The discussion over what happened between competing groups of people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
It all started that evening when someone posted an Instagram video of a tense encounter between a Native American elder and a group of Catholic high school students from Kentucky.
Twenty-four hours later, the video was everywhere: trending on social networks, splashed across news sites and airing on TV.
How did it spread so fast? Here’s a closer look.
What happened that day at the Lincoln Memorial
After participating in the March for Life rally on Capitol Hill, a group of students from Covington Catholic High School in northern Kentucky were wrapping up their day in Washington with a sightseeing visit to the Lincoln Memorial. At the same time, a small group of Native Americans were holding an Indigenous People’s March on the memorial’s steps.
Kaya Taitano posts the original video
Taitano had attended the Indigenous People’s March and shot video of the encounter, which appeared to show the students, some wearing Make America Great Again caps, mocking Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips. She uploaded the video to Instagram on Friday at 7:33 p.m. She also posted a longer version to her YouTube account.
The Instagram video drew more than 179,000 views.
A Twitter user amplifies the encounter, adding commentary
Almost four hours later, at 11:13 p.m. Friday, the Twitter account @2020fight reposted Taitano’s video.
“This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protestor at the Indigenous People’s March,” read the tweet accompanying the video.
The internet outrage machine snapped into action and the video quickly gained traction. Social media influencers, celebs and some journalists retweeted it.
Before the account was taken down by Twitter, @2020fight’s version of the video was viewed more than 2.5 million times and retweeted more than 14,400 times, according to a cached version of the tweet seen by CNN Business.
Social media accounts repost it over and over
Like all videos that go viral, Taitano’s original clip was downloaded and reposted by other people and accounts, over and over and over again — often without her permission or knowledge.
Her original YouTube video now has more than 4.5 million views. But some reposts of her videos, with their added assumptions and commentaries, have even more.
A number of people and organizations, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, quickly condemned the students seen in the video.
News organizations learn there’s more to the story
When legitimate news outlets attempt to investigate videos like this, it can be difficult to wade through hundreds — sometimes thousands — of reposts to find the original post.
CNN tracked down Taitano, who said the incident started when a shouting match erupted between the students and four African-American men who were preaching about the Bible nearby.
Newly discovered video, which came to light after CNN published its first story on the incident, showed the group of black men, who identify themselves as members of the Hebrew Israelites, shouting slurs at the Native Americans and the Catholic students.
At 7:10 p.m. on Sunday, CNN obtained a statement from Nick Sandmann, the Covington student seen confronting Phillips, the Native American elder. He denied allegations he was mocking Phillips and said he was trying to defuse a tense situation.
“I was not intentionally making faces at the protester,” Sandmann said in his three-page statement. “I did smile at one point because I wanted him to know that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”
The @2020fight Twitter account is suspended
The account claimed to belong to a California schoolteacher. But CNN Business found that its profile photo was not of a schoolteacher but of a blogger based in Brazil.
Twitter suspended the @2020fight account Monday evening after CNN revealed that information to the company.
It’s unclear who ran the @2020fight account. Twitter is investigating.
But the tweeter was able to sway the opinions of many people with just one tweet.
It’s the latest example of social media’s glaring problem: snap judgments, without full context, spread by people who themselves could be trying to deceive or sway opinions.
CNN’s David Williams contributed to this report.