How police determine what’s real and what’s a hoax on social media

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CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – With the click of a button, a post on social media can go viral in a matter of minutes– and just because you see it online, doesn’t mean it’s true.

“Social media is powerful,” Chicopee Police Officer Mike Wilk said. “People will take it for face value until it can be proven otherwise.”

22News found out how police determine whether something is a hoax or a real threat. 

Viral posts

Wilk says officers look into everything regardless of what it is–first comparing the claims made in such a post with call logs and reports to see if it’s something already on their radar.

A recent example of this process happened over the weekend. Wilk says a woman posted on Facebook to warn parents about a man she said tried to kidnap her daughters at Walmart. The public post, titled “A MAN AT CHICOPEE WAL-MART TRIED TO TAKE MY GIRLS AND OTHER KIDS BE CAREFUL,” has been shared more than 1.3K times.

“I was inundated with phone calls, with messages,” Wilk explained. “I researched it, I looked at the call history, and nothing that was posted on that Facebook post coincided with what was said to our officers and the narrative of the call.”

Other examples include cookie-cutter posts that people modify to fit a certain location. Just a few months ago in Holyoke, one of these types of posts caused panic on social media. 

The post read:

“Just a heads up. Co-workers uncle is a Holyoke cop. He said don’t go to the Holyoke malls alone or use bathrooms in mall alone. People are stabbing young girls with needles and taking them for sex trafficking. Just be careful with the holidays coming up……”

In that instance, Holyoke Police Lt. James Albert told 22News officers investigated the claims and confirmed they were untrue.

School threats

For something like a school threat posted to social media, Officer Wilk said an incident report is generated right away. Police will then work with other agencies to track down IP addresses to find the origin of the post, or sometimes it’s as simple as matching a username to an individual. 

“A ton of resources are used on something like that because we don’t want to take the chance of it possibly just being a hoax,” Wilk said. “Were going to go and treat it as a real threat until we deem it as otherwise.”

If someone is found to have made a hoax threat, they’ll face consequences. In the past year, multiple teens have been charged in connection with making school threats in Chicopee, Springfield, Holyoke, and Palmer

What can you do?

Wilk said it’s not always easy to spot a hoax post. 

“People can perceive something different when they are in the heat of a moment of a situation,” he said. “What I would caution people is before they go on Facebook, before they post an entire post about something, let us do our job, let us investigate it, let us look into it.”

Wilk said  matters that concern public safety will always be posted on the Chicopee Police Department Facebook page.

WEB EXTRA: Full interview with Chicopee Police Officer Mike Wilk.

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