Twitter Rallied to Find a Missing Woman — And Then Turned On Her
How #we’relookingforyoukaren transformed into #lyingkaren.
It was nearly 10 a.m. on December 4 when Laura Karen Espindola realized it had all gone wrong. “Holy shit. Look what’s happened,” her friend said before holding out his phone. Espindola’s face was all over his Facebook. Each post featured the selfie she’d sent her mom the previous night — her hair a glossy blonde cascade down her shoulders, coral lipstick shimmering in filtered light — and the hashtag #TeBuscamosKaren: #We’reLookingForYouKaren.
Social media’s de facto alarm system — the hashtag — had labeled her a missing person.
Espindola grabbed her purse and ran out of her friend’s house into a mild Mexico City morning. In a panic, she ditched her bag — cell phone, wallet, and all — on a footbridge and hailed a cab.
When she arrived home, her family greeted her with joy and questions. Wordlessly, she pushed past them, hurried to her room, and shut the door.
How could she explain she’d been out partying with friends when her family — and the whole country — thought she’d been kidnapped? She later described what had actually happened in a television interview: She was meant to come home the previous evening, but then they’d started drinking. So, while at the bar, she’d texted her mom to say she was in a taxi, waited a few minutes, then added that the driver was acting “rude and suspicious.” She turned her phone off. And didn’t look at it again.
She never imagined her family would make a hashtag to spread the word of her disappearance — or that it would become Mexico’s #1 Trending Topic on Twitter.
But by the evening, there was no way around it. Local and national media had gotten their hands on CCTV footage from the bar where she and her friends had holed up and broadcast videos of her dancing with a man. Now Espindola had far more to reckon with than just her family. The Twittersphere’s backlash was swift. They traded out #We’reLookingForYouKaren for #LyingKaren. And then they unleashed the memes.
In under 24 hours, Espindola’s story showed the very best — and the very worst — of social media’s response to a missing person’s case: An entire…