Fake news is real and this week Portsmouth has gone viral with a bit of it. This Facebook post from a site that calls itself Portsmouth Ohio Offical went up two days ago and has already been shared almost 40,000 times. That translates into millions and millions of views all over the world on Facebook alone. An Illinois TV station actually picked up the story but has since deleted it from their website.
According to the alleged “Fugitive Alert,” police are searching for a Sciotoville resident who convinced three local churches that he was British pop singer Ed Sheeran and performed one of his hits in front of Christ Community Search for $35 and a sandwich. It includes a photo of an unknown individual that is clearly not Ed Sheeran. It could be a mugshot. It could be some guy’s driver’s license photo.
I learned about this viral photo when a former coworker of mine who lives in Texas shared it. He’s never been to Portsmouth. Might not even know about it exists. And humorously enough he’s a former news anchor and news director. The post has drawn close to 20,000 comments. Some of them get that it’s a joke, but most are furiously angry that anyone would call the police on this poor homeless Ed Sheeran impersonator.
One woman wrote, “This is the least Christian thing I’ve ever read.”
Tom Boutwood said, “Of course an American church is going to get the police involved because they accidentally gave a homeless person money.”
Others pointed out that churches don’t have to pay taxes and the least they could do was help this poor homeless guy.
The catch is, none of this is real. Portsmouth Ohio Official is a humor site with made-up stories that has nothing to do with any government agency. It says so right at the top of their page if you care to look.
For me, the first tip-off was how funny and well-written the press release is. Police officials are usually too busy fighting crime to write good linear stories.
While this is all in good fun, even if it does make us look kind of mean down here, parody and satire sites like these are important to keep in mind during an election year. A lot of times you will find outrageous stories about candidates from these sites shared by people who absolutely believe they are real. I’ve even seen things like this picked up by news sites that aren’t careful to verify.