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Check your sources

In the past couple of weeks, two heartwarming stories and photos were circulating about police officers in the Winston-Salem Police Department going above and beyond the call of duty, committing random acts of kindness for those they serve and protect. Those stories were shared tens of thousands of times and the overwhelmingly positive response was heartwarming in itself.

The Facebook page originally posting the stories and photos is called “North Carolina Breaking News.” It was taken down by Facebook after officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department heard about the posts and did a little investigating. Neither story originating from the “North Carolina Breaking News” page had anything to do with the Winston-Salem Police Department — the stories and the photos had been altered.

It’s not to say these stories never happened. They did. Yes, an officer comforted an injured dog after it was hit by a car, and, yes, an officer bought a car seat for the child of a driver who couldn’t afford one for his child, but they happened in Osceola County, Florida, in 2018, and in Westland, Michigan, in 2016, respectively.

These examples are the epitome of “fake news,” but fake news is hard to recognize sometimes when the news comes in the form of a feel-good story. So, why bother at all with this type of fake news?

It’s less about the fake news and more about giving readers reason to trust a random “news” source. In the three short weeks that “North Carolina Breaking News” had an active Facebook page, it gained 51,000 followers, most probably encouraged by the fake good news stories the page was posting. By posting the happy stories, the administrators behind the page enlarged their audience dramatically.

What’s also interesting is that when officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department reached out to the “North Carolina Breaking News” page administrator, the response they received was written in Russian.

When it comes to social media sites and posts shared through social media, give it a critical eye. Just because someone took the time to make a meme does not mean the information it conveys is true. Here, someone, somewhere, took the time to alter a photo, changing the Florida sheriff’s office deputy’s badge to read Winston-Salem Police.

That “trusted” news source on social media may not be so trustworthy, and in between the pieces of fake good news they’re feeding you, might be fake bad news aiming to sow greater division among Americans everywhere.