- Quaden Bayles went viral for a video about school bullies, but the attention quickly turned sour as people on social media claimed he was a teen actor lying about his age.
- The theories about his age were untrue, but amid constant accusations about the legitimacy of the video, the video disappeared from social media along with profiles for Quaden and his mother, Yarraka.
- Michelle Kraus of Little People of America said the theories were rooted in bigotry against the dwarfism community.
- "People have a hard time looking at it, so they instead decide to change the narrative and make it like it's his fault," Kraus said.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
The internet is simultaneously both skeptical and gullible; it's a breeding ground for conspiracy theories that run rampant on social media. From the more serious theories that sex offender Jeffrey Epstein didn't actually take his own life, to Pizzagate, to more harmless ones, like one that alt-pop musician Avril Lavigne died and was replaced by a lookalike, theories that question reality are omnipresent.
But conspiracy theories can often show a darker side of the internet, seemingly chock-full of people ready to believe something with little to no actual evidence. It was particularly true in the case of Quaden Bayes.
When the mother of the young Australian boy, who has Achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, posted a video of him crying and suggesting he wanted to take his own life following bullying at school, the internet rushed to support him. But almost instantly, some decided it shouldn't. A baseless theory spread that the boy wasn't actually nine years old. He was really a teenaged actor trying to manipulate people online, despite the fact he or his mother never asked for the money raised in their name by comedian Brad Williams, according to users spreading the misinformation.
An acting profile (where he listed his age as 8) and pictures in front of the number 18 while at a birthday party were the conspiracy theorists' primary points of evidence. It wasn't his party, but some online were convinced it was proof of his true age.
Last week, amid various trending topics on Twitter surrounding Quaden's age and viral video, a Twitter spokesperson told Insider it was "actively reviewing for any signs of coordinated misinformation," but that it had found none, despite repeated posts to the site that accused — without evidence — Quaden and his mother of lying about his age.
"We are observing real people posting opinions organically, and a great deal of counterspeech pointing out that the child is 9 years old," the spokesperson added.
Michelle Kraus, the public relations director for Little People of America, told Insider the social-media theories about Quaden's age revealed societal bigotry toward people with dwarfism.
"In Quaden's situation, they were talking about manipulating your appearance to make you look younger, even though you're an adult because you can," Kraus told Insider. "Or because maybe you're born with dwarfism, you do look younger. You know, I think it's highly exploitative and really has no basis in reality."
Kraus said the conspiracy theories formed — in part — largely because people refuse to believe that bullying exists.
"Bullying people with physical differences — and differences — does happen, especially to children but also adults, especially in the dwarfism community," she said. "People have a hard time looking at it, so they instead decide to change the narrative and make it like it's his fault, he's doing something wrong, he's manipulating it for his own benefit."
In general, Kraus said the dwarfism community is constantly faced with stereotypes and hurtful language across digital media, often rooted in bigoted ideas about people who aren't of average height.
"We are often confronted with media representation — digital representation — that is certainly discriminatory," Kraus told Insider. In terms of the language used. I think the language piece is, from our perspective, most prevalent in the way that journalists, comedians, entertainers, and the like speak and talk about people with dwarfism as 'midgets' or any type of illusion to being short and being 'mini.'"
The language around people with less-than-average height is pervasive, she said.
"I mean even the president talks about it. He refers to Mike Bloomberg as 'Mini Mike' because he's —I don't know — shorter than the average guy. It really is extremely demeaning and I would say demoralizing. We were born this way; there's nothing we could do. We couldn't have done anything to change that," Kraus added.
Simply put, a mother filming a video of her bullied nine-year-old son would likely not have sparked such controversy and claims if the video did not involve someone with dwarfism.
"They couldn't do it," Kraus said, noting that the conspiracies about Quaden's age probably wouldn't have formed had he not had dwarfism, and his bullying had been caused by something else.
Dwarfisms' cultural treatment has been a mixed bag over the last decade.
People with dwarfism have faced mixed treatment in culture in recent history, according to Kraus.
"I think there was a lot of good education around dwarfism, like how the genetics work," Kraus said about TLC's "Little People Big World," which premiered in 2006. "I think the other positive piece was that for all these shows, in a certain way, when people see us on television as people and not as leprechauns, elves, or any kind of character because of our short stature, they almost feel comfortable. They're more aware we exist, so when they see us on the street, I think they have a friendlier or just more neutral reaction, and that's all part of awareness."
Still, she said some of the reality shows about people with dwarfism have suffered the fate of other reality shows, naming Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise an example, and become in her words, a "farce."
"They're not meant to represent every person with dwarfism," she added. "I just think they're out there being in the entertainment business and trying to make a living."
In the past several years, clips and characters from those reality shows have gone viral in memes, but the seconds-long clips are nearly always poking fun at dwarfism or using dwarfism as a butt of a joke.
In 2019, a darker suspicion of people with dwarfism entered mainstream culture after Natalia Grace, a Ukrainian orphan, was accused of lying about her age by her adoptive parents in a still-unresolved case. As Insider reported at the time, many people who have been accused of high-profile age deception haven't had dwarfism.
Kraus says that sort of negative attention or speculation distracts from the reality that nearly all people with dwarfism live.
"We are in the world to be just like everybody: to live, to love, to work, to have fun. I mean we just happen to be shorter," Kraus said. "Unfortunately we can't blend in, but we do want to blend in as in just living in the world."
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