A lengthy post online about Fargo police harassing a diabetic man on his way to a late-night work shift stirred up sympathy for the victim, and disgust for the officers.
It lassoed the attention of enough people that the Forum learned about it and went to the police department. They, in turn, investigated the claims against their own, the publication reports.
And after all of that, turns out it was completely false.
“What’s frustrating for us is that a fair number of people immediately jumped to the conclusion without hearing or getting any other information,” Keith Ternes, the Fargo police chief, tells the paper.
The comments were originally posted as a discussion on the site tudiabetes.org on April 6, by a user named Chadd.
Chadd claimed he was pulled over because someone saw a hose coming out of his pocket and traveling up his side – a common part of an insulin pump. Chadd says his car was searched and a drug-sniffing dog brought in. Officers during their search broke two of his insulin vials and at one point pulled his insulin pump right off his body. Chadd explained what it was and they let him go.
He says he then called an ambulance, and his blood sugar had shot up to dangerous levels from the time he left home to when the time the EMTs arrived. Chadd also claimed the city's chief of police put the officers on "unadministrative leave without pay" and apologized for their actions.
Chadd then contacted his uncles, who he says are lawyers, and in another post said he wanted "to make an example of the abusive powers the ones who are suppose to serve and protect us."
Chadd was met with supportive, encouraging comments; the Fargo police, not as much. One person even asked the department about the incident on Facebook.
Three days later Chadd posted an apology and admitted it was "false and fabricated and not true." He said he was frustrated and angry, lonely and depressed, and "it came out the wrong way." He asked for forgiveness from those he hurt, and said he would no longer be posting on the site.
His story and ensuing admission have since been deleted.
Forum reports a police lieutenant tracked down Chadd and visited his home, but the department says it will not file any charges against him.
Should the police take legal action? And can they?
CNN looked at this question in the wake of the Newtown school shooting. There were social media users disseminating false information about the incident, and Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said they will be investigated, CNN reported. But an ACLU director told the station suggesting anyone who lies about the case on social media could be arrested is "extremely unconstitutional."
The website Electronic Frontier Foundation lays out a legal guide for bloggers, a big portion of it dedicated to defamation. The site defines defamation as a "false and unprivileged statement of fact" that hurts someone's reputation and is published with "negligence or malice." The site also notes online discussion boards and chat rooms feature statements that are opinions or hyperbole, but an assertion of fact (even if it's presented as an opinion) can constitute defamation.