter away for a few minutes before I throw this phone across the room," director Ava DuVernay added.
NBA star LeBron James reposted the video, adding a series of angry and face-palm emojis in his caption.
Tank Sinatra (né George Resch) — the founder of popular meme and pop culture accounts @TankSinatra and @TanksGoodNews — tells PEOPLE he first saw the "ridiculous" clip published by @ewufortheloss on Twitter and then shared it via his @InfluencersInTheWild accounts. On Instagram alone, his repost has been viewed over 1 million times.
The account typically reveals the lengths to which social media users will go to get a viral snap, often with comedic results. Sinatra acknowledges this video — landing amid global protests against racism and a devastating pandemic — is very different.
"People just started sending it to me like crazy, like hundreds of tags on Twitter, DMs, emails," says Sinatra. "People were like, 'You've gotta see this, you've gotta see this,' and within the first five or six emails, I knew that this video was going to be a big deal."
Sinatra says it remains unclear who captured the video and what Moriarty-McLaughlin intended to do with any images her companion may have taken, but the video of her nonetheless was a "perfect storm."
"As soon as I posted it, I was like, 'Holy s---,'" he adds. "I think it had 3,000 comments in 15 minutes, which is completely and totally out of the ordinary."
Though Sinatra doesn't "want to see anybody suffer" from viral videos, he sees a lesson for social media users.
"Be genuine," says Sinatra. "The world is watching."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.