When are people going to learn?
I try to avoid posting on current events in this blog unless there is a clear connection to the business of writing and publishing fiction.
However, the latest FaceBook outrage has made me very angry. Posting when I’m angry is something else I try not to do, but, you know, screw it.
Social Media Donation Fraud has become a major industry in the US, and it needs to stop.
Okay, quick recap of the story, for those of you who have missed it. A three year old girl was at her grandparent’s house and was badly mauled by the grandfather’s dogs. She was taken to a local emergency room and treated, leaving the child with visible facial wounds. This much is verifiable.
The child’s grandmother later posted on FaceBook that she had taken the child to a local restaurant and was told to leave, because the child’s scars were scaring the other customers.
Instant outrage. Instant boycott of the restaurant in question. Verbal abuse and threats of violence against the restaurant’s employees. Huge internet call for donations, large amounts of cash donated (including from the restaurant) free medical offered. The picture of the child with her decorated bandages was reposted approximately seventy times a second.
And now the rest of the story comes out. It never happened.
The restaurant has hired an independent investigator and surrendered surveillance videos and sales records. No video of a child matching the description of the wounded child in the videos. No sales receipts for the order the grandmother claims to have made. No witnesses who saw the incident.
The grandmother–who, we must assume was at least partially responsible for the mauling of the child under her care–has made an estimated $135,000 by lying on FaceBook. She used her granddaughter’s traumatic injury to defraud a whole lot of strangers out of a whole lot of cash.
Did she plan it? Who can say. I expect that there was a grain of truth in the original story–maybe someone stared at the child rudely and the grandmother just embellished the tale to make it more pointed. I doubt that the initial intent was to defraud anyone.
However, once the story got picked up and shared, she had an obligation to publish a retraction and get it posted in as many places as she could manage. By staying silent and letting the donations roll in, she committed fraud, no matter what her motivation in publishing the original post.
What happens now? That’s the tricky part. The child really is badly injured, and does need medical attention to repair the damage done by the dogs. Denying her the aid that has been offered on the basis of her grandmother’s perfidy does seem the height of cruelty.
On the other hand, I do believe that the grandmother should be prosecuted for fraud. There is also the question of the mauling itself, and whether that involved negligence on the part of the adults in the house–I can’t speak to that obviously, but I assume that the local authorities are in the process of investigating it.
This is happening much too often, people. The speed at which information can be shared over the internet makes the promulgation of rumors outstrip the determination of facts.
Let’s put the breaks on. Stop and think before reposting calls for help. If the need is genuine, the cause will wait. Sadly, we must assume the possibility of fraud in any reports of a tragedy or an outrage. Give it time, wait for the evidence to be collected and investigated. If, after time has passed and numerous sources have reported the story, it seems to be genuine, by all means give as much as you can.
Think about it.