'Fake News' strikes again: WI mall Santa did not 'beat up' molester

Another popular social media story turns out to be false.

Did you happen to see that story about a Milwaukee-area mall Santa who roughed up a child molester on behalf of a victimized child?

You already see where this is going. Like a lot of other social media news this year, it was too good to be true.

It went something like this: kid sits on Santa Claus's lap at Southridge Mall in Greendale, Wisconsin, says all she wants for Christmas is for her stepdad to "stop touching her at night," so Santa leaps into action and gives the molester a serious butt-whooping.

It's inspiring, it's heroic, and it made for a welcome headline in a year full of grim ones. The story went viral on social media, but according to the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, it's totally false.

Local authorities told the AP they've never heard of the "police spokeswoman" quoted in the story, while the mall itself confirmed none of it happened.

The AP also says it could find no court records corroborating anything in the article.

The story was "widely" shared after being posted on sites like thuglifevideos.com, dirtpost.com and goingviralposts.biz.

The 'fake news' problem

You've probably heard a lot about the rise of "fake news" lately. The Santa story seems to be the latest example in a year full of them.

Some other big hits, according to a Newser piece on the most shared fake news stories of 2016, are President Obama banning the pledge of allegiance from schools (false), Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for president (also false), and a woman pooping on her boss's desk after winning the lottery (nope).

Fake news is not only annoying, but may also present some real problems to us as informed citizens and voters.

As PBS Newshour points out, there are concerns such stories may have influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, with recent research finding that social engagement (i.e. interest in a particular news item) was "much higher for the fake sources than the real ones" in nearly two dozen cases this year.

PBS admits, though, that the full extent of the impact of false news on the election is "unclear" at this point.

Nonetheless, the problem is so widespread Facebook recently took some unprecedented steps in combatting it. Those include adding features that let users report fake news, working with outside fact-checking groups, and slapping "warnings" on any suspicious stories.

Next Up

Jaden McDaniels

Wolves lose to Magic on Cole Anthony's buzzer-beater

The Wolves blew a 20-point lead as the Magic defeated the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

J.A. Happ

Twins sign veteran J.A. Happ to add to the rotation

The left-hander will get a one-year, $8 million deal from the Twins.

storm the capitol rally st. paul minnesota state capitol

BCA finds 'no criminal wrongdoing' among those at 'Storm the Capitol' rally

Inflammatory comments were made by speakers, but no charges will be brought.

Screen Shot 2021-01-18 at 12.27.04 PM

Man's vehicles crushed by hit-and-run driver weren't fully insured

The goal is to raise $25,000 to help the south Minneapolis resident.

Joe Biden

Key points from Joe Biden's first speech as POTUS

The 46th president called for unity at a time America is facing huge challenges.

coronavirus, covid-19

Here is Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Wednesday, January 20

The 111 ICU patients is the fewest in Minnesota since there were 109 COVID patients in intensive care on Oct. 1.


Here's what Amy Klobuchar said at Joe Biden's inauguration

The Minnesota senator was one of the leader organizers of the inauguration.

covid-19, vaccine

All of this week's COVID vaccine pilot program appointments are filled

Nearly 6,000 Minnesotans who are 65 and older registered for appointments between noon Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Lane kueng thao chauvin

Osterholm affidavit ahead of George Floyd trial warns of COVID worsening in March

Prosecutors want to delay the Chauvin trial due to a public health threat.


Should you stop looking at news sources that back up what you already believe?

Living in a filter bubble is part of consuming news. But should you do something about it?

St. Paul Public Schools says text alert about ICE raids is made up

If you saw a Facebook post saying St. Paul schools were warning families of ICE sweeps, that's false.

MN native famous for 2016 election fake news dies at 38

Paul Horner raked in cash for his phony election stories.

Election Day 2017: Bad news for Republicans?

Democrats cleaned up in some major races last night.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Reactions to the St. Cloud mall attack

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump comment on the stabbing attack at a St. Cloud mall.

Fake Starbucks event is a trap for immigrants

#BorderFreeCoffee has been trending, but its a hoax targeting undocumented immigrants.