The joy on the face of 9-year-old Murri boy Quaden Bayles was clear to see on television screens across the country as he walked, hand-in-hand with Indigenous All Stars captain Joel Thompson, onto Gold Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
As the Rugby League world was doing its best to lift Quaden's spirits, however, a stream of false information about him was being spread across the internet.
As reported in the New York Post on Saturday morning, a false narrative about Quaden had grown from one social media user and had gone viral.
The Twitter account that started it all posted screenshots, manipulated to remove context, from Bayles’ own social media accounts. One of the pictures posted showed Quaden standing next to a number 18, which the account claimed was the boy's age, when in fact the picture was taken recently at his cousin's 18th birthday party.
That fabrication instigated other falsehoods about Quaden and his mother, Yarraka, that went on to be widely shared. Soon, legitimate social media accounts began to distribute the misinformation too, sharing old pictures and video clips of Quaden taken out of context, and other online accounts and profiles using his name.
That led to recognised news media outlets like the New York Post publishing articles that contributed to doubts over the identity of the 9-year-old and the veracity of the story that he had been bullied at school.
Tweeting from New York, NewsCorp columnist Miranda Devine, a well-known figure in the media industry, shared an old video clip on Saturday. In it, Quaden holds a handful of Australian currency and says the words, "See, this is what you get for working."
Ms Devine wrote, "That’s really rotten if this was a scam. Hurts genuine bullying victims" and then engaged in an exchange with Twitter user ‘CoffeyJPC’.
CoffeyJPC responded to Ms Devine's post by saying 'It's a crime if it is a scam. Child abuse. How could anyone parent do this?' to which she replied 'Yep. Exactly. On the case.'
On Sunday, ABC Media Watch host Paul Barry was critical of the exchange, taking to the platform to ask Ms Devine to "step up" following her tweets. Mr Barry linked to a video by fact-checking website Snopes that confirmed Quaden's age.
Twitter user ‘Suren Senat’ then questioned the criticism, prompting Mr Barry to say that if Ms Devine “thought about it for one moment or checked, as any proper journalist would do, she would know that it’s nonsense, and she should not be retweeting it and suggesting it might be true. Do you expect no standards from such a prominent columnist?”
Ms Devine responded to Mr Barry's post saying 'Typical of your sloppy research @therealpbarry. I never mentioned anything about age. Dishonest diversion.
Quaden Bayles and his family are well known in First Nations communities along the south east coast of Australia. NITV has done a number of stories with Quaden and his family over the past five years.
In 2015, when Quaden was four years old, the channel aired an episode of ‘Living Black’ that followed Quaden and his mother as he prepared to have one of many surgeries he has been forced to endure throughout his life.
On Wednesday last week, Yarraka Bayles, Quaden's mother, live-streamed the aftermath of a bullying incident that occurred at Quaden's Brisbane school. The video showed a distressed Quaden suggesting that be wanted to end his life. He has since been removed from the school.
Speaking to NITV News this week, Ms Bayles said she expected a backlash after posting the video but she wanted to raise awareness about bullying and the challenges in the education system faced by an Indigenous child living with disability.
She did not place any blame on the school or the children involved in the incident.
Ms Bayles arranged to meet with the school on Monday and is hoping it will incorporate more practices to educate other students about disability.