Julia Vergara | Staff Writer
The Waco police department posted on Facebook on Aug. 11, urging Waco residents to verify information before spreading fake news after a false story circulated about two mothers being attacked in an attempt to abduct their children.
While fake news typically surrounds national events and well-known figures, as a result of social media fake news can appear anywhere, about anything.
“If people read it on Facebook, then they just assume that it’s true,” Waco PD spokesman Sgt. Patrick Swanton said. “The danger with that is it can create a lot of paranoia for our citizens and panic that is not necessary.”
Swanton said that once he started getting calls from the media about a potential kidnapping suspect on the loose in Waco, he checked into it and found that the report was false.
Instead of the alleged story, Swanton said that there was a panhandler who cussed at a mother for refusing to give him money.
The panhandler never tried to grab a kid or make contact with any resident, Swanton said.
“People, please don’t post fake news on your Facebook accounts without verifying information through your local police departments,” Waco PD said on Facebook.
According to Swanton, there is a lot of information that people put on Facebook which can alarm Waco residents that may not necessarily be factual and if people have any questions, all they have to do is ask Waco PD.
Baylor has also dealt with false information being spread in the past. On Oct. 5, 2016, a false emergency text was sent out to several Baylor students, asking that they calmly evacuate all buildings.
Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media communications at Baylor, said that the text came from another Texas institution that was having a real emergency at the time. However, their contact system included some Baylor students that were once affiliated with that institution and they also received the message.
While only a number of Baylor students received the false emergency text, word was able to spread around campus.
“Social media can be helpful in sharing information, especially in an emergency,” Fogleman said. “But also with social media, rumors or incorrect information can spread so quickly.”
Fogleman said that when the Baylor media communications staff sees information that may be inaccurate or clearly untrue, they check it and verify with their sources such as police departments or their emergency management team so that they can release correct information to the public.
Baylor was swift to use social media and the Baylor alert system that night to make sure the community knew there was no emergency on the campus, said Fogleman.
Fogleman said that the media communications staff is able to share verified, accurate information and if Baylor students or parents have questions, the university is there to answer them.