@sciencing_bi was a well-read Science Twitter account, a queer Native American professor with a unique perspective on science and university life. They reportedly caught coronavirus and and died of Covid, drawing tributes from online admirers, some of them prominent academics. But it was only the final straw in a haybale of suspicion for people who knew BethAnn McLaughlin, a white woman that @sciencing_bi often spoke of. It turns out, with grim predictability, that it was her all along, catfishing the academic pond.
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. … In April, @Sciencing_Bi began to undergo a drama that belonged solely to her, announcing the coronavirus diagnosis in a tweet. It was Ms. McLaughlin who announced that the anonymous professor had died.
Twitter banned both McLaughlin and her sockpuppet, but there's a lot more to unravel.
An interesting element of the sockpuppet was posing @sciencing_bi at Arizona State University. One of the largest universities in the U.S., ASU has a six-figure roster of students, academics and staff, a daunting prospect to any researcher trying to track the account author down. It would be almost impossible. Sciencing_bi's "death" was what pushed it past the threshold of being interesting enough to turn "almost impossible" into "done."