This Story About a Detroit Woman & Her Attack Squirrels is Fake
Even in 2023, it's surprisingly easy for misinformation to spread like wildfire.
The other day, I was scrolling through TikTok when I stumbled across an alarming video about a Detroit woman who, apparently, trained her pet squirrels to attack her ex:
That video has over 800,000 views and features a screenshot from an article from Lansing Daily which you can see here.
But, that's not the only video. If you search for "woman attack squirrel" on TikTok, video after video is repeating the same information: a 45-year-old woman in Detroit named Janice Smith was under arrest for training multiple squirrels to attack her ex-boyfriend.
Here's the thing...it's completely fake and has been circling the internet since 2017. Which, honestly, looking at the mugshot...we all should have immediately known that this was fake.
According to snopes.com, the story was first circulated by World News Daily Report, a satirical website that has since shut down. It was published on March 31, 2017, most likely to create website traffic for April Fools Day.
While the mug shot is a bit ridiculous, it actually is a real mugshot. But, it's not Janice Smith.
The mug shot actually belongs to a Maryland woman named Michelle Waro who was arrested in 2014 for throwing bricks at her father-in-law's windows. A second, more subdued mug shot was released by the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office that same year. See it here.
How to Spot Fake News
Since so many people believed the story about the woman and her attack squirrels, or at least pretended to in order to gain views on TikTok, let's go over how to easily spot fake news.
According to factcheck.org, a few ways to spot a fake news story are:
- Read beyond the headline. Headlines are designed to grab your attention. But, if one seems overly dramatic (like a Detroit woman arrested for training pet squirrels to attack her ex-boyfriend), reading the entire story can help you determine whether or not the story may be coming from a satirical site.
- Consider the source. If your source is The Onion, for example, you should know that it will not be reliable as a fact-based story. It may make you laugh, which it's designed to do, but shouldn't be trusted beyond that. As well, sites may attempt to appear legitimate. Like abcnews.com.co. Glancing at that website, you may assume that it's actually coming from ABC News. But, that's not their actual website.
- What's the support? Just because a story claims that "officials" are backing it up doesn't mean it's true. Always double-check the actual site for these "officials" before believing everything you're reading.
Look, I get it. Today, there are a ton of crazy news stories from UFOs being spotted over Lake Huron to Indiana raccoons getting fat-shamed on TikTok. But, in the midst of the chaos, we still have to try (on our own) to determine what is real or fake.
You know what's not fake? The amount of snow that Michigan gets every year. Apparently, we have 3 of the snowiest cities in the entire United States: