We MUST Be Critical of Rebekah Jones, “Censored” Florida COVID “Scientist”

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I have a fun update for you, and by “fun” I mean “my god I can’t believe this keeps getting worse.” Waaaay back in December of 2020 I made a video about how Meatball Ron DeSantis was silencing a data scientist who revealed that Florida was covering up their COVID deaths, to the point that he sent the cops to her house with guns drawn to take her computers.

If you’re reading the transcript of this video instead of watching the video, you might be confused because I always link to EVERYTHING I mention, and there’s no link there! Where is that video from 2020??? Well friends, that video is one of a very small handful that I made private, because it turns out that the “data scientist” in question was actually a big ol’ grifter and I got fooled.

So instead I will link to my first follow-up on this topic from July of 2021, which I will summarize here for those who don’t have the time to click through and watch/read that: Rebekah Jones was a website developer who worked for the Florida Department of Health in 2020 managing their COVID dashboard. In April of 2020, her coworkers reported that she was releasing private personnel data as well as infographics to the public that were altered from the department’s own data. When they asked her to stop doing that, she crashed the dashboard by moving a bunch of data into her own personal account, making herself the sole administrator, and locking coworkers out. A manager was able to get admin access back and get the dashboard back up and running, and the Department tried to work things out with her without firing her but a few days later she messaged her coworkers claiming she was removed from the Dashboard because she refused to manipulate data, at which point she was fired. Then she went to the press, claiming to be a scientist who was silenced for refusing to alter COVID data to make Florida look better, and everyone, including myself, believed her. She raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her legal defense and became a popular, well-regarded opponent of the far-right DeSantis government.

Because her case became a liberal cause celebre, it took awhile for people like me to notice the far-right reporters who were accurately pointing out that she was lying. But when I finally looked at their evidence, I found it was solid, and that was before I learned that she had a long history of shady behavior, like criminal charges for battery and stalking, the latter of which was related to her having sex with one of her students when she was a professor at Florida State University, after she allegedly publicly published nude photos of him and threatened to fail his roommate as revenge for trouble in their relationship.

Like, you gotta admit something ain’t right there.

By the way, Florida did pursue legal action against her which resulted in a plea agreement in which she agreed she was guilty of a “hacking-related offense,” but then she publicly argued that it was all extortion and she was actually innocent. I’m not a lawyer but I think that sort of behavior is usually frowned upon and can lead to the plea agreement being canceled, but when the press reached out to the prosecutor about it, his reaction was hilarious:

“It’s inconsistent with the document, but I don’t really care what she says,” Cappleman said with an audible sigh. “It’s a free country.”

I really feel that sigh, because it seems that Jones is just absolutely exhausting. In fact, someone noticed that she once emailed Cappleman for comment using a pseudonym pretending to be a disinterested third party journalist, but she forgot to log out of her Google Workspace account. She also forgot to hide her admin account on the “news” website she set up for the journalist, AND she’s on file with the state of Florida as the owner of said “news” website, and when asked about it she claimed that website was a part of USA Today. Which it isn’t. She registered and it seems she’s hoping we all confuse it with NWFL Daily News. Exhausting.

And on that note I’m sorry to say that she just will not stop the grifting: last week, her posts started getting retweeted onto my timeline like a very unwanted blast from the past. This time, she was reporting that Governor Ron DeSantis was once again trying to intimidate, threaten, and punish her by having her 13-year old son arrested on trumped up charges because of some edgy memes he posted online. My immediate first thought was “oh god, what’s she lying about now?”

“My family is not safe,” she wrote on Twitter. “My son has been taken on the gov’s orders, and I’ve had to send my husband and daughter out of state for their safety.

“THIS is the reality of living in DeSantis’ Florida.

“There is no freedom here.  Only retaliatory rule by a fascist who wishes to be king”

“A week after we filed our lawsuit against the state, a kid claiming to be the cousin of one of my son’s classmates joined their snapchat group.  They recorded their conversations, and anonymously reported my son to police for sharing a popular internet meme.”

“If you want to help, make your voice heard wherever people will listen,” she continued.

“I don’t have a fund going yet specifically for this, but my whistleblower fundraiser is up if that’s how you feel you can help most.”

“Okay,” I thought, “let’s see the meme.” She Tweeted that it was this meme, which honestly is pretty funny and not in any way threatening. So I looked around and the top search result about all this was a Miami Herald article that described some of the posts that were in the actual police report and yeah, they’re pretty bad!

Feb. 9: “I want to shoot up the school.”

Feb. 12: “If I get a gun I’m gonna shoot up hnms lol” — “an apparent reference to Holley Navarre Middle School, which the youth had previously attended.”

Feb. 12: “I always keep a knife on me so maybe I’ll just stab ppl.”

Feb. 12: “…I have no hope in getting better, so why not kill the losers at school.”

After reading those I thought, “Yeah okay I’m glad they brought that kid in for a talk! He literally said he was going to get a gun and shoot a bunch of children at a middle school!” And unlike what Jones claimed about an anonymous person pretending to be someone’s cousin, it was actually several of his friends who were concerned about his posts and told first their school and then the police that this was serious.

But the Miami Herald article went on to note, “An unredacted version of the warrant, obtained by the Herald, shows the threatening messages were sent by a username that was different than the one Jones’ son used to send the memes. The document does not say how authorities determined both usernames are linked to the same account. The redacted version circulated by authorities does not reveal that there were two different usernames involved.”

Okay, now we’re talking about something that might actually be quite nefarious. Because yes, on the one hand we’re talking about a woman who grifted hundreds of thousands of dollars from people by pretending to be a scientist censored by a fascist governor, but on the other hand we have a fascist governor, and a police force in a state run by a fascist governor. So it’s important to keep an open mind!

After digging into it a bit more, though, I learned that no, there are not two different usernames. There’s just one news outlet that doesn’t understand how Snapchat works, nor how to carefully read a police report, apparently.. Luckily another one does: reporters at Vice who also saw the documents released by the police say the actual report clearly statest “it should be noted Snapchat uses a name to ID the account to other people ([redacted by Motherboard]) and the actual username ([redacted by Motherboard]).” 

Like many social media networks, Snapchat allows you to have one username to log in with, but you can edit what name is displayed to others. On Twitter, my username will always be “rebeccawatson,” but I can change it to say things like, oh I don’t know, “Ben Shapiro can’t get his wife wet” if I notice that Ben Shapiro has retweeted me. So if a screenshot of that Tweet ends up in a police report, god forbid, it would be important for the police to note that “rebeccawatson” is also “Ben Shapiro can’t get his wife wet.”

Anyway, Jones continues to insist that her son is innocent because she checked his Snapchat and didn’t see ANY of those messages, which, um, again, that’s someone who doesn’t know how Snapchat works. The messages delete automatically, though (and this is important for people to know!) the messages do stay on Snapchat’s servers for some time and law enforcement can get a warrant to see them, which appears to be what happened in this case. 

Now, the kid hasn’t gone to trial yet, and of course there’s always a chance that he is completely innocent, which is why I’m not sharing his name. But as of right now, we have way more evidence that Rebekah Jones’s son sent his friends messages threatening to murder middle-schoolers than we have that Ron DeSantis is personally torturing Rebekah Jones by having her son arrested for no reason.

I’m talking about all of this today for a few reasons: first, obviously I talk a lot about liars and the spread of misinformation, and I find that stuff interesting. But more importantly, I think it is absolutely critical that we call out the people on “our side” who are in the wrong. I think Ron DeSantis is a disgusting fascist who absolutely must be run out of office on a rail, and compared to him, Rebekah Jones is a small time grifter. But she’s OUR small-time grifter. The more famous she gets, and the more she continues to lie or misrepresent or distort reality, the more people on the sidelines will assume that that’s what ALL of Ron DeSantis’s opponents are doing. If progressives are to have any moral standing against the far-right, we MUST keep our own house clean. And it can’t be clean with Rebekah Jones in it.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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