Twitter has suspended the account of MeTooSTEM founder BethAnn McLaughlin after allegations emerged that the former Vanderbilt University neuroscientist fabricated the Twitter account of an apparently nonexistent female Native American anthropologist at Arizona State University. McLaughlin announced on 31 July that the woman supposedly behind the account, @Sciencing_Bi, had died after a COVID-19 infection. The company has also suspended that pseudonymous account.
A detailed accounting of McLaughlin’s recent actions was published by Heavy.com. The episode began when McLaughlin issued a series of tweets on Friday memorializing @Sciencing_Bi, including: “She was a fierce protector of people” and “I wanted to go out there so bad when she went back in the hospital.”
At first, the tweets prompted expressions of sadness and sympathy. These turned to protests of anger and betrayal over the weekend as Twitter users searched for the supposed professor and could not find any evidence of her existence. Twitter denizens, including Peruvian-Australian sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos and the University of Maine, Orono, climate scientist Jacquelyn Gill, posted stinging comments; some, in particular, noted how hurtful it was that the account purported to be a female scientist of color.
McLaughlin could not immediately be reached for comment. On Sunday, she tweeted at a reporter for The Arizona Republic who inquired about the identity of @Sciencing_Bi: “I’m afraid I can’t say much with regard to affiliation. To the extent that I have people engage with me on Twitter using accounts not associated with their names, I try to do that in good faith assuming they are authentic.”
McLaughlin grabbed the spotlight 2 years ago as a prominent leader of the #MeTooSTEM movement, advocating for survivors of sexual harassment in science through the nonprofit group she founded, MeTooSTEM. She won praise, funding, and a platform from entities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Institutes of Health, which featured her at a “listening session” for victims of sexual harassment in 2019. Science featured her in a profile and she pinned a laudatory tweet from Anita Hill to the top of her Twitter feed.
But as her profile grew, colleagues and volunteers at MeTooSTEM began to resign, saying she bullied them. Women of color repeatedly reported that she ignored or silenced them. More resignations followed, until the organization listed only McLaughlin and one volunteer on its website in March. MeTooSTEM board member Carol Greider, a Nobel prize–winning biologist, wrote to Science in an email today that she resigned from the board in early March because of other duties.