Fact Check

'Clown Purge' on Halloween?

The social media clown panic has inevitably merged with "purge" rumors, just in time for Halloween.

Published Oct. 14, 2016

Clowns are planning a "purge night" on Halloween (or the night before).


On 12 October 2016, the Facebook page "Clown Hunters" published a post warning that clowns may be "planning their own purge the night before Halloween":

WARNING clowns are allegedly planning their own purge the night before Halloween. Stay inside, keep all pets inside and keep all doors and windows locked.

Share this post with your family and friends!

Despite having all the hallmarks of an opportunistic social media hoax predicated on contemporaneous purported clown sightings, close to half a million users directly shared the post within 48 hours of its appearance. Many of our readers reported receiving the warning via text message or social media platforms:

Missing from most versions of the rumor were details about how information on the clown purge was obtained, how the clowns might be organizing among themselves, whether the clown purge threat was localized or widespread, or indication that any credible entity believed such a thing was possible or likely. The rumor was a variation on cyclically viral general "purge" rumors spurred on by social media panics in specific areas, often occurring around Halloween.

Although rumors about purges have intermittently popped up and blanketed specific areas in the past, no outbreak of widespread crime has ever followed them. As we noted in a previous article, purge rumors do cause problems — for police fielding reports lodged by people exposed to them:

Police later confirmed [a teenager's prank sparked the] online "Purge" fears, noting that he had not been charged [with a crime] but they were continuing to investigate.

While police took Purge rumors seriously in Louisville, local media and sources within the Louisville Metro Police Department agree that weekend criminal activity was quite average:

Complete hoax. I am a police officer here and can 100% confirm nothing occurred during the "purge" Fri night in Louisville, KY or neighboring cities that was outside the norm. There were many false reports and unfounded complaints all night, however[.]

Unlike previous viral purge panics, we haven't been able to find any indication that police in any jurisdiction have even bothered to address the clown purge rumors. During prior outbreaks of "purge" scares, local police typically weighed in to either pledge a close watch or debunk the rumors. Yet in this case, we've turned up no such assurances or debunkings from any law enforcement sources.

Cyclical purge rumors are inspired by the Purge series of horror films and their premise of an annual night where all crime is legal. Outside of the movies, our usual collection of criminal activities (including murder) remains illegal, rendering the linchpin motive for any genuine "purge" moot. On or around 24 October 2016 the rumor was regurgitated by TMZ impostor TMZ Breaking, leading many social media users to believe the claim was verified by TMZ. But TMZ Breaking is one of several fake news sites using TMZ's name to trick users into believing they're reading the genuine, original site (to which the other sites have no relation).

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.