Are Michigan Police Worried About a ‘Vigilante’ Serial Killer of Pedophiles?

Fake local news sites spread junk news about a supposed serial killer targeting pedophiles.

  • Published 15 October 2018
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Claim

The Macomb County Police Department held a press conference about a potential "vigilante" serial killer after three pedophiles were murdered in one week.

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Origin

Many social media users encountered a September 2018 news article reporting that law enforcement agencies in a Michigan county were on the lookout for a “vigilante” serial killer after three pedophiles were murdered in the span of one week.

A version of this junk news article published on the NBC 9 News website (which has no affiliation with the real NBC News) stated that the murders had occurred in Longview, Texas, while a near-verbatim copy published on another website falsely posing as a local news outlet, CBS News 15, asserted that the killer was on the loose in Macomb County, Michigan:

The former version read as follows:

Law enforcement officials in Longview, Texas, have held a press conference to announce they believe a vigilante targeting pedophiles is on the loose, with reports that three local offenders have been found dead over the past week.

Authorities are appealing for any information regarding the murders, which have claimed the lives of three men on the Texas Sex Offender Registry for crimes involving offences against children.

“We urge whoever is committing these murders to stop immediately and turn themselves in,” said one officer. “While we understand the community’s attitude to pedophiles, there is no way in a civilised society that we can accept this sort of vigilantism.”

The reason for the discrepancy over location, of course, was that this story was just another bit of junk news.

A common tactic among purveyors of junk news is to focus their fictions on specific geographic locations. A disreputable website can set the same fake news story in a variety of locations in order to spread misinformation broadly outwards from smaller communities with minimal effort. In 2016 we saw a rash of this type of story claiming that [insert celebrity name] was moving to, had kind things to say about, or was serving jury duty in, [insert name of small town].

Police departments in both Macomb County, Michigan, and Longview, Texas, responded to this hoax on Facebook to reassure their communities that no serial killers were on the loose in those localities:

CBS15 and NBC9News both carry identical vague disclaimers buried on their privacy policy pages stating that the “information contained in this website is for information and entertainment purposes only.”