Officials refute two fake news reports out of Frederick and Baltimore

Posted at 6:28 PM, May 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 21:08:10-04

While the phrase "fake news" may have been coined by President Donald Trump, it's certainly not a new concept.

“We've always had fake news. We've always had news that was inaccurate, news that was mistaken. You know, people have to make a decision between news that is simply in error that's mistaken, an honest mistake, and news that is intentionally false,” said Richard Vatz, professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University.

In two local incidents this week, the news stories were flat out lies. The articles were designed to look like news reports but contained made up information and people.

On Wednesday, the Frederick Police Department tried to quash a fake story circulating on social media about a potentially rabid fox biting two people.

Frederick Police Public Information Coordinator Michele Bowman said the Frederick Police officer cited in the article was not with the department. It also quoted someone from the Wildlife Center of Frederick, which is a made-up agency. Bowman said they sent out the press release after animal control started receiving calls from residents concerned about a wild fox roaming around their neighborhood.

RELATED: Reports of rabid fox in Frederick is fake news, police say

The source of the website is Channel 22 News, but when you click on their homepage it shows you how to create a fake story for your friends.

“When you get down to fake news on the very, very local level, where it interrupts people's lives, you've simply got to be very clear on assiduously finding out when this fake news is being purveyed and do something about it,” Vatz said.

The Port of Baltimore also worked to dispel false information. Multiple stories on Facebook claimed a Clinton Foundation cargo ship was raided and officials discovered refugees on-board. The Port of Baltimore tweeted Thursday, “A story was published on websites mentioning the Port of Baltimore & a cargo ship raid. It is false. None of the events it cites took place.”

“The answer I think to fake news, and the problems it causes with people knowing erroneous things, is to check them! Check the original source, check other sources, alternate sources, check to see if everyone is reporting this. If you have a major story, it's not likely to be simply printed in one place,” said Vatz.

The sites perpetuating the misinformation also look far from credible. One linked to a meme of Forrest Gump that asks “are you stupid or something?” Even so, thousands shared the story on Facebook.

“We'll believe things right off the bat and depending on how [people] feel about it, they'll associate their own feelings around it and you can't change their opinion at that point, so it gets kind of scary,” said Ashley Mellis.

Facebook recently started tagging stories as disputed if the site believes it's inaccurate. There are also several fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact that people can use to better vet falsehoods.