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A metro-area woman's Facebook post accusing three Egyptian men of engaging in "sex trafficking behavior" at a Highlands Ranch store garnered more than 50,000 shares and hundreds of comments within three days. But it was not based on facts, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said.
"The situation probably could've been avoided," said Lauren LeKander, public information office for the sheriff's office. "If you're going to post something about a situation, post the facts. Don't twist the story around."
In the July 8 post that has since been deleted, a Lakewood woman warned residents of three men shopping at Ross in Highlands Ranch who were allegedly shopping for kids' clothes and following her and her two young children around the store.
"I'm not too shy to say this is sex trafficking behavior at its best," she wrote. "Please keep your kids close and secure in the store, and be aware: keep your mom senses up."
Employees of the store were notified and the sheriff's office was called to assist the woman to her car because she felt uncomfortable, said the sheriff's office, adding that there was no criminal activity, nor was a police report filed. The sheriff's office confirmed that there are no current sex trafficking reports in Douglas County.
The Facebook post, which drew hundreds of comments of fear and anger toward the men, comes after a similar-type post shared earlier this year that accused a man of kidnapping a woman's child outside of a Highlands Ranch library. The sheriff's office confirmed that the man was moving the woman's stroller to get into his adjacently parked car.
"It's interesting the way these stories start to develop on social media and become something more than they are," LeKander said. "It creates an issue that's a nonissue."
Kip Wotkyns, associate professor of journalism and technical communication at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said that posts of nonfactual events or fake news - a false news story spread through traditional media or social media - are potentially dangerous to society. The July 8 post led to a series of responses, including death threats to the three men, who also had their photographs included in the post.
Posts like these spread like wildfire because of confirmation bias, information that is interpreted or supported by someone based on his or her preexisting beliefs, said Wotkyns, who specializes in media's impact on society. He advises readers to look at the credibility of sources posting and sharing content on social media.
"Words have consequences," he said.
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