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The image is almost impossible not to like, a whimsical Minnesota winter scene that showcases some admirable snow sculpting talent. 

"Just took this," wrote South St. Paul Mayor James Francis when he tweeted the photo of snow paddlers on a frozen lake Monday morning. "With love from South St. Paul, Minnesota."

The scene was a hit, picking up more than 4,000 likes, 500-plus retweets and dozens of replies by the next day. "Things you see in Minnesota. Love this." wrote one Twitter user. "#PeakMinnesota," added another. A New York TV meteorologist even shared it.

There's just one teensy, tiny, little snag.

It's not Mayor Francis' photo.

The exact same image was posted to Twitter and Reddit on Jan. 12, 2021, with the original tweeter indicating it was taken in Michigan ... which is decidedly not Minnesota. 

Some Twitter users also picked up on the discrepancy with Francis' photo, pointing out they've seen it before. One, EllaBulldogWI, even highlighted two other recent examples of the mayor sharing someone else's images.

On Jan. 14, there was this "peanut butter pickle pie," with Francis writing, "Just took this." The photo had been shared to Reddit on Dec. 3, 2021 as "pumpkin pickle pie."

And back on Nov. 12 there was this photo, which Francis wrote he "just took" when he tweeted it. It's at least as old as October, having been posted on Instagram that month.

All of which begs the question: What is going on? Why is the mayor of South St. Paul, Minnesota, apparently pilfering the internet for photos he can post on Twitter?

"I look to social media platforms ... as entertainment," Mayor Francis told Bring Me The News Wednesday morning. "The idea is it is nonsense, and that we need a distraction."

Francis, in his second term after winning re-election unopposed in 2020, explained that sometime in the past year or so, he decided to treat his Twitter account as vehicle for spreading joy. Sometimes, he takes images he hasn't seen before and tweets them out, usually with the phrase, "Just took this."

That includes the widely-shared shot of the snow paddlers, which Francis said a family member who lives in a much warmer state had recently forwarded his way.

"I hope it caused 5,000 people joy they saw this thing and had a happy thought for a moment," Francis said. 

The mayor also mixes in photos of his own, saying friends and neighbors who follow the account "obviously know" that a lot of the images aren't from South St. Paul. (A search of Francis' Twitter account shows dozens of tweeted images he "just took.")

"I do not have the checkmark. It is a personal site. It is not a city official site," he told Bring Me The News, later adding maybe he needs to bring back a bio disclaimer he has previously used: "Void where prohibited, may cause irritability. Parody site."

When asked why he doesn't just disclose the source of the photos he's tweeting, the mayor reiterated his feelings about Twitter.

"Why is it my obligation to give you the source site?" he said. "My stance is, it's for entertainment."

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He also pointed out that there's an expectation that elected officials have and use social media accounts — but oftentimes, it ends up being an avenue for people outside the community, unaffected by the city's decisions, to question or criticize those officials.

"If you don't live in South St Paul MN, then what the mayor tweets doesn't affect you," he said.

He also pointed out that his tweets about the city's inaugural MLK Jr. Day event — held at Luther Memorial Church, with Rev Oliver White serving as keynote speaker — received almost no attention, which he called "unfortunate."

So Francis reiterated his goal with Twitter: To try to "keep people smiling and sending out love from South St. Paul."

"We just need more positivity," he said. "We need more love, we need more grace, we need more respect."

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