The debunked rumor of the serial killer in Seattle offers another lesson in spotting disinformation: GeekWire

A post on the dubseatv Facebook page about a suspected serial killer in the Seattle area was labeled as false information. (Facebook screenshot)

Claims that quickly spread on social media over the weekend about a suspected serial killer in the Seattle area were refuted by law enforcement and debunked by fact-checkers.

A University of Washington researcher on Tuesday offered some insight into what red flags the rumor raises, how that content spreads online, and what users can do to seek the truth.

“At a basic level, doing a side search on your browser to see if it has been reported or if you can corroborate any of the things is a good place to start,” Taylor Agajanian of the UW’s Center for an Informed Public told GeekWire. .

He said these cases are characterized as “friend of a friend” statements and tend to go viral faster because a user trusts another user in their network enough to share the information posted by that user. Copying and pasting a screenshot without adding any personal relationship or context also speeds up the process.

Agajanian, who previously worked to counter anti-vaccine rhetoric during the COVID-19 pandemic, focuses on electoral integrity ahead of the coming midterms. He doesn’t put rumors about Seattle serial killers in the same class of disinformation.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s the same as a lot of election rumors, because I think they’re more fueled by real actors trying to trick you,” Agajanian said. “This seems to me much more of an urban legend than a deliberate misinformation that damages democracy.”

The rumor about the serial killer seems to have caught on online in a couple of different ways.

Dubseatv, a Seattle-based news aggregator, tweeted Saturday afternoon that King County Sheriff’s investigators were “informing the locals” of a serial killer in Seattle and that the bodies of women had been discovered in the Burien areas. and SoDo “posing the same way”. Dubseatv also posted on Instagram, stating that four women have been found and that “detectives are avoiding turning to the media to avoid luring the suspect or suspects.”

Screenshots have also appeared online of an email sent by a Seattle bar manager to staff about how women in their thirties were being kidnapped and dismembered in an area south of the city. This is how Agajanian heard the SMS request on Saturday, from someone who was a bartender, as word spread through that community.

“The reason it was spreading was most likely for positive reasons, to promote safety in the community,” Agajanian said.

The Seattle Police Department tweeted Saturday night he had “received a series of requests” about the rumor and that the department “has * no serial case”.

King County Sheriff’s Office too tweeted that the department was “aware of unverified online social media reports that some death investigations, in the vicinity of South Park / SR 509, may share similar characteristics. At present, the sheriff’s office has not identified any evidence to say so in any case under our jurisdiction. “

Investigators from the sheriff’s office are investigating the discovery of a woman’s body found along SR 509 on October 7, but no more bodies.

The City of Burien and the Burien Police Department both shared the message from the sheriff’s office on their respective Facebook pages.

An Instagram post by dubseatv and a post on dubseatv’s Facebook page now both feature a “false” information designation, which claims the post was vetted by independent fact-checkers reporting “the information has no factual basis.”

Facebook and Instagram, both run by Meta, provided a link to an Associated Press fact-checking story released on Monday. The news agency said the story is part of its efforts to tackle widely shared disinformation, “including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online.”

Agajanian said that a level of institutional distrust may be at play in these cases as users express a lack of confidence in what is being said by the police, media, or technology platform that labels false information about something.

“Some people take it as an indication that it is Moreover true, ”Agajanian said. “Facebook said it’s not true … I don’t believe it.” Sometimes it’s a game of Whac-a-Mole. “

Dubseatv, who calls himself “No. 1 in Seattle’s entertainment, news, and culture, “has the most followers on Instagram, with 158,000. The site publishes a variety of news-related memes with uncredited information apparently drawn from other sources.

GeekWire reached out to an email address on dubseatv’s Facebook page for comment on who runs the site, how they gather information, and how they handle misinformation. We will update this story if we have any news.

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