COVID Sob Story That Went Viral Has All the Signs of a Hoax

When a Twitter user by the name of Robert Honeyman went online Monday to express anguish over their husband falling into a coma after being hospitalized with COVID-19, legions of sympathetic voices spoke up to support them.“I am so so sorry. We will keep you and your husband in our prayers, in my home. We

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When a Twitter user by the name of Robert Honeyman went online Monday to express anguish over their husband falling into a coma after being hospitalized with COVID-19, legions of sympathetic voices spoke up to support them.

“I am so so sorry. We will keep you and your husband in our prayers, in my home. We will imagine a miracle; a medical success story. We will imagine his body healing,” actress Sophia Bush responded to the tweet, which by Tuesday morning had over 11,6srcsrc likes on Twitter. “And we will hope that the doctors are able to make it so. Holding space, from here.”

The news came just weeks after Honeyman sent another tweet with even grimmer COVID-related news: their sister had passed away from the deadly virus. That announcement hit the social-media platform hard, spurring over 43,srcsrcsrc likes and hundreds of replies offering condolences and anger over how pandemic diligence was being pushed to the wayside.

“I am so very sorry for your loss. Sending you love,” Lindsey Boylan, the former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who helped expose him as a serial alleged sexual harasser, tweeted in response.

But internet sleuths like writer and former book editor Joshua Gutterman Tranen raised questions about Honeyman’s account, which described a trans doctor of sociology and feminist studies who uses they/them pronouns, has a “keen interest in poetry,” and worked as a “consultant for LGBTQ+ representation in TV & Movies.” Among them: Honeyman used an easily traceable stock image—which is listed on a royalty-free image site as a “smiling, happy, handsome Latino man outside”—and had no other online presence indicating credentials like the ones they claimed.

A search by The Daily Beast also turned up no record of a Dr. Robert Honeyman—or their husband—anywhere.

Further, just a year ago, the account apparently had a completely different personality—as a rabid, right-leaning Scottish soccer fan, who tweeted sardonically at an official who lamented a lack of healthcare funding, “Ohhh nooo what a shame you can’t lock us in our houses like animals now :sob::sob:.”

By Tuesday, the idea that Honeyman and their husband, Dr. Patrick Honeyman, were not who they said they were—or did not exist at all—had spurred furious outrage online. The strange episode appeared to be just the latest example of pandemic suffering serving as a tool for people to cynically amass sympathy on social media—even as hundreds of actual people continue to succumb every day to COVID-19.

“If someone made that up, amidst such terrible suffering and loss, it’s disgusting. To try and capitalize on real pain and real loss in this way would be monstrous,” Boylan told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I hope that’s not what someone did here.”

The Daily Beast reached out to Honeyman’s account, to which the owner responded: “Hello, what do you want to chat about?” About an hour after The Daily Beast asked for comment on the slew of allegations the profile was fake, the account was deactivated.

Evidence gathered by The Daily Beast points to a very elaborate hoax.

The Daily Beast discovered that archived versions of Honeyman’s earliest tweets used the handle @bob94754463. This incarnation of the account commented frequently on the Scotland-based Aberdeen Football Club and stated in late 2src21 that the user was living in England.

The Daily Beast identified two individuals based in the United Kingdom who were among the first followers not only of Honeyman, but also those of other supposed doctors with whom Honeymoon interacted and promoted: @DrPCHoneyman, who they called their husband, and @DrSteveVille. By Tuesday evening, both of those accounts had been deactivated, as well.

Honeyman’s main topic of online discussion was how the deadly pandemic was ongoing and nobody seemed to be paying attention. The account also frequently mentioned working at a university—even noting in a December tweet that the business school associated with their institution had invited Andrew Tate to speak. The Daily Beast could not find any connection between an academic institution and a Robert Honeyman with the credentials the account claimed, nor a school that invited Tate to guest lecture in December.

The only Robert Honeyman that this outlet was able to find was a Scottish-born medical professional who moved to Virginia in 1774. According to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Dr. Honeyman studied at a college in Aberdeen and was a British Navy surgeon before coming to America to serve as a doctor in the Revolutionary Army. He died in 1824.

The Twitter account in question had seemed to scrub all mentions of Aberdeen, pivoting from soccer to COVID and LGBTQ+ rights around July, when all previous tweets were deleted. On July 18, the account also changed its profile picture to the stock image.

“As a stock photographer I personally find it offensive that you are using one of my photos on your profile,” photographer Chris Hayworth responded to Honeyman’s tweet on Tuesday. “I know you paid for the use, that’s not the issue but it does make it extremely suspicious when you do this. I do plan on looking at your sisters [sic] profile as well.” Hayworth did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While a majority of Honeyman’s account amounted to retweets of virus-related content, it also included several tweets advocating for mask mandates in classrooms and more lockdowns during virus spikes—and bemoaning the effects of long COVID.

In September, Honeyman first mentioned a husband, who supposedly came home crying because “all his students came together to wear a mask in class after learning about his disability.” The tweet—which did not describe the disability— garnered over 12,srcsrcsrc likes.

Dr. Patrick Honeyman’s account, which was activated in October, described him as a classical music teacher, “husband, [and] father” who loves “ballroom dancing and tenpin bowling.” While it was not very active, the account did mention on Halloween that the user had been “reinstalled” after “mask mandates have been put into place in our department’s lectures.”

The Daily Beast could not find any documentation of anyone by the name of Dr. Patrick Honeyman working as a university professor or classical music professional online. A reverse search of the profile picture also shows it originates from a professional profile of an Indiana insurance company consultant. There does not seem to be any immediate connection between the consultant and anybody by the name of Patrick Honeyman.

Robert Honeyman also tweeted about their university and their students, writing in September that they were looking to hire a personal assistant to “work under me while conducting Covid research from a social science perspective. No experience is required and will work virtually from home. Fantastic wage & Benefits.”

“Message if interested. Would love a like-minded individual so reaching out on Twitter,” the account added.

But by Nov. 3, the account revealed that the Honeyman family was moving to Thailand, a place “we have been told that it is very Covid safe and LGBTQ+ friendly.”

“Hopefully if the pandemic ends (doubtfully) we can meet new like-minded friends,” they added.

Five days later, the user tweeted that their sister was put on a ventilator after being diagnosed with COVID—claiming that “she didn’t believe COVID was a serious [sic] and didn’t take precautious.” On Nov. 12, Honeyman went viral after revealing their sister had “passed away from covid.”

“The last couple days have been difficult I won’t be responsive on here for a while. When I’m back all all [sic] Covid minimisers will be blocked straight away,” the account said. “I’m out of patience.”

Honeyman didn’t stay above the fray for long, however, responding to a tweet alleging that their account and the account of another doctor were run by the same person. They said they had been “made aware of a couple attacks…on my sister’s post,” and asked their growing online community to “report” the individual calling them out.

Eventually, Honeyman tweeted that their husband was in the hospital with COVID and that “he has serious underlying health problems and recovery is slow.” On Monday night, Honeyman said that the illness had taken a turn for the worst.

“Sad to announce that my husband has entered a coma after being in hospital with Covid. The doctor is unsure if he will come out,” Honeyman tweeted. “This year has been the toughest of my life losing my sister to this virus. This is the first time in my life I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“If you could follow me on this platform I need as much people round [sic] me as possible right now. Feeling empty sadness,” the account added.

Among other disturbing precedents, the strange episode recalls the saga of a white Arizona State University professor who admitted to inventing a bisexual Hopi Native American colleague she claimed died of COVID-19. At the time, a professor at the University of Arizona who is Hopi told The Daily Beast of their nonexistent colleague, “It sounds like a hoax to me. If so, it’s a sick hoax.”

Before the account was deleted on Tuesday, Honeyman’s tweets were shrouded in skepticism and demands for answers about their real identity—and whether they suffered any loss at all.

“Who r u and what’s your motivation for all these lies?” one Twitter follower demanded.

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