Multiple news outlets across the globe have been reporting the following story: How a man claiming to be Ed Sheeran is wanted by an Ohio “fugitive task force” for fraud, after allegedly performing at a few local churches and asking for money in return.
And according to the Facebook page where the story originated, it’s entirely untrue.
Portsmouth Ohio Official is a Facebook page where the story, along with other made-up events, was planted on Monday. And although the page is identified as a Satire/Parody account, thousands of people took the post as truth.
Outlets including The Shade Room, Florida’s WZVN and Australia’s Today reported that a man named Ronnie Williams Jr. was wanted as a result of fraudulently playing paid gigs. Later in the broadcast, Australia Today clarified that it had been duped.
Local Illinois outlet, WTVO, even reported that “Police say man wanted for fraud,” before removing the article entirely. The Shade Room did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
On Wednesday evening, the satirical Facebook page revealed that the police have had nothing to do with it.
”Once again, I’ve managed to just make something up off the top of my head and get multiple major news outlets to run it as the truth,” Portsmouth Ohio Official wrote. “This is the reason why we’re in the political mess that we’re in, people just blindly believe everything.”
Jake Bradshaw, the page’s founder and main contributor, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he created the page about a year ago in order to prove a point about social-media consumption — particularly in the context of today’s news cycle.
“I thought it was hilariously ironic that a lot of people in middle America would constantly rant about news organizations being ‘fake news’ but then turn around and share a meme about how it’s been proven that flu vaccines turn babies into werewolves or whatever. Whatever fits their agenda,” Bradshaw, who works as an anti-opioid youth advocate, says. “I decided to create a page to see how much traction I could get with outrageous posts.”
The 37-year-old Portsmouth, Ohio native, currently living in Columbus, goes on to explain that his first post to hit national headlines was about a man claiming to be country singer Travis Tritt and accepting $2,250 to perform at a local county fair. Similarly to the latest post, that one read like a police report. Although some people and news outlets didn’t read into the source.
“Turns out, maybe people were right about ‘fake news,’” Bradshaw says of the coverage that came out of the hoax. “Right or wrong, one thing is for certain, fake news is hilarious.”
A couple of Bradshaw’s buddies, Jess Dunfee and Chris Boyles, help him out with the page. Dunfee explains that she found the mugshot that turned into the viral Tritt post. Although they all find the attention paid to the Portsmouth Ohio Official account entertaining, Bradshaw points out that the serious response to the satirical stories is concerning.
“Think about the depth and weight of this,” he says. “I can take six minutes of my time and create something that’s viewed by 100 million people, 20 percent of which believe it as factual information. That’s a pretty scary thought coming into an election year.”
Facebook did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
The Portsmouth Police Department and city officials didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, Bradshaw maintains that the attention placed on the city is a good thing, “so I think they are OK with it.”
As for what everybody else should learn from this particular account, Bradshaw says, “Please do not believe everything that you read online. Coming into a very polarizing general election, you are about to see unprecedented propaganda about political candidates. We implore you to not take everything at face value just because a Facebook page or political ad says it’s true. The fate of our very nation depends on it.”
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