In the past two weeks several virulent strains of misinformation regarding alleged Antifa arsonists setting fires throughout rural Oregon made the rounds on social media. Despite repeated attempts by law enforcement agencies to quell these untruthful reports, including Douglas County Sheriff’s Office pleading with residents to stop spreading the rumors and making their jobs harder, those who believed the reports would not be dissuaded.

On an emergency Zoom call for the Clackamas County Commissioner’s meeting on September 10th Captain Jeff Smith told the Commissioners that they had “reliable sightings and reports” of Antifa in the area carrying chainsaws with intent to cut down power poles to start fires. When questioned about these reports as being rumor Captain Smith indicated they were confirmed. He went on to claim that gas cans were being “staged” throughout the county for later use.

During a news conference the following Monday Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts disclosed that the information provided by Captain Smith had been discredited. Further he stated that all individuals who had been arrested have been thoroughly checked for ties to extremist groups by detectives as well as the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

That official statement didn’t stop Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett from posting the debunked information and continuing to defend it throughout the week.

Also on September 10th Gabriel Trumbly and his partner Jennifer Paulsen had gone to Molalla to document the fire and devastation. By the afternoon they were the subject of a vigilante manhunt after locals spotted them standing in a field taking photos and video of the surrounding area while wearing their gas masks to protect them from the smoke. Descriptions of the two “young men” and the car they drove off in flooded Facebook community groups throughout rural counties. The comments were heavily tilted toward a second amendment response.

Prior weeks saw numerous reports on Facebook from individuals along the coast sharing scary stories of individuals acting in unsettling ways toward their children.

In Seaside, one individual shared a harrowing story about a couple she alleges fixated on her son.

After speaking with the police in Seaside they I was able to confirm they had been contacted by the alleged victim, and they were also aware of the Facebook post. However the details of the original complaint and the experience describe on the post differed substantially.

A second incident in Lincoln City involving someone allegedly being attacked at Lincoln City Outlet Mall described a vehicular chase on HWY18.

Calls to Lincoln City police were unable to turn up reports on either of these incidents.

2020 has unleashed a panic all over the world and that panic is seeping into our better judgment. Before you hit share or retweet ask yourself if what you just read makes sense, take a moment to check if the source is credible. Look to see if it’s already been debunked. Even if something confirms your own suspicion consider checking just to make sure.

Spotting misinformation repeated by people you know and love is hard enough, but what about when it comes from sources you have no direct connection with?

Spot The Troll Quiz

Clemson University professors Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren have created an online quiz to help us challenge our own perceptions about the content we consume whenever we’re on social media.

Spotthetroll takes you through eight social media profiles taken from social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For each you are asked to review each then make a choice as to whether the profile is legit or a troll.

After making your guess you’ll learn the truth and get insight on telltale signs to help you tell the difference in the future.

Clemson’s new Media Forensics Lab created the quiz as part of their mission to engage and educate the public at large in order to make it easier to spot misinformation. A noble endeavor, and one that is more important than ever.